The Lions Tour – It’s Here

The Sky Sports montage of African lions cavorting around Uluru suddenly magically transports them to Sydney Opera House – they gradually fade away to leave an image of a slim-looking guy who bears a passing resemblence to a certain corpulent former England centre now on the Beeb dropping a goal. He in turn fades into a tearful Phil Vickery and a heartbroken Shawsie. Music turns into a deep minor key – flim moves on to a smiling Beast, tries by Tom Croft, BOD mouthing “bring it on”, injured players exiting stage left, Jacque Fourie showing a woozy Rog who is boss, and then finally a winning penalty from Morne.

Simon Lazenby can barely conceal his glee, it’s the Lions! Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiions! Tearful tributes to a professional anachronism abound, the merits of old school touring are tarted up with sepia paint, Ian McGeechan has been wheeled out, and – finally – it’s squad announcement time. Tingles!!

We’re going to second guess Gatty and co. We have steadfastedly avoided naming a squad until now and instead skirted the issue by talking about Israel Folau and bolters and such. But we can avoid no longer. Egg will see which fatties are going to need their official jackets taken out, while later Palla is going to investigate which flash backs will be anxiously checking Australian import regulations on ylang-ylang tree oil.

Loosehead Props: Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Mako Vunipola. Jenkins may tell Toulon to stuff their playoff matches and head off on the tour if called upon.  He’s been out of favour, but is such a good player he’s worth bringing, and then who knows?  It looks like a shootout between him and the explosive Healy to start the tests, with Vunipola a potential impact sub.  If Jenkins isn’t released by Toulon, the capable Ryan Grant will go.

Hookers: Ross Ford, Richard Hibbard, Tom Youngs. Hibbard and Youngs are nailed on. The third slot is pretty open, with Rory Best slowly unbolting over the last four months.  On a tour without many standout Scottish options, Gatty might take this opportunity to get one in and avoid more tears from Geech – Ford to go ahead of Rory Best and Dylan H*****y.

Tighthead Props: Dan Cole, Adam Jones, Euan Murray. Not much debate here – the only question was would Mike Ross have a good enough season to displace the three ogres. In the event, he hasn’t, and has looked extremely fatigued to boot. In fact, let’s hope Schmidty leaves him here instead of bringing him to North America.  Euan Murray has done little of late, but might travel on reputation.

Second Row: Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, Geoff Parling. The above is all contingent on Gray being fit enough – if he isn’t, Joe Launchbury is the obvious one-for-one replacement. Donnacha Ryan has been usurped by his provincial colleague Paulie; it’s unlikely both will be picked. Evans and O’Connell are favourites for the test jumpers at this juncture, but Alun Wyn Jones added serious value to Wales’ Six Nations campaign once he returned from injury. Big Jim Hamilton had a great Six Nations, but, despite much shorter arms, Parling holds him off due to greater mobility and athleticism.

Blindside Flankers: Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien, Tom Wood. Media darling Crofty is squeezed out again – in an attritional position, he’ll probably end up out there at any rate. Fez probably would have toured were he fit, and Dan Lydiate takes that role, having returned from injury with the Dragons, and looked in acceptable nick. He’s a prototype 6 and worth the risk.  Wood and O’Brien can cover 8 if necessary, and O’Brien allegedly 7 as well.

Openside Flankers: Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton (c). Warburton will be Gatty’s go-to leader guy – he’s done the job before, and Gatland is fine with him not necessarily being first choice. And it’s no surprise he isn’t, for Justin Tipuric has been the stand-out openside this year. Honest Chris Robshaw misses out – he just hasn’t been good enough since his February displays, and the two selected are pure class, and highly specialised talents.

Number Eights: Toby Faletau, Jamie Heaslip. Faletau is nailed on, and favourite for the test jumper. We think Gatty will bring one other specialist 8, which makes it Heaslip vs Johnnie Beattie. Heaslip is simply in better form, and when he is allowed to play his natural role, has had a good season – his barnstorming performance on Saturday (15 carries for 124 metres and top of the tackle count) probably booked him his airline ticket.

That’s 21 forwards, and we think 16 backs will accompany them. It’s an unanswered question who will be in charge of fines on tour – tight five forwards usually revel in this role, is Ian Evans a contender?

Palla will be back later on to resolve the other big selection dilemmas facing Gatty:

  • Will La Rochelle release Lesley Vainikolo from their Pro D2 playoff commitments?
  • Can Donncha O’Callaghan oust George North for a wing slot?
  • If Graeme Morrison isn’t available, who is favourite for to back up Jamie Roberts?
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19 Comments

  1. Shelflife68

     /  April 29, 2013

    Good review, only change I would make is Best to travel prob at Youngs expense, despite Rorys best efforts to deselect himself I think that he will travel.

  2. ott

     /  April 29, 2013

    “Allegedly 7”??

    • Ha! Yes! He’s shown he can play there but Gatland won’t have any interest in him for that position, he’s a very different idea on how a backrow should look and demands a specialist link-up, breakaway, openside, whatever you want to call it.

      • Seems like an age since he’s played consecutive games at 6… does this swing the pendulum in Lydiate’s favour for the jersey, or will it very much be a case of “Go out there and show me something” against the Reds, Tahs, Brumbies etc.?

  3. Buckfast Billy

     /  April 29, 2013

    Richie Gray witnessed on the back pitches at Murrayfield last week going through complete fitness tests under the watchful eye of Dr James Robson with clip-board in his paws

    • Mary Hinge

       /  April 29, 2013

      We need a dog of war in the second row a la Simon Shaw in ’09.
      Nathan Hines will tour.

      • Only if Gatland decides to raid Clermont and Toulon for their Lions eligible players, which he hasn’t indicated he’ll do. Jenkins has the best chance as he’s not first choice (although he was on the bench for the HEC), whereas the rest (Shaw, Sheridan, Wilkinson, Hines, Byrne) are as far as I know first choice.

      • Hines would only go if Gatland changes his mind about Top14 final contenders, and because he’s (as far as I know) a first team player for Clermont (while Jenkins is 2nd/3rd). Simon Shaw, Stefon Armitage and Andrew Sheridan would all fall into this category as well.

  4. jojo

     /  April 29, 2013

    wonder if strauss would have an outside shout.. probably havent seen enough of him this year

  5. Michael

     /  April 29, 2013

    Croft will tour. And start if fit.

    Best will probably squeeze in. Doubt Gatty will pick Ford just because he is a sweaty.

    I’ve also a funny feeling he will pick Hartley too. He is a Gatland style of player and a fellow Kiwi. The spat they had before – if he picks him now he will be more likely to get 100% commitment out of him. He never liked the look of Hibbard previously.

  6. If we’re doing it (first reserve in brackets):

    LH: Grant, Healy, Jenkins (Mako)
    HK: Best, Hibbard, Youngs (Owen)
    TH: Cole, Jones, Murray (Ross)
    SR: Evans, Gray, Jones, O’Connell, Parling (Ryan)
    FL: O’Brien, Robshaw, Tipuric, Warburton, Wood (Brown – is Lydiate fit enough? He looked OK the one game I watched him, conspicuous enough in a shite team, I can see the temptation but I’ve not caught enough)
    N8: Faletau, Heaslip (Brown again, SOB covers eight)

    SH: Laidlaw, Phillips, Youngs (Murray)
    OH: Sexton, Wilkinson (Madigan)

    CT: O’Driscoll, Roberts, Scott, Tuilagi (Davies)
    WG: Ashton, Bowe, Cuthbert, North (Maitland)
    FB: Halfpenny, Hogg, Kearney (Zebo)

    NB. Best’s poor patch of throwing coincided with having poor jumping options at second row. Ireland can’t get away with a McCarthy/Ryan pairing. Ulster missed Muller for the same period.

    And, re. flankers, Gatty used to play Joe Worsley at seven for Wasps, no?

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 29, 2013

      Rees was the Wasps 7 before he caught a bad case of knee knack and retired. He’d probably be touring now if it wasnt for that.

  7. SUFTUM

     /  April 29, 2013

    This would be my forwards (Henry is a very hopeful pick)

    PROPS: Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Dan Cole, Euan Murray

    HOOKERS: Richard Hibbard Rory Best Tom Youngs

    SECOND ROWS: Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones, Geoff Parling, Richie Gray Joe Launchbury

    FLANKERS: Chris Henry, Sean O’Brien, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Tom Wood

    NUMBER EIGHTS: Toby Faletau, Jamie Heaslip

  8. I’d take NWJMB over Launchbury, although I haven’t seen enough of the latter to make a totally non-biased call, I just think the fact he can cover 6 and a second row berth could see him make the plane.

    • therealspratt

       /  April 29, 2013

      Surprised more people haven’t been calling for him to be included, I’d certainly put him up there ahead of any other potential bolters though admittedly he has a fair bit of competition in his positions.

    • Yossarian

       /  April 29, 2013

      totally agree one of the second rows will be a 2nd row/6. courtney lawes/hednerson type. they will be looking for versatile players with a smaller squad.(37 players for 2 games a week when matchday squads contain 23?) Gatty has said he only wants 2 outhalves to give both an equal crack at the test jersey.think that,versatility and Hooks poor form will open the door for Madigan.(played 10,12,15 at decent level this year)

  9. glumsden

     /  April 29, 2013

    Seriously lads! 6 props for an 89 week tour tour? There will be 4 props on duty every game. Thats a lot to ask. I would take 7 as a floater and 3 hookers

  10. zdm

     /  April 29, 2013

    Best has done his damndest to play himself out but will still tour for two reasons:
    1) His dross has only brought him to the level of the chasing pack who are either at or above par for them – Best has more in the tank and can be expected to up his game for an occasion like this and a coach who will use him properly
    2) He is hard as hell, strong as a bull and never gets crocked – the Lions is the definition of old school rugby. You need a tight five that won’t budge an inch and who will give you aggressive, front foot ball to take the pressure off a back line that aren’t that familiar with each other – Best offers this much more than the others.

    I’d also like to see Hamilton tour instead of Richie Gray – he was the man who took Ireland apart. He is intelligent and savvy and brings a bit of niggle – he could be the Lions “good arsehole” and a brilliant mid-weeker.

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