The Un-Bolters

Come Lions selection, everyone loves the ‘late bolter’, the yet-to-be-established young gun that makes a last minute dash for selection through club form.  What larks!

But even more fascinating can be the case of the un-bolter, who makes a long, protracted, graceless descent from nailed-on-selection to being left at the airport or, at best, being forced to muck in with the dirt-trackers.

Currently, a whole host of Warren Gatland’s Welsh darlings are making a huge bid for non-selection. The regional-franchise scene is in the toilet, so it’s typically only when the Welsh national side gathers that they get any sort of form together.  But this singularly failed to happen against Argentina, and we’ve already voiced our concerns about the sustainability of Wesh rugby’s current success.

Chief among the unbolters are Sam ‘Captain in Waiting and All Round Good Bloke’ Warburton and Toby ‘Dynamic Ball Carrier’ Felatau.  Both looked set to be test starters not three months ago, but they have brought their useless club form to the international ticket and are currently playing their way to a summer relaxing on the beach.  Rhys ‘Rugby’s Toto Schillachi’ Priestland is another whose credentials are on the slide – on the evidence of this season its hard to believe he was considered on a par with Johnny Sexton a few months ago.  It’s worth pausing for a quick reminder of some classic un-bolters from the recent tours.

2009 – Ryan Jones and  Danny Cipriani

In the 2008 Six Nations Ryan Jones captained Wales to a hugely impressive Grand Slam.  While he had looked a bit lumbering in the past, here he brought his A-game to the table for the whole series.  Like Warburton, he was also quite clearly a jolly fine chap, and was inked in by many (notably head cheerleader Stephen Jones) as the likely Lions captain.  His form promptly went into a tailspin, culminating in ‘leading’ the Ospreys to a 43-9 thrashing in Thomond Park.  He was left out of the original party, eventually making it out as a replacement for Stephen Ferris, only to be sent home immediately with an injury.

In the same Six Nations, England debuted their hotshot new 10, Wass wunderkind Danny Cipriani.  He cut Ireland to shreds in the final match and a star was born.  The Lions had their 10!  Several indiscretions, a broken ankle and a botched international comeback later, and Cippers was nowhere near contending a place on the tour.

2005 – The Irish Back Division

Between 2001 and 2004, Ireland’s ‘Golden Backline’ came into being, and oozed class from every pore.  Piloted by ice-veined Munster outhalf Ronan O’Gara, with a dashing all-Leinster three-quarter line of Hickey-D’arcy-O’Driscoll-Horgan, it was topped off by Leicester’s uber-graceful full-back Geordan Murphy.  In the 2004 Six Nations, they ran amok, with D’arcy winning Player of the Tournament and BOD already inked in as Lions captain.  The centre pairing terrified defences in green and blue and were seen as the Lions best attacking weapon.  But in 2005, it all went flat and just about all of the backs lost form.  Ireland surrendered tamely at home to France and went down meekly to Wales in Cardiff, and the crisp back play of previous series was conspicuously absent.

Somehow, they all made it on to the plane to New Zealand, abetted by Woodward’s decision to pick everybody an over-inflated squad, but none, bar possibly Shane Horgan, made any impact (though BOD had a legitimate excuse) on the doomed tour, padding out their time with the dirt trackers, with ROG and Dorce having a particularly miserable time.

So who else is in line to un-bolt?

Mike Phillips is an obvious contender – he’s sitting in the naughty step in Bayonne and isn’t first choice at national level any more – without much rugby to judge him on, he won’t be inked-in Test starter for long. The saintly BOD is looking pretty human these days, and hasn’t returned from injury anything like the player we know he can be – any more Maule-ing and he could be out of the picture even as a Phil Vickery thanks-for-the-memories style tourist.



  1. The way Sale have started their season I fear for Richie Gray. Not due to anything he is or isn’t doing, but that level of awful around him is going to take its toll.

    • My first thought too. Oh Richie.

    • Actually, we discussed Richie and decided not to include.

      We just think he’s too Scottish not to go unless his form at international level completely deteriorates. There will be a handful of Scots, no matter how dire they are, and Richie is way ahead in that queue. Re getting in the Test team, we can’t see past him, even if he barely breaks sweat for Sale – his 6N form will decide that.

  2. Amazed Tipuric hasn’t unseated Warburton yet. Combined with the phenomenal Steffon Armitage at Toulon, a logical form-based selection would have Warburton having a long summer break. You just know Gatty will pick him though.

    As I type, I notice that Warburton and Priestland have finally been dropped for the in form Tipuric and Biggar,25883,16024_8247683,00.html – and Philips is also back.

  3. Ross

     /  November 14, 2012

    With the current Irish management team a complete shambles I think we could see a larger than normal bolter contingent from Ireland. The likes of Paul Marshall, Henderson and possibly Dan Tuohy could be selected for the Lions before given a real chance with Ireland.

    Also the the Supersized welsh wingers could be struggling to make the test team at the moment. Cuthbert has looked pretty ordinary the last couple of times I have seen him play and has some serious defensive issues watching the Leinster vs Blues match the guy could barely tackle one on one. Also Argentina showed the way forward to deal with them show lots of guts and tackle hard and low. For me at the moment the 2 wingers I would choose at the moment would be Bowe and Visser though Bowe will have to improve his form.

    • Wing is pretty congested. We are huge George North fans and he would be our first one. For the other wing, Bowe has work to do – Visser is making a good impression at international level. Cuthbert is behind those 2, as is Good Guy Chris Ashton. Charlie Sharples is looking increasingly like a bolter you know – and he’s a very good player.

      • Ross

         /  November 15, 2012

        I would agree with North being better than Cuthbert and while yes I think he is going to suffer a little with 2nd season syndrome he seems like a top winger with lots of years ahead of him. Though then again wing across the nations is a position stacked with talent and will depend on form from Febuary/March onwards. I expect many bolters and unbolters in this position I expect most debates on selection to be based on this position. I do love an old style small but very fast winger and so I am a fan of Sharples and would also suggest Eastmond and Wade as potential bolters they are a strong ray of light when watching any AP game. Also have you caught any of Shane Monahans performances for Gloucester recently? Looks like a pretty decent big winger for them and another of the couldn’t make it over in Ireland but has gone to a championship club for experience and has gotten a top level move after.

    • Wing is the ultimate bolter/unbolter position. Whoever the hot wingers are come the end of the season can be in there and players can easily have a bad run of form and be left out. Halfpenny came out the blocks in 2008 to bolt his way into a seat on the plane only to fall aside through injury.

  4. Leinsterlion

     /  November 14, 2012

    My big unbolter would be Paul O’Connell, injury prone, aging, hasn’t played much rugby. Hes just about in the team for the dirt trackers at this stage. BOD in the same boat to a lesser extent. He has Davies and Tuilagi in front of him,he has to have a good Heineken cup campaign to nail down his starting spot.
    I disagree with the notion that Darce had a “miserable” lions in ’05. As I recall he was selected predominantly as a dirt tracker,but injuries and his midweek form pushed him into the frame for selection in the final test. But he pulled out due to tiredness / had a fight with Woodward, depending on who you want to believe.
    You can also add ROG to the same boat as Darce, Woodward had selected Jones, Hodgson and a returning from injury Wilkinson in front of him. I believe he was a quota selection on Woodwards part.

  5. Chris

     /  November 14, 2012

    Big potential un-bolter after the first game of the Autumn series is Jamie Roberts, I gasped in horror every time he ran a horrible line straight at the Argie Bargies and then knocked on! And as an aside, what’s with Cuthbert always looking for contact or to bump someone off?

    I total agree with Ross above, I think Deccie will be made to look very silly come Lions squad time with Gatty selecting some star provincial players that haven’t been given a run for Ireland.

    P.S. Love Lions chat, gets me excited!

  6. Bushmills

     /  November 15, 2012

    Would just like to say I only recently discovered your blog after somebody mentioned it on a post underneath Tony Ward’s ill-informed and IRFU sycophantic article in the Independent, but I have genuinely enjoyed reading every article and the intelligent debate that follows from the posters. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading and maybe contributing. Yours, an Irish rugby exile in the USA.

  7. Rich

     /  November 15, 2012

    Agree re Roberts but no one can compete with him in terms of physique so I think even off form he ll get the nod anyway.

    Possibly Youngs at 9 is now an uncertainty. the great white hope has been exposed as a petulant schoolboy at times which Isn t the best attitude for a lions tour. There are nt too many putting their hands up, watching Toulon this year and Wilkinson looks fresh as a daisy – aged I know but the boy has class is in excellent form……

    • I completely agree – any time I have seen him he has been brilliant, and he has been right up on the gainline as well – its a joy to watch I must admit

  8. Will Carling was a massive unbolter for the Lions in 1993. He captained England to a World Cup Final in 1991 as a 25 year old and won back-to-back Grand Slams in 1991 and 1992, and the English media were writing him up as a shoo-in for captaining of the touring party. However, Ongultehra fell apart in 1993 [not least due to the efforts of Eric Elwood and Mick Galway] and Carling only made the tour as a dirt-tracker.

    In fairness to the legendary Bumface, he held up his end when all around him were crumbling in the second half of the tour, but it shows how quickly things can change in one season.

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