In the jungle, the mighty jungle … Part 1

Today and Thursday we’ll run through the the potential Lions team to play against Australia in 2013. We’re going to start with who we see in pole position, who to watch for, who needs to improve and who will be too old. I’m going to cup the testicles of the forwards and ask them to cough today, and Palla will be giving the backs a thorough probing on Thursday.

As time goes on, we plan to re-visit our team, and presumably try to rationalize why we got it so wrong.

Unlike backs who can burst into the first team and stay there, forwards tend to improve incrementally. Hence most bolters are backs – we expect that any forward who could tour would be in first team by now – don’t expect too many shocking names below.

Front Row:

Pole position: Gethin Jenkins, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole. Jenkins might be 33 in 2013 but he is still the best loose-head in the NH, although Cian Healy will be hard on his heels by then. Healy’s international team-mate Mike Ross is probably better than Cole now, but won’t be in 2013. Hartley could be captain but for his accent.

Look out for: Alex Corbisiero and the returning Matt Stevens at prop, and the future Irishman Richardt Strauss at hooker.

Needs to improve: Ross Ford, although as a non-awful Scotland player, he will probably tour anyway. Matthew Rees is the easy option but he is pretty uninspiring.

Too late for: Jirry certainly, possibly Adam Jones and Rory Best as well. Euan Murray checked out a while ago.

Second Row:

Pole position: Richie Gray, Courtney Lawes. These 2 are the future. Lawes added proper meat to his game last season, which was especially evident against Ulster. Paul O’Connell will tour as an elder statesman, but probably not start.

Look out for: Dan Tuohy – Ireland have not produced a real dynamic lock forward in a while – if Tuohy takes Donncha’s shirt next year, he will be the ideal deputy for Gray.

Needs to improve: Alun Wyn Jones’ athleticism might be very useful in Oz, but he will need to get back to 2008 form.

Too late for: Tom Palmer, Nathan Hines and Donncha. Presumably the miracle man Shawsy will have finally gone by 2013. Biiiiiiiiiig Bob might be too old (and immobile) as well.

Back Row:

Pole position: Sean O’Brien, Sam Warburton, Jeamie Heaslip. SOB just pips Fez for the blindside shirt, but the Samoans showed how raw power can upset the Wallabies, so Fez might still take it. Warburton is already a key man for Wales, and could be Welsh captain by 2013. Heaslip could be Lions captain.

Look out for: Tom Wood – if he continues his upward trajectory, he will contend for the 6 shirt. Ben Morgan becomes Welsh next year – the young Scarlets number 8 is a huge prospect.

Needs to improve: If John Barclay becomes the John Barclay on 2009, he has to go. The above goes for Johnnie Beattie as well. Tom Croft has the game, and just needs to re-discover his career momentum – the blinside flank is a crowded place. Le Hasque can cover both flanks, but needs to be a little more skillful.

Too late for: Wally *sniff* – what a man.

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6 Comments

  1. A few comments for me on this! Surely Rosser will still be in pole position come June 2013? Dan Cole strikes me as one of the “Stephen Jones love club” players who is frequently talked up as a potential World Class player but rarely shows it unless against powder-puff packs, which in fairness is possibly an argument to tour Australia! Ross demonstrated in the 6 Nations and latter stages of the Heino that he has the nous and scrummaging ability to cope with all comers. I think his “rugby savvy” would be a better option than Cole. Also should Cian Healy not be the premier loosehead at this point given his two challengers (Sheridan and Jenkins) are rarely fit?At hooker Rory Best will only be 31 in two years. Surely age wont rule him out? It will be his shakey throwing in both 22’s and questionable handling could be his downfall. Given the lack of options at hooker For me the 3 hookers going on tour would be Hartley, Strauss and Best in that order of preference.At second row I remain to be convinced by Courtney Lawes. Yes all the tools are there but he doesn’t seem to produce the goods unless his front row are on top. His real big performances this season have been against Australia and Ulster games where England and Saints pulverised the respective front rows. In the games where his team needed him to stand up, against Leinster and Leicester spring to mind, he was near anonymous. Would a (fully fit) POC allow this to happen at Munster or Ireland? If the Lions were playing now Gray and POC would be the locks for me but if, and it is a big if for me, Lawes can add that extra 5% to his game he will be in pole position. After these 3 however things don’t look too promising for the Lions. There seems to be very little coming through. Englands locks, Lawes aside, are journeymen and Wales’ locks (like most of the Welsh team) fail to cut it for me!Back row is an area where the Lions should have a lot of strength. Heaslip, SOB, Ferris(if fit) and Warbuton can all book their seats for me. Potential bolters could include Rhys Ruddock, Dom Ryan and Toby Faletou. Remain to be sold on any of the English back row. Croft and Wood would be in the frame but they are both blind sides and there are better blindside options there and given Lawes can cover blindside taking Ferris and SOB should suffice.Regarding the captaincy Heaslip as to be the front runner at the moment!

  2. Hi JSRFThanks for an extensive comment. Plenty of valid points there, no doubt about it. We have to accept that it's something of a fool's errand; it's not easy to see two years into the future! We'll revisit again some time next season and see how (badly) we're doing!There's a fair bit of conjecture involved. As you ask, will Lawes develop the ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck? Will Jenkins and Ferris get their fitness back and a proper run of games? Will Dan Cole develop into a truly world class tighthead? Who knows?Broadly, though, I would agree that back row should be a real strength and second row a concern, in terms of depth anyway. Front row should be ok I think.I do like your Dom Ryan call – I really enjoyed watching him play for Leinster last year, and he'll be after Jenno's shirt this coming season. He's great in contact, runs terrific lines and he's quick to the ruck. A classic 7 in other words.

  3. I would agree with JSRF regarding Healy being the premier loosehead as things stand. His biggest competition seem to injured constantly and I am not sure there is a prop in the world that can match his carry ability. A left field selection for me could be Tony Buckley. If he can develop some consistency in his game, with a string of performances a la NZ 2010, he should be considered as a viable option. Yes he can not scrummage but he can be unmatched in his loose play. Given Australia’s front row woes scrummaging should not be the deciding factor for the props.From a hooking point of view hard to look beyond the current crop of international hookers. Although 2 strong seasons at Leinster and Ireland could see Sean Cronin in the frame. Although he needs to work on his lineout throwing and start getting regular Heino Cup starts. As easy as he is to hate Hartley has to be the front runner although as previously mentioned things can and will change in 2 years!Beyond the obvious 3 second row options look a little stretched. Given his expected transition into the second row for Leinster could Locky make a late run for a spot on the plane? Yes he would need a lot of top performances at lock but he is already a class line out operator with only his tight game needing work.Back row as mentioned by both JSRF and PO will be a major strength for the Lions. With Ireland, and Leinster in particular, overflowing with class back rows this could be an area with great Irish representation. Tough to see any major bolters here but would agree Rhys Ruddock could be the standout one for me.The biggest debating point for me is who will be the head coach. During the 6 nations it seemed Martin Johnson was in the driving seat. Personally I think this would be a terrible choice of coach but in fairness there isn’t a lot of stand out candidates out there. What’s your views on this?

  4. Thanks Brendan.First up, on Mushy, I can only suggest you have the patience of a saint. We had high hopes for him only this time last year (albeit perhaps not Lions-high), but he has disappointed us far too much now – he is dead to us. We hope he does well at Sale, but its too frustrating to have actual hope.Locky is an interesting one – I'm not sure he is a top class lock, but he is going to get gametime there – and if he does make the step forward, he is probably a better 4/6 option than Tom Croft for example.Re head coach, who knows – I mean at this stage before the previous Lions tour, Eddie was first choice … *shudder* … Simon Easterby might have played instead of Fez! Right now, we fancy Geech (Oooooooooohhh Bath is a good place for him) or Deccie.

  5. Just on Lions coaching – the coaches should be guys who aren't currently coaching any of the four nations. To see Gatland and Edwards lobbying for their players last time was disruptive to the whole thing. Woodward had difficulty letting go of his past history with his English players in selections too (although admittedly he wasn't the English head coach at the time. I wouldn't even want to see Deccie involved either as it will inevitably cause problems with him and whichever Irish players get left out, thereby harming Ireland. He is better well away from it. You could be back looking at McGeechan, although in the spirit of your article I would suggest Conor O'Shea to freshen the thing up.

  1. Lions 2013 – the Forwards « Whiff of Cordite
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