Lions Post #5: He’s a Killer He’s a Flash Boy Oh

With Wazza currently busy deciding which addresses to send his Power of Four Wristbands to in the mail, the weeks are running out to make a good impression on the old boy.  But a handful of players are making a late bolt, and some of them are some right flash geezers.

The question we’re asking this week is this – just how much room does Wazza have in his squad for flash dandies with lopsided haircuts and a bit of a strut about them?  He’ll want a combination of hard-nosed experience and the fearlessness and brashness of youth.  After all, someone has to pose for the cameras in the commemorative DVD (which may or may not contain emotional montages, sepia-tinged clips of a thinner Jeremy Guscutt dropping a goal and a lot of talk about what it means to wear the Lions jersey), and the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Sam Warburton will be far too sensible for that type of carry-on.  Plus the last tour would have been nothing without Donncha O’Callaghan pulling Ian McGeechan’s trousers down.  Yes, the Lions tour needs a bit of pizzazz, and the three players we’re looking at today are the men to provide it.

Simon Zebo couldn’t strictly be described as a bolter, as he’s been progressing very nicely for about two seasons now.  In fact had he not been cruelly struck down by injury in the Six Nations he could be more or less nailed on by now such was his form, but he looks like he’ll be able to overcome that setback.  He looked pretty sharp against Harlequins, with one particular take and offload catching the eye.  A couple more performances of the same ilk in the next couple of weeks and Zebo can add another pair of socks to the list of those he’s worn around his ankles.

In general the wing is the most bolter-friendly position, because it’s the one position where greased-lightning whippersnappers can get into the team, and confidence and pace are the order of the day, rather than grizzled experience.  One can get by on instinct.  With that in mind, Wasps’ fastman Christian Wade must at least come under consideration.  Yes, he’s a rough diamond and probably not the greatest defender in world rugby, but in the modern game, where space is increasingly difficult to find on the pitch, a fellow who can beat his man on the outside is incredibly valuable.  And, yes, dude is pretty flash.  With Chris Ashton playing like a drain for most of the season (he did claw back some credibility in Saracens’ win over Ulster on Saturday), Wade is worth bringing for his gas alone.

One thing Wazza should be doing is ensuring he has variety in his squad.  Were he to bring, say, Cuthbert, North (both nailed on), Bowe and Visser, he’d have four rather similar players; big strong fellows who can run hard and through people.  There should be room for an elusive runner in the party, and Wade and Zebo fit the bill.

One other player alleged to be making a bolt in some excitable quarters is Leinster’s precociously gifted Ian Madigan.  Wazza was there to see his headline-grabbing 28-point haul on Friday night, which added another feather to his cap, albeit in a scattergun match which suited his mentality.  It seems a done deal that Sexton and Farrell will make the cut, but there’s probably room for one more, and with Rhys Priestland injured (and overrated anyway), options are thin on the ground.  Greig Laidlaw as a 9-10 option?  Solid, but unspectacular.  James Hook as a utility man?  Wazza has never seemed to rate him that highly at Wales.  Johnny Wilkinson?  Will be involved in the Top 14 knockouts, more or less ruling him out.  Last time around Geech emphasised that he was looking for players finishing the season strongly, and Wazza is expected to pick up that particular baton.  Madigan would tick that box, and his game would surely prosper on the hard Antipodean grounds.  And, yes, he has a bit of flash about him.  Check out that hair for starters.

All that said, it looks at least a season too early for him.  Whatever about wing bolters, the idea of throwing rookie fly-halves into Lions series sounds like a step too far.  It can be tempting to get very excited about such a prodigious talent, but it’s too easy just to remember his best games and forget about the bad ones.  He was brilliant on Friday, but only a week previous struggled to get the backline working (admittedly a workmanlike backline without D’arcy, who appears to be operating very much on Madigan’s wavelength) against Ulster.  He’s best served playing in the North American tour with Ireland this summer.

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36 Comments

  1. “Whatever about wing bolters, the idea of throwing rookie fly-halves into Lions series sounds like a step too far.”
    That would be how I see it.
    Is there any precedent for bolters in linchpin positions (tighthead, 8, outhalf)?

  2. You are probably right about Mads but jaysus it would be fun seeing him tear around Oz !!

    • Given the renowned post-Lions slump (and my own Lions apathy), I hope he doesn’t make it: he is too important a factor in Leinster’s 2013/14 season.

  3. Stevo

     /  April 10, 2013

    If Mads did go it would probably be as a third choice, and I’d rather see him playing a couple of games in green this summer.

  4. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  April 10, 2013

    Bringing Madigan would be a very Gatty thing to do. Fingers Crossed.
    I’d be very surprised if Zebo doesn’t go.

  5. Madigan deserves to go on form and ability. Also, I’d only take one from North and Cuthbert (and it’d be North)! Bowe was like a statue when Ashton whizzed by him but he was very impressive in attack for a player who clearly wasn’t fit..once he gets back to fitness he’ll easily be the best winger available

  6. Not a rugby comment at all, but ten out of ten for the gratuitous Suede reference. A b-side and all!

  7. Len

     /  April 10, 2013

    I’m not sure I fully agree with you regarding Mad dog. I can see how a few more weeks with the Irish set up might cement his place in the Ireland squad and allow him to play himself ahead of Jackson but surly the experience with the Lions (even in the mid week games) would be better than friendly matches against Canada and the US? He seems to be a player who relishes the big occasions and is growing into his new role as top dog in Leinster. Of course this is all just conjecture. To be even in with a shout he’ll need to put in big games against Munster and Zebra to retain his spot against Biarittz and further. If Sexton gets in ahead of him again his chance will vanish.

    • Buccaneer

       /  April 10, 2013

      Was thinking something similar. With all due respect, playing midweek games against Wallaby-less super 15 teams would probably be to a higher standard than the US and Canada games. Plus he would be playing with different players at 9, 12 and 13. Could really help his development going on tour

  8. I feel highly embarrassed that I doubted Zebo continually last season!

    • Len

       /  April 10, 2013

      Don’t be, we’ve all doubted a young players potential at some point only to be proven wrong when they turn into the next big thing. I doubted that Sexton would make it during his first year in Leinster.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 10, 2013

      I dont see why you’d stop, hes hardly set the world alight. I’m still reserving judgement on him until he produces consistent top class performances. He cant produce something out of nothing the way Gilroy can. Hes a pacy but limited straight line runner with a good boot and fielding abilities, good player but vastly overrated by Munster and Ireland fans.

  9. Zebo has got 18 tries sense beginning of 2011 in 33 games while Gilroy has got 8 tries in 29 games……so you could argue Gilroy can create something out of nothing but he doesn’t do it all that often…

    Girloy is also playing in a much better team Zebo for the past 18 months as well.

    • Yeah. Gilroy was ahead of him last season and could be disgruntled at being passed over for Zebo for the NZ tour…but this season Zebo has really kicked on and developed skills he didn’t look to have last year. If you could merge the two of them (Zebo’s angles, strong running, catching and kicking, Gilroy’s jinking pace and impact tackles), you’d have the full package for sure.

      • Peat

         /  April 10, 2013

        I for one cannot wait for the technology to physically merge players, leaving behind one super player with the best of both. I’m sure my Conrad Ferris merge will be the terror of the known world.

      • Nice stattery. If you had included last season, I reckon the stats would balance out more in Gilroy’s favour…but I have no time to do so myself.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 10, 2013

        Bill Belichick: ‘Stats Are For Losers’
        Stats are fairly meaningless when discussing a player merits, its not baseball. Watch both players and tell me who is a greater threat with ball in hand, who offers more elusiveness and has a wider range of attacking skills, its Gilroy. Zebo is Irelands answer to Tom Varndell, hes Fionn Carr with a kicking game.
        All that money-ball stats etc is fine when splitting hairs but we are not, analyse Zebos running style and contribution in attack, compare that to Gilroy, hes a stiff guy without a sidestep or any sort of deceptive ability a top winger has, Geordan Murphy sums up what I’d percieve the difference between fast guys and top wingers with this description of Rokocoko. “A 16-stone winger who moves like a f***ing conger eel “. Zebo is a fast guy in a straight line, Gilroy is equally as fast but you’d put your money on Gilroy to do his man over Zebo due to his footwork allied to his pace.

        • If you think Bill Belichick has achieved the consistent success he has with the Pats without recourse to statistics you are hugely mistaken.

          And in rugby terms, if you think statistics aren’t used by the best teams as part of their analysis, you are again hugely mistaken.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 11, 2013

            Stats dont give you anywhere near the full picture the eyeball test does when analyzing the player, saying X scored more tries than Y…therefore he’s like, better, makes no sense. Look at the Heaslip debacle, stats were used to denigrate his performance when you could see by watching the game he was playing a different style of game. Looking at POM stats wise you could say he had a fairly quiet 6N, but actually watching his performance would show you why he was so quiet. Its no use quoting tackle stats and meters carried without context of style of play.
            To say Zebo is one of the top wingers in the home nations because he banged in slightly more tries than Gilroy is utterly disingenuous. Wade offers more threat with ball in hand(at the expense of defence or a kicking game) something the stats wont tell you for example.
            Maitland is a better all round footballer than Zebo, look at their respective highlights, Maitland has more vision, better positioning and handling allied to better footwork and more or less the same pace.
            I quoted BB as that quote was in response to a reporter criticizing one of his Wide Receivers lack of production. I think a lot of people on here are falling into the trap of relying on stats to make their point as opposed to explaining why they hold the opinions they do, saying X has .23 more meters on the same number of carries as Y is lunacy when you are analyzing a guys performance and skill level
            Using statistical criteria I could say O’Gara is the best 10 in the world for the past 10 years without even looking at him play and bring up all sort of stats to back up my assertion. Stats means nothing without discussing his style play, which when brought into the equation would drop him down the pecking order.
            Its a lazy style of argument and brings nothing to the table in terms of analyzing players, Its great if you don’t actually watch the match you can pick a guy out and say “2 tries and 90 meters gained on 4 carries, he’s had an awesome game”, ignoring how he got the tries and the actions of the 29 other people on the field at the time.

        • Stats and analytics are just another tool to be used as part of the decision making process. Teams across all sports are recognising this, and the really smart ones are employing people purely to analyse data and develop insights that can help their team win on the field. This is a fact.

          Even in baseball the smart teams don’t look purely at stats as the sole arbiter of value, but all sports are recognising that analytics have value.

          And that includes rugby, in a very big way. For example, the All Blacks as part of their contract with their stats provider pay to have a specific element of game play measured that nobody else does.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 11, 2013

            I’m not deriding the value of stats, but the type of stats that are being used by people to make point bear no resemblance to the type used and collated by professional sports teams. They have massive analytical teams bringing in reams of data and sorting it into useable information not try count v try count.
            Even at that, a bunch of figures on a screen, no matter how in depth they are cannot be used in isolation of knowledge of the game.
            Its no good knowing exactly how many meters your prop has left to run, what his tackle count and Vo2 max are, when you cant understand why he’s being folded in the scrums.
            Analytics has value in a sporting context but citing tries scored and meters gained is hardly cutting edge analytics. You’d be better off ignoring the stats and analyzing the individual, the stats give you more information but nowhere near the full picture needed to claim X is better than Y.
            I think people are being blinded by stats and use them egrigiously to cover up the lack of a genuine ability to analsye a players merits and faults.

          • Thats one to print off for later – cheers Mole!

  10. Peat

     /  April 10, 2013

    In fairness to Betfair, he’s been stuck on a bench behind Trimble and Bowe for plenty of those games. But Gilroy’s having a wee bit of a second season slump, he’s not finding the try line, while Zebo has gone from strength to strength. I’d take Gilroy for the Lions if Zebo can’t come, but elsewise its Zebo.

    Wade on a Lions tour would be hilarious.

  11. Yossarian

     /  April 10, 2013

    Sorry curates egg but I would take the risk of a post lions slump over the potential added development of the tour. BOD and ROG both say how it helped mould them just seeing johnny wilkinsons dedication to training.the chance to see how the best of the other nations do it and train under Gatland will make him a better player long term.

    • Keith Earls – on the other hand – has never looked the same player since (and not in a good way).

      Also not sure about the added development point: he would be learning of the players around him, like Johnny Sexton (who he already learns off) and Farrell (who I don’t reckon has much to teach him given experience etc.).

  12. Gareth Fair

     /  April 11, 2013

    I reckon Madigan would be perfect for the midweek team playing fast rugby on hard pitches. I reckon Wade has more of a chance than Zebo. The British media will hype Wade up a lot and Sky were already comparing him to Jason Robinson and his 2001 Lions tour. We all know that Zebo is a more rounded player but if its a fast winger they want well Wade is their man.

  13. cynical2ndrow

     /  April 11, 2013

    Weird how people keep talking about Visser, he scores well but he’s a defensive liability, Maitland is the better of the two wingers we have up in Scotland and has the experience of beating Aussies from his S15 days. For me the wingers would be North, Maitland, Zebo and Cuthbert, but have an inkling feeling they may take Tuilagi as a nominal winger in the mould af Alan Tait from 97

  14. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  April 11, 2013

    Not sure people should say Gilroy is more rounded than Zebo.

    Gilroy’s defence is not as good as Zebo’s
    Gilroy’s kicking game is much worse than Zebo’s
    Gilroy isn’t as good a fielder as Zebo

  15. Mike

     /  April 11, 2013

    I would’ve thought the obvious choice for a third ten would be Dan Biggar?

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