Lions Post #3: Our Friends in the North

Given the rather protracted downturn in fortunes of the Scottish rugger team, in the last two Lions squads Jocks have been pretty thin on the ground. In 2005, of the 51 players who went out at any point (51!), just four were Scottish, and of the 46 2009 Lions, there were once again just four Scots, with two of those (Ross Ford and Mike Blair) late replacements for injured Liginds (Jirry and Tomás O’Leary).

This time round, it looks like the Scots might do a little better than four – while the team isn’t tearing up any trees, some individual performances are good:

  • Ross Ford: there isn’t any hooker making an undeniable claim for a shirt – Ford is good in the loose, offloads well, and offers something a little different
  • Ryan Grant: Loosehead is very competitive, but Grant has played his part in a solid Scottish set-piece, while his defence has been excellent
  • Euan Murray: ARE THERE ANY TESTS ON A SUNDAY??
  • Richie Gray: the blonde bomber hasn’t been as prominent as he was last year, but, as modern mobile locks go, he’s pretty much the best available
  • Nathan Hines: Hines isn’t playing for Scotland since retiring a year ago, but he’s been hugely prominent for Clermont Auvergne as they tear it up in the HEC – Australia must be wondering how he slipped through the cracks
  • Johnnie Beattie: carrying well, and the standard of play in the Top14 seems to have benefitted him. Number eight is competitive, but nobody’s hooting the lights out, so he’s in the mix
  • Wee Greig Laidlaw: No, really! Laidlaw is the best kicking scrummie, although he offers zero breaking threat. He can play outside as well and versatility is a plus on attritional tours
  • Sean Maitland: has a touch of Kiwi class about him, a really intelligent player with excellent defence. There aren’t many wings demanding a shirt, and Maitland is as likely as any to go
  • Tim Visser: scores tries for fun at Pro12 level and continues to impress at international level, in attack more so than defence.  Like Maitland, he is in the mix because the wing situation is so fluid with Bowe out and Ashton playing like a bag of nails
  • Stuart Hogg: pretty much inked in to tour, if you believe Inverdale. He’s certainly the form pick at the moment, but Rob Kearney, Leigh Halfpenny, Ben Foden and Alex Goode could yet have their say
  • Graeme Morrison: boshing inside centres are in fashion these days, and if Brad Barritt gets injured … nah, we’re only messing!

In truth a lot of those look more possible than probable, and even then the more likely lads have a midweek look about them.   We have Gray pencilled in provided he recovers from injury and Stuart Hogg looks made for the hard Antipodean grounds.  Ford could be the odd man out at hooker, placed on standby for the second tour in a row (last time he made it out and started the third test).  His fate could depend on what sort of view Gatland takes of Dylan Hartley.  We think at least one of Maitland or Visser will sneak on to the plane, where there is suddenly a shortage of form players.  Laidlaw and Beattie will be close, but neither is a sure thing.  Sundays or otherwise, Murray’s star has waned and Ryan Grant, again, looks more likely to be on standby than getting picked in the first draft.

The most interesting one is Nathan Hines.  There are no tighthead locks who offer his imperious combination of regal handling skills and grunt in the tight.  He reneged on his Top 14 commitments last time to go on the tour, but appears to feel he has unfinished business in that regard, so may not do so again.

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11 Comments

  1. Buckfast Billy

     /  March 13, 2013

    Personally, as a Scot, I’d prefer none of them to go on the B&I Lion tour, making them all available for Scotland’s trip to South Africa. But that’s just being selfish!

    I suspect it partly depends on how many tourists Gatland takes – I’m working on the basis of two per position, plus another full bench, so 38 players in all. In general I don’t think that the Kiwi coach thinks much of the Scots, and there hasn’t been enough in the 6Ns to disavow him of that view.

    Don’t disagree with much of your analysis:
    Ford – quite tough competition for the hooker, Best prob the front runner with Hibbard coming thru, and TN Youngs not too shabby (if a little green); wouldn’t take Hartley, but that’s as much based on personality as anything else! => might just squeeze in

    Grant – Church nailed on, Jenkins prob too, then one of James, Marler, Vunipola, or Grant => unlikely to tour

    Murray – Cole and AR Jones nailed on, and if a third tighthead is required, I suspect it’s Murray before Ross, plus no Sunday tests => likely to tour

    Gray – pencilled in prior to injury, the only question is how long his recovery is => injury dependent

    Hines – completely agree on the analysis, but will Gatland look outside the current 6Ns squads – I’m not sure => unlikely to tour

    Beattie – Faletau nailed on (he’s Welsh), Heaslip might get the ticket for his experience, but arguably Beattie is in better form than both => unlikely to tour (Gatland to go with familiar options)

    Laidlaw – no break whatsoever, and given that one is essential to Gatland-ball, I’d expect BR Youngs to be first behind Mike Phillips, with Conor Murray in hot pursuit; shame, as he’s an intelligent player => unlikely to tour

    Visser – his defence is too suspect for my liking, and I think that North will take his left wing slot, altho I’m not sure who else goes with him => unlikely to tour

    Maitland – the pick of the right wingers for me so far, an intelligent player, which puts him ahead of Ashton and Cuthbutt imo; big question is whether Mr T Bowe recovers in time => likely to tour

    Hogg – Halfpenny covers wing as well more than the other two candidates, and is a definite to tour given his form under the high ball and kicking; Kearney and Hogg offer more in attack with ball in hand, with Kearney’s experience probably getting the nod; haven’t discounted Goode or Brown completely either just yet => unlikely to tour (altho prob should imo)

    So, that makes 2 ‘likely to tour’ from me, 6 ‘unlikely to tour’, 1 awaiting recovery from injury, and 1 ‘just squeezing in’ – 4 in all, not a great return, but justified

  2. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  March 13, 2013

    I think Hines would be an excellent addition to someone like Launchberry, Ryan or Gray. I think he’d really excel.

    He is going to compete well against a weak Aussie scrum and the Aussie lineout is no thing of wonder either. So in the loose which is where they are dangerous, you’d have a fairly mobile, very strong and exceptional ball player who can mix it with the best.

    Finally, Lions teams are always at a disadvantage as they have so little time to prepare. Creating a team strategy is often very difficult and thus the need for ‘clever players’ or already formed combinations is very important. Clever players are needed as a lot of the time they will play what is in front of them rather than a set pattern of plays over 5 or 6 phases. This is why I feel that guys like Sexton, O’Driscoll, Hogg, Tipuric, Hines all are needed on the plane as if loosely organised systems break down it is good to know that you have guys who can play actual rugby. See what is in front of them and react.

  3. solidalarry

     /  March 13, 2013

    I think the following are basically sure to tour (leaving this many spots):

    LH: Healy, Jenkins (one)
    HK: Best, Youngs (one)
    TH: Cole, Jones (one)
    SR: Launchbury, Parling, Gray, AWJ (one)
    FL: Wood, Robshaw, O’Brien (two)
    N8: Faletau (one)

    SH: Phillips, Youngs (one)
    OH: Sexton, Farrell (one/zero)
    CT: BOD, Tuilagi, Roberts (one)
    WG: North (three/four)
    FB: Halfpenny (one/two)

    Grant will joust with Vunipola and, maybe, Marler and Bevington for the loose head spot. If Corbisiero had been fit there would be no argument as it would be him, but I’d take Grant unless Vunipola has a stormer this weekend.

    Hibbard is, IMO (all of this is my opinion, obviously), the probable third hooker, followed by Hartley and Ford in that order. I’d take Hibbard.

    Second row has been less-than-inspiring. O’Connell genuinely has a chance. Otherwise it could be Hines, one of the Welsh locks, or maybe Ryan. I’d take Paulie.

    Flankers? Lots of competition. I think Kelly Brown might go. No other Scottish ones, though. Ryan Jones, Peter O’Mahony (now), Warburton and Tipuric are all candidates. Strong area. I’d take Jones and Brown/Warburton depending on this weekend. Ferris and Lydiate not in contention, IMO, as there are already a surplus of good options who are fit.

    N8: Shoot-out between Heaslip and Beattie, most likely, as Ben Morgan has been mostly injured (although Gats did want him for Wales, so is a fan). The possible curveball is Gats selecting SOB primarily as an eight, and picking another flanker. I’d take Jamie, and I think Gats will do the same, but I wouldn’t bet my lunch on it.

    SH: Laidlaw, Care and Murray. I think it’ll be Laidlaw. Care took his opportunity brilliantly (for the other two) on Sunday, and played himself firmly to the bottom of the pile. I’d take Laidlaw.

    OH: Biggar, Weir, Jackson, Flood? Precisely, I wouldn’t take anyone else either. Laidlaw to provide cover when necessary.

    CT: Davies and Barritt are the men most likely. Matt Scott has looked like he could be decent with some ball, but that’s just speculation. Luke Marshall and Billy Twelvetrees will have caught Gatland’s eye this championship, but won’t be selected. If he takes Scott Williams he needs some medication. I’d take… dunno.

    WG: Cuthbert, Ashton, Visser, Maitland, Mike Brown all options, as is Gilroy if he’s fit this week. Bowe, if he proves his fitness, could well make the plane, while Zebo is very unfortunate to get injured. I expect Cuthbert to be one of the wingers, and probably Maitland. I would take Maitland, Ashton, and a fit Bowe. Failing that, Mike Brown. Cuthbert ain’t for me, although he is better than I thought at first (mildly converted).

    FB: Hogg, Kearney, Goode, Mike Brown – I’d take Hogg and Kearney (Halfpenny goes as half wing, half full back in that case) and that’s what I think Warren will do.

    So… from Scotland:

    Hogg, Maitland, Laidlaw, Gray, Grant and perhaps Kelly Brown is my prediction. However, each of them might miss out.

    • solidalarry

       /  March 13, 2013

      Forgot tight head!

      Murray probably, Ross possible. No-one else on the horizon, frankly.

  4. Peat

     /  March 13, 2013

    I’d be peeved if Beattie didn’t make it, he’s been the form 8 in my eyes and is a quality player. If Hogg doesn’t make it, I shall fall into despair and write strongly worded letters.

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Jim Hamilton yet, a player who I think has had a fine Six Nations and could add a big abrasive edge to things if required. Maybe an outside choice, but worthy of contention… particularly if people are talking about that big soft blonde seagull.

  5. Connachtexile

     /  March 13, 2013

    The only Scottish shoe in for me at the moment is Maitland. Grey was as well but it depends on injury. Really want Ford as well. One of the reasons I think we lost the tour in South Africa was our Hookers were small and sub-par. I couldn’t believe he didn’t bring Best out when one of them got injured. Hopefully Gatland doesn’t make that mistake and brings Best and Ford.

  6. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  March 13, 2013

    Is Mighty Mauss out for the season? Does he have time to play his way in?

  7. RICH

     /  March 14, 2013

    Pretty much on the money WoC – Laidlaw has kicked some pressure points which has put him in the window – but with no influence in open play i think he if off the radar. Hines interesting, will be a local when Lions go back to NSW also. Maitland an good shout – he looks decent – and covers a few positions which always helps on a tour. On the above comments – prob unlikely that Hartley/Ashton will be involved considering Gatlands comments on England players drawing attention to themselves……oh and also that neither have done anything to warrant going on the tour….

  8. Interesting that El Thorinho called it as just 1 or 2 Scots. I think he’s wrong, it’ll be around 4. I also think Hines would be a great addition, the ultimate happy warrior. I also think I’ll be watching Living With the Lions over the weekend. It’s like Christmas isn’t it? Making your list, checking it twice. I hope Hines isn’t the Mr Frosty I repeatedly asked for but never got

  9. RedLigind

     /  March 15, 2013

    Borrowed title from Mole’s series on the Nordie boys eh WOC? Good read as always lads. Maitland and Hogg are the two definites in the back division. Maitland is just so classy and offers a good physical presence as well as great pace. In the front Gray could go but young bucks like Launchbury might have nipped his chances offering a similar footballing presence aswell as excellent tenacity and play in the the tight. The rest of their pack are too pedestrian for me, even Denton is living off last years Calcuta Cup offering very little evidence that he should tour this year.

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