Lions 2013 – the Forwards

Put on your Power of 4 bracelets, park your xenophobia, marvel at the fact Andy Powell and Ugo Monye toured last time out, and brace yourself  for cringeworthy archive footage of Iain McGeechan bawling in 2009 – it’s the Lions!

Well, it will be in a year or so anyway. Last year, we looked at the runners and riders two years out, split (as this year) into forwards and backs – we got some things right (Ben Morgan and Dan Tuohy as ones to watch) and some laughably wrong (we said Rory Best was finished and mentioned Ooooooooooohh Matt Banahan).

One year on, we’re going to put our necks on the block (a little) – we’re going to call who is on the plane, who needs to do more, and guess some potential bolters … a fool’s errand if there ever was one. With Warren Gatland as head coach (as surely he will be), we think selection policy will be similar enough to last time, with form the key watchword.  McGeechan and Gatty made it clear they wanted players who were finishing the season well, and were happy to leave out players they hugly respected (Ryan Jones) in favour of those who were on top of their form (Alan Quinlan).  So we figure it’s not worth trying to name a 35-man panel at this juncture.  Today it’s the forwards and Thursday the backs.

Loosehead prop:

On the plane: Fresh from a top notch season with Leinster and Ireland where he emerged as a pack leader, scrumagger of note and destructive carrier, DJ Church can be pencilled in as a starter right now.

Work to do: Gethin Jenkins was favourite to start and a certainty to tour just 6 months ago, but was injured and then out-performed by Paul James in the second half of last season. If James continues his upward trajectory and Jenkins doesn’t improve, James will tour in his stead. Alex Corbisiero had a solid season for England last year – if he holds on to his shirt, he’s going.

Bolters: Prop isn’t a position where you emerge from nowhere so don’t expect a less-established name to go to Oz, but Ryan Grant rescued his career with a move to Glasgow last year, and had a good summer tour, just like Scotland. If he ousts Chunk from the national team, he has a chance.


On the plane: Despite what we said last year, Rory Best is going – he’s been immense for Ireland and Ulster this year. In 2009, Ross Ford toured as a token Scot – this time, he will tour by right – his offloading game for Embra in this years HEC was incredible, and his set-piece work is solid.

Work to do: Dylan Hartley has never quite convinced at the highest level – every time you think he has cracked it, he puts out a performance so bad you go back to square one. Wales have been chopping and changing at hooker for the last year – Matthew Rees has generally been first choice, but has not been playing well – if any of Huw Bennett, Richard Hibbard or Ken Owens pull out a good quality and consistent season and get the shirt for the Six Nations, they will go.

Bolters: He will shortly turn Irish, and multi-HEC winning Richardt Strauss has been a key part of Leinster’s success – although small, he is a dynamic player and looks well-tailored to be put up against the powder-puff Wallaby forwards.

Tighthead Prop:

On the plane: The best scrumagging tighthead in Lions contention is Adam Jones  – add his previous Lions experience and Gatty’s trust, and he’s in. Dan Cole is a yellow card machine, but he is improving every year – he had a good tour to SA as well – he’ll make it.

Work to do: There are no Sunday tests, but Euan Murray still need to do better than last year – as it stands he is behind the technically excellent Mike Ross.

Bolters: Again, tighthead props don’t come from nowhere, so don’t expect too many surprises barring injury. Deccie Fitzpatrick stepped up to a very high level this June and didn’t look too out of place – if John Afoa or Ross get crocked, he will come into the reckoning.

Second Row:

On the Plane: Richie Gray could fall into a big hole and spend 11 months getting out and still make the tour – he’s simply fantastic and we love him unconditionally. Captain last time out, Paul O’Connell makes his province and country twice as good when he is in the team – he is a captaincy contender (Gatty likes a meaty captain).

Work to do: After what looked like a breakthrough 2010/11, Courtney Lawes had his 2011/12 ruined by injury – if he comes back near his form of the season before last, he should still make it. The move to Perpignan may have come at the wrong time for Luke CharterisBradley Davies and Alun Wyn Jones had good summer tours, and Ian Evans is still playing a t a high level – at least two of that quartet will be missing out. If Donnacha Ryan or Dan Tuohy can continue last years progression, both are in with a shout – more likely Ryan, given how easily he has adopted to the international stage. Geoff Parling is a decent lineout operator, but there would appear to be better options unless he makes more impact around the park.

Bolters: As far as we know, there are no Eben Etzebeth’s waiting to bust out of a reserve team anywhere, but Iain Henderson looks the real deal at Ulster – it’s more than likely too early, but Gatty hasn’t shied from picking raw and talented youngsters before (albeit mostly piano players rather than piano shifters).


On the Plane: This sector is ridiculously competitive, and some big names are going to miss out. As it stands, we see Sam Warburton going – you’ll need a fetcher to go up against Pocock, and Sam is also a captaincy contender. Stephen Ferris offers twitch power and strength unlike anything else in the hempisphere, and Chris Robshaw is ideal dirt-track leadership material – we think these three are in the lead right now.

Work to do: At the back of the pack, one of Jamie Heaslip, Ben Morgan and Toby Faletau is possibly going to miss out – Heaslip has the experience of SA in his favour, and has had a better year than most give him credit for, but is not firing on all cylinders. Morgan was England’s best player in the Six Nations but had a difficult SA tour, and Faletau carries more ball than anyone in the Welsh (Grand Slam) pack.

On the flanks, Sean O’Brien also carries well and he can play right across the backrow – that’s a plus on a busy tour. Looking at exclusive blindsides, Dan Lydiate will tackle until the cows come home; whereas Dave Denton can carry destrictively as well. Firmly ensconsed in the Stephen Jones Club is Tom Croft – he’s great in open field and scored spectacular tries in last years Six Nations, but he also got bumped badly by Dave Denton and dumped into touch by Paddy Wallace (Paddy Wallace!) in Ravers – he’ll need to improve. Or what about nearly-England captain Tom Wood?

If fetching is your thing, why, we can offer you a Justin Tipuric – Pro12 winner with the Ospreys and able deputy for Big Sam – or Ross Rennie, breakdown king in a HEC semi-final. And we haven’t mentioned John Barclay yet. The least you can say is there is depth!

Bolters: He may not have looked ready in New Zealand, but Peter O’Mahony has raw talent – the arrival of CJ Stander will free him to work on improving his game at 6 or 8, and you might see good results if the pressure if kept off. The best openside of the lot is probably Steffon Armitage, the Top14 POTY – a visible HEC campaign and he could make the plane.

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  1. Pete

     /  July 10, 2012

    “As far as we know, there are no Eben Etzebeth’s waiting to bust out of a reserve team anywhere”

    Charlie Matthews at Quins has similar dimensions, was very impressive at age grade level, has been namechecked by Lancaster as being on the edge of the England set-up and with Tomas Vallejos clearing out of the light, his way to the first team has just opened up… probably a bit too much to do for him as a bolter though, but you never know!

  2. Sheesh, some serious amount of back row possibles! Also am I right in saying that there hasn’t been a Welsh captain since the seventies? With them as the reigning Europower internationally, you’d think one of their men will don the figurative armband next summer. Warburton most likely – but only if he puts his niggling injuries behind him. Can you do a captaincy bolter slot too?

    Also found referring to Ravenhill as “Ravers” very funny for some reason!

    • Warburton hasn’t looked on top of his game for a while now. He’s not only under pressure from a Lions perspective, but for Wales too, because Jason Tipuric is the real deal and Gatland has shown he’s happy to drop big reputations if in-form alternatives are available.

      As for the captaincy, I’d see the usual suspects as being in the frame: O’Connell, Warburton, possibly Rory Best or Ross Ford, form depending. If O’Driscoll is looking like making the test team, he’ll certainly be in contention. Chris Robshaw is just the sort of jolly good fellow who falls a tad short of Lions test class to look after the midweek boys. Hard to see beyond that group, but how about Rob Kearney as a bolter? He’s excelled on the tour before, and by all accounts is an influential figure in the Irish set up.

  3. Dave

     /  July 11, 2012

    I not sure of the stats but normally bolters would be back more than forwards. Messrs Ian Madigan, Craig Gilroy and (Come on Rob Penney) JJ Hanrahan might come up on the outside for next year. Of course this is very presumptuous of me especially with Kidney set to stay in place through the 6N. So much depends on who is picked at during that tournament and up to the 1/4s of the HCup.

    • Ooooohhh, they’d be bolting from a long way out. Gilroy maybe, Madigan less so, but Hanrahan hasn’t even played Pro12 yet, or if he has it’s been minimal. Bolters don’t necessarily have to be kids. Last time you’d have to have put Alan Quinlan in that category, though of course he never got to travel.

      • Dave

         /  July 12, 2012

        Ya I suppose so. There isn’t anybody coming to mind in the Quinny category though. I know its jumping the gun but Im gonna have a shot at a test 15 in Healy, Best, Jones, POC, Grey, Ferris, Sam, Faletau, Phillips, Sexton, North, Davies, BOD, Heighpenny, Kearney. I just realised there is no English player in that……may have to rethink!

  4. Whilst falling firmly into the camp of those who fail to get excited about seeing Irish players play with and – more pertinently – get injured with British players as part of another unnecessary summer tour, you would have to think the Lions would win the 2013 tour…at present anyway. Backrow is ferociously competitive: glad you namechecked Armitage, who had a phenomenal season this year in France – hello Burt Lancaster.

    • The Lions has its flaws but when it works it works. Who could fail to enjoy 2009’s tour?

      • I find myself looking through my fingers. There is nothing to gain for either the club or national sides I support and a lot to lose. Setting aside the very obvious speargate – and other injuries – it is also quite common for players’ form to dip after a Lions tour and to take quite a while to recover.

        • Curate’s Egg: your homework for the week is to watch the DVDs of the 1997 series and the youtube videos of the last one (‘Give us a hug, Shawsy’).

          It does require that you ‘buy in’ to the palaver about the shirt and the history and all that. I know it leaves a lot of people cold, and the 2005 series was, of course, beyond miserable. I remember my alarm going off to wake me up for the third test and simply turning it off, rolling over and going back to sleep…

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