Wazza’s World

Neil Francis said on Sunday that he would bet the house on Gatland naming a test backrow of his three Welsh golden boys Dan Lydiate, captain Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau.  It’s the backrow which dominated in the World Cup and the 2012 Six Nations, and seemingly the one Wazza would have left the northern hemisphere with designs on picking.

But in a unit of the team where competition for places which was fiendishly competitive to begin with, such a selection would fly in the face of current form.  Being an all-Welsh combination, it would also have the potential – from our viewpoint on the outside, anyway – to split the squad into factions.  Will it come to pass?

We’ve been trying to get inside Gatland’s head a little bit to resolve this one and it’s not easy.  We can use the fact that the first test is one Saturday from now to try and accrue tidbits of information, but even that is tricky.  Gatland will want to keep everyone – not least his own players – guessing as to what the test team will be until it’s announced.  Essentially, we have absolutely no idea what the backrow will be.  But here’s what little we can piece together.

1. Warburton is the captain, Gatland will want him in the team.

Yes, Wazza has said he wouldn’t necessarily pick his captain if others were playing better, but he’ll really, really want to not have to do that.  If nothing else, it would show up the mistake in naming him captain in the first place.  He’s made Warburton his leader and won’t want to go into battle without him.  He looked off the pace on Saturday but you can ink him down for saturday’s match because Gatland is going to give Warbs every chance to play himself into some form.  But this is last chance saloon stuff, with not one but two outstanding rivals for the test jumper, with Tipuric and O’Brien both showing electric form.

2. Heaslip ahead by a nose?

When Jamie Heaslip was called off the pitch after 50-something minutes, and replaced by Faletau, it put him in the box seat for saturday’s match.  Faletau started on Saturday and played 30 minutes yesterday, so he’s due a rest.  If Jamie can bring another good performance against the Waratahs, a test place is likely to follow, after Faletau failed to impress against the Reds.  Jamie’s captaincy woes of the Six Nations appear to be behind him and he has found some great form over the last two months.

3. Pay close attention to the No.6 jersey for the Waratahs match

Tom Croft has sat out the last two games after a mediocre showing against Western Force, so it’s his ‘turn’ to play 6 against the ‘Tahs.  But if Neil Francis is right, and Dan is the man for Gatland, he is way short of gametime and needs another match.  In short, if he is to start the first test, he has to play on Saturday.  If you see Dan Lydiate’s name on the teamsheet tomorrow, then take it that it’s a done deal and he’s in the test team.  If Croft is picked then Lydiate’s hopes recede and barring a spectacular performance from the gazelle-like Leiceter man – not impossible, but he hasn’t done much of note yet – Sean O’Brien becomes the likely test blindside.

This can go one of three ways:

1. The Sad Ending

Franno is right, and Gatland picks Lydiate, Warburton and Felatau.  Quite frankly, you would want to have pretty good reasons for leaving an in-form Sean O’Brien out of any team, but you’d need to have very strong convictions to pick two chaps ahead of him who aren’t playing especially well – and are perhaps not even fully match fit.  Expect the Irish media to go ballistic, but that might be the least of Gatland’s worries.  There’s every chance such a selection would result in discord in the camp and a splitting of the group into factions.  It would stink of the test team being picked before the plane even touched down in Hong Kong, and that nothing anybody did in the meantime could have made any difference.  Put simply, they would have to win the first test or there would be hell to pay.

2. The Mega Happy Ending

Form is king and Gatty picks the backrow which started yesterday; O’Brien, Tipuric and Heaslip.  After all, they’ve been the three most impressive performers and have the look of a balanced unit.  We’ve long been admirers of the sensational Justin Tipuric, and if selected, we’ve a sneaking suspicion he could go home from the tour a superstar.

3. The Scooby Doo Ending

Tom Croft plays against the ‘Tahs, wins six lineouts against the throw and makes not one, not two, but three of his trademark 50m line breaks in the outside centre channel, prompting Stuart Barnes to faint in the commentary box through sheer Oooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-ness and Crofty forces himself into the test team where he promptly retreats into his shell, makes four tackles, wins one lineout and carries three times for a gain of five metres.

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57 Comments

  1. ArtVandelay

     /  June 12, 2013

    I think the easiest way out for Gatland will be to pick a back row of Warbs, Heaslip, and O’Brien with Tipuric replacing either Warburton or O’Brien (with Warbs moving to 6) on 60 mins, depending on who is flagging more. .

    • The lineout is probably the main area of concern for the Lions at the minute though, and Gatsby (how has no-one called him that before that I’ve seen?!) may throw Croft in to try and give as many targets as possible.

      In terms of Lydiate, I can’t see him starting ahead of SOB, but he’ll get a Test jersey if it turns out our defense is leaky as a sieve.

  2. Cian

     /  June 12, 2013

    I completely agree with your assessment of where the various back rowers stand currently. and Gatland’s likely line of thinking, but I don’t agree that you can rule out Warburton & Lydiate hitting form in a big way before the Tests and ending up deserving of their places. From Gatland’s POV this would certainly qualify as ‘The Mega Happy Ending’, and he might well be right as those two are pretty formidable when playing at their best.

  3. Good blog lads, I think Warbs will start the first test unless he has an absolute nightmare on Saturday. The backrow will be SOB, Warbs, Heaslip I think but I agree with your Mega Happy Ending selection as being the form pick!

    Hard on Tipuric but that is the situation Gatland has created for himself by naming Warbs as captain when it’s clear there’s a debate to be made that he’s not the best 7 in the squad…

  4. Buckfast Bertie

     /  June 12, 2013

    Think Gatland finds himself between a rock and a hard place in terms of backrow selection, but to be brutally honest I’m clean out of sympathy given that he pretty much put himself in that situation. Barring injury, I cannot see him overlooking his tour captain, Warburton, for the 7 shirt, regardless of how SOB and Tipuric have played. Eight looks to be in Heaslip’s pocket, and his return to form post 6Ns continues apace, altho he was curiously quiet against the Counties yesterday when i expect him to make big yardage (I suspect that may not have been possible with the gameplan tho). 6 is a tricky one, with Lydiate his obvious preference, but much like Warburton, I’ve seen nothing to convince me that he is derserving of the test blindside shirt, not that that will necessarily stop him being given it. Croft hasn’t done enough yet in my book either, so I suspect that you’re spot on in terms of Saturday’s selection being a pointer as to which player will pull on no.6 Yep, a rock and a hard place, but entirely of Gatland’s own making

  5. Len

     /  June 12, 2013

    I think what could decide Crofts place is the continued failure of the line out to function properly. If that rights itself on Saturday I’d see his chances as slim.

  6. Tipuric is probably the unluckiest player in NH rugby. Has been consistently great for Ospreys/Wales/Lions, but the shadow of the Gats/Warbs combo looms far to largely over him to be able to break into the team. I kind of feel that Wales (and as a result the Lions) are trying to get too much out of Sam in the short term, and clinging to World Cup (near) glory, and it may hurt his prospects in the long run.

    • (By “the team” I mean “any team that has Warburton alongside him”)

      • TonyC

         /  June 12, 2013

        I firmly believe Warburton is probably the most overrated player in world rugby at the moment. His tackling, running, footballing, jackalling are all average at best by internationally standards and it’s not so long ago that Jordi Murphy, playing out of position, on his debut, played him off the pitch.

        • Chris Robshaw wasn’t good enough to make the squad, Warburton is the captain, even though they’re exactly the same player. Go figure.

  7. ORiordan

     /  June 12, 2013

    Gatland seems to have a fairly set game plan and will therefore favour players who will fit into this game plan. In other words, he may view a slightly out-of-form player who can play to the game plan as being a better option than an in form player who doesn’t or can’t fit the game plan as well.

    There is the defensive side to consider as well, and he has favoured 6s who can tackle, tackle, tackle again, get up and tackle some more. In other words, Lydiate. In 2009 he picked Worsley over Croft to do the “chopper” role in the third test – the only one the Lions won.

    With ball in hand, Gatland’s system seems to be ball carrying forwards, coming round the corner, always going the same direction, working towards the nearest touchline, trying to get over the gain line, then only when near the touchline, the ball goes out to the backline as the defenders have the entire width of the pitch to defend. That requires “closer in” ball carrying forwards, so SOB and Felatau fit better than “looser” forwards. Is there any point in Heaslip and Croft hanging around in the backs when those backs contain monsters like Roberts, North and Cuthbert? (and would have had Bowe, if fit)

    I remain to be convinced of the merits of Croft at the back of the line-out. So far none of the hookers have demonstrated they would be able to hit the back of the line-out consistently!

  8. Definitely the hardest part of the team to call, IMO.

    Was thinking about this, and trying desperately not to just say O’Brien at six and Heaslip at eight – but they’ve got the most convincing cases so far.

    Jamie’s been excellent all tour (for the past few months, actually, superb superb form) though and no doubt he’s playing better than Faletau (who I rate and don’t think is playing badly, just to be clear, but not in supreme touch either). I did note his early exit yesterday – starting on Saturday probably means a test spot. But don’t be shocked to see TF there this coming Saturday, and the following three.

    Given that SOB hasn’t been tried at eight (and both specialists there are good options) I think he’s out of consideration in that position – and thus it’s a five-man shoot out, aiming for two spots, with him the only man with two guns, which I think puts him in with a strong shout for the bench slot at least.

    Croft was meh against the Force, while both JH and SOB were bristling, so I agree that if he doesn’t start on Saturday he’s got no hope. However, I don’t necessarily think no Lydiate against the Tahs means he’s out of the running. DL may not have been superimpressive, but I thought he stall ran well, and standing out isn’t his style anyway. The line-out woes so far wouldn’t encourage the selection of SOB at six, as he’s the worst of the three options in this regard.

    On the openside, I’d pick Warburton. Tipuric’s a lovely player and everyone likes to watch aesthetically pleasing rugby, but he can sometimes be blown out of the most physical and/or brutal of ties – which I would worry could happen in the tests. Thought SW was no better than OK against the Reds but I rate him enough not to drop him given he is captain.

    Hardly a ringing endorsement. But it’s a very hard area to choose.

    • Surely with respect to the lineout a second-row pairing of POC/AWJ or POC/Gray, with Heaslip at the back, would be enough? It doesn’t seem like a strong enough argument to leave O’Brien out to me, given his form.

      I think O’Brien/Lydiate/Heaslip would be a nice combination, with plenty of ball-carrying power but also the defensive abilities that Lydiate brings. Before the tour started I wouldn’t have had either O’Brien or Heaslip in the starting XV but their form, relative to the competition, is too good to ignore.

      Having said that, I can’t imagine Gats will actually leave Warburton out, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lydiate/Warbs/Heaslip, with the latter there largely as a sop to forestall the possibility of an all-Welsh backrow causing unrest in the ranks.

      • Dunno, Rach, the line out has been the worst part of the tour thus far. It’s a consideration, if nothing else.

        You’re right about SOB and (especially) Heaslip’s form at the minute – though in the case of Sean, it’s not been perfect. However, he’s been winning turnovers, flinging long passes, touching on quick short ones, bowling boys, over, hitting rucks like a truck… all the usual, it’s a hard package to ignore, but (despite putting in the most impressive performance in the shirt so far) I don’t think he’ll get on at seven, and form (I guess this is what I was getting at) isn’t the only consideration at six.

        Three different players, three different styles, so it’s like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. It’s very easy if all you have is apples, you pick the most ripe. Or something.

        Don’t think there’s any danger of dissent in the ranks. The players seem to be enjoying themselves and getting on very well. Good, means we might win. But probably not.

    • TonyC

       /  June 12, 2013

      LarryM, your contributions on the whole are generally quite well informed. I am very curious about what people see in Sam Warburton as I certainly don’t see it. Why do you like him?

      • Just think he’s a good player, Tony. Have done for years – was impressed with him even when Martyn Williams was at the end of his first choice days for the Blues (not on merit, by the end). He’s hard-working, decent on the floor, tackles well, etc.

        He wasn’t great last weekend, but I thought he was playing pretty well for Cardiff this year – both he and Roberts took a lot of flak, but IMO they’ve just been playing for an awful rugby team, and aren’t especially to blame.

        That’s just a general view of him as a player. However, as you’ll probably have noticed, my assessment above only had him in my theoretical side because he’s already been chosen as captain – something I wouldn’t have done in the first place (though I would probably have taken him on tour, in the most competitive area in the squad).

        I suppose he came to wider prominence with a bit of a bang, particularly getting the Welsh captaincy, but I’d rated him for a long time ahead of that, and wasn’t surprised to see him play so well in some big games (and then get red-carded in his biggest). Perhaps I’m much kinder on the subsequent periods of not-so-great form (and injury, I think?) because I’d had an eye on him for a while.

        This probably doesn’t read like the most forthright polemic in support of a man.

  9. Yossarian

     /  June 12, 2013

    Gatland has to go back to the Welsh job after this,he is unfortunately going to have that in mind when he picks his team. Warburton may be picked at 6 with Tupuric at 7. Lydiate would be a great guy to have if you were playing SA but against Oz even with a mis-firing lineout we should have decent possession and a solely defensive player in the backrow seems ill advised. Heaslip has been much better than Faletau so far and it would be a disgrace if he wasn’t picked at this point. Wales lost 3 games against the same opposition in the final few minutes last 3 times they played them. I would prefer a team with Cup mentality in the tests(POC impact of the bench last Saturday galvanised the team in a way Warburton hadn’t) If that means a core of Leinster/Leicster/Munster players so be it. So long choking welsh!!!

    • Rich

       /  June 12, 2013

      Totally agree – 1st time in a while that lions coach has to go back to his nation – backrow for 1st test is nailed on and was decided a long time ago, Lydiate, Warb, Falatau. Heaslip might make bench no place for obrien – not in the mix despite being best ball carrier in the loose. But Aussies limited in back row ESP at 7 so Lions will be dominant in that area. Reckon we ll have 11 Welch players 1st test. Seriously. Aussies will be using our 1st half against them as a training video on repeat. I am super pro the Lions – but after Woodward I can t stand bias based on “player potential” – best man for the job on game day. End of.

      • I definitely wouldn’t call the Wallabies “limited” at 7, that’s probably where they have the most depth. Even with the loss of Pocock and Smith (albeit possibly temporarily for the latter), Hooper and Gill have both been pretty fantastic in Super XV from what I’ve seen of them this season.

    • Spice

       /  June 12, 2013

      The ‘choking welsh’ sem to have a far beter ‘cup-mentality’ at inernational level than any of the Irish players….

      • Yossarian

         /  June 12, 2013

        fair point,we beat the Aussies in the World Cup in the biggest clash when it mattered.(and subsequently bottled it against the welsh!) all i know is if we are in a tight end game i would take Heaslip over Faletau/POC over Evans and BOD over Davies.

  10. abitofshoepie

     /  June 12, 2013

    Agree with ORiordan. I think the game plan has already been set, based on making slight improvements to the plan and style used in the oh-so-many-near-miss Welsh games against the Wallabies in recent years. Sam, Justin and Toby will start, with O’Brien definately on the bench (as he can play all 3 positions really well) alongside Heaslip or Croft, depending on how comfortable the coaching ticket get with the line-out. I suspect Heaslip’s chances depend on O’Connell – if he is showing great line-out form in training then they can afford to jettison Croft from the match day squad.

  11. A secondrow of O’Connell and Gray would dominate in the lineout along with Heaslip at 8. I think that’s more than enough to deal with Australia at lineout time if we get the darts right. O’Brien at 6 is the right choice and then Tipuric has to get the 7 jersey IMO.

  12. Mary Hinge

     /  June 12, 2013

    I go with SOB, Warbs, and Heaslip with Croft on the bench. Lydiate will run SOB very close at 6, while Tipuric could yet start 7 if Wards underwhelms on Saturday. Faletau looks like he’ll dirt track for the rest of the tour.

  13. TonyC

     /  June 12, 2013

    Warburton and Lydiate are so deeply average. At least Lydiate’s tackling is exceptional but he has nothing else to his game but to me, this ankle injury seems to have affected his mobility. He was nowhere to be seen in the first half of the Reds game. If Faletau gets the nod ahead of Heaslip I’d find it hard to begrudge him as he is a quality player and it is a marginal call; but unless Warburton steps his game considerably on Saturday, picking him ahead of Tipuric is a scandalous decision. 7 weeks out maybe but he was shocking against the Reds in a game where the Lions had real problems at the breakdown. Croft needs to play his way into the team on Sat, otherwise SOB should get the nod.

    As an aside, any views on who POC’s second row partner should be/will be for the tests?

    • Yossarian

       /  June 12, 2013

      Gray compliments him well,good at what POC isn’t and vice versa. Mobility,carrying/offloading

    • Spice

       /  June 12, 2013

      One if not both of O’Brien and/or Tipuric has to start. Both of their lin play and carrying yesterday was exceptional and would be sorely missed without them!

    • Stevo

       /  June 12, 2013

      If O’Connell starts I’d say it’s between Gray and Evans to partner him. As Yossarian says, Gray’s mobility and handling complement O’Connell, whereas Evans is a good workhorse, the Welsh Stakhanov if you will, which is appropriate given Welsh mining heritage and all that.

  14. In my worthless, armchair based, opinion the team should be: Vanikolo, Hibbard, Jones, POC, AWJ, SOB, Tipuric (but will be Warbs), Heaslip, Philips, Sexton, North, Tuilagi, BOD, Cuthbert, Halfpenny.

    I don’t think you need Gray in the loose with that backrow so I’d plumb for more grunt and lineout prowess with AWJ, and I have been unimpressed by Gray to say the least.
    Roberts could replace Tuilagi but I actually thought the Tuilagi, BOD partnership looked very nice indeed. Tuilagi definitely benefited by having brains either side of him.

    The really tight calls are going to be who fills the bench… Corbs, Best, Stevens, Parling Lydiate, B Youngs, Farrell, Maitland…

    Let the sledging of the above commence! 🙂

    • I’ve actually been really disappointed at how few combinations have been tested at half back. Youngs/Sexton was something I’ve been really excited about seeing for a while now but they seem to be sticking with Phillips/Phillips 2.0 at 9, and playing Youngs with Farrell which doesn’t teach us anything new.

      Second Row is actually somewhere that we have tons of depth as well, and I think that one if not both jerseys are up for grabs, no-one’s had an absolute stinker of a game there so far.

      Looking forward to hopefully seeing Zebo and Kearney line out against the Waratahs, if to give North a rest if nothing else!

      • Agree with you on the 9, 10 combinations but Youngs simply doesn’t fit the game plan they want to play with at 9 unfortunately. He’ll be great as an impact sub with Sexton – the speed of the game will quicken considerably with him on.

        • ORiordan

           /  June 12, 2013

          In the game against the Reds, Youngs went “the wrong way” a couple of times based upon Gatland’s system of heading towards the blind side. That would have been ok if he had made a break and lots of yards, but he didn’t and there was a bit of scrambling by the rest of the team to re-adjust.

          I think Gatland will forgive players if they make mistakes like knocking-on, but not if they don’t follow his system.

    • Stevo

       /  June 12, 2013

      Surely you mean Vunipola? Vainikolo’s decent on the wing, but I wouldn’t fancy him at loosehead.

  15. I’m probably being naive here but Gatland has always struck me a pragmatist. I think his priority first and foremost is winning the series. It’s not like his Welsh job is under threat after winning the 6 nations this year. I also don’t think he’s gone down the Clive Woodward route of picking his test team before the plane left the tarmac. I would expect Heaslip to start over Falateau. Not only is he the form player but he’s the better one. He came into a rich vein of form with Leinster after the 6 nations and the Lions really seems to bring out the best in him.

    Havign said that I think he’s going to have to back his man and his own decision and start Warburton. At the time i thought it was a strange call to chose your captain from what seemed like the most competetive area of the team, particularly with such strong alternatives available. This seems to have come to pass.

    So that’s Heaslip at 8, with Warburton at 6 or 7. If Gatland wants the best groundhog, and I certainly don’t think the Wallabies are weak there, which goes to show what depth they have in this position, it’s be 6: Warburton, 7: Tipuric, 8: Heaslip with O’Brien on the bench as one hell of an impact sub

    If he’s happy with Warburton at 7 it’s a shootout between SOB & Biggar. I think Biggar is really strong defensively but in general I think he’s off the pace and his own high standards. The point raised above about the ankle injury affecting his mobility is an interesting one. If Gatland is swayed by his day job it’ll be here but I think O’Brien will start in this situation. He offers too much to ignore.

    Regarding TOM CROFT(!), I think he’s a good player who brings something very different at 6. but if Heaslip starts & POC runs the lineout, he’s not going to start in the back row as it nullifies his main advantage. So the other possibility is SOB, Warburton & Heaslip with a toss up for the bench

    • Spice

       /  June 13, 2013

      His job wont be under pressure because he has been a fantastic coach for them over the last few years, but he wasn’t involved in the 6 nations this year and they were notably weaker without him. I think he will definitley be slightly biased but that is completely natural with players he has seen a lot more of in training etc. over the course of a couple of seasons. He knows them better-ther strengths and their weaknesses and that will make it easier for him to build a game-plan aroud them. It isnt always about picking the ‘inform trio’ or the ‘unit that compliment each other’….sometimes a ‘boring’ back-row can compliment a certain type of back-line much better etc…….

    • toro toro

       /  June 13, 2013

      Well, Dan Biggar isn’t on the Tour and is an outhalf, so…

  16. Yossarian

     /  June 12, 2013

    Rewatching the game against the reds.warburton is awful,he just doesn’t look fit.he is slow to react to situations and work to get back in position, hands on hips in bits in the 52nd minute.lydiate the same.for two guys who’s game is based largely on work rate as opposed to any spectacular talents it is no wonder the lions struggled in this game.

  17. Saul Evans

     /  June 12, 2013

    What an extremely poor and myopic piece of nationalistic shite.

    To suggest somehow that Warburton is only there on reputation is a nonsense. Same Warburton is a world class 7, the best 7 in the Northern Hemisphere closely followed by Tipuric. He was man of the match in Wales’ penultimate 6 Nations game against Scotland and showed very strongly along with Tipuric and Faletau in the absolute destruction of grand slam chasing England in the final game.

    That my friends is the only current form available against test match opposition not show pony running in wide channels against painters and electricians.

    He’s had one game to date, since injury, where he’s done OK and barring a disastrous game on Saturday he’ll take his place in the Test side a week on Saturday.

    All 6 back row players can make a decent case for inclusion and I’ll be very happy to cheer on whoever make it. These will be the players Gatland believes are the best to do a job for the game plan he wants to execute. He won’t give a flying fuck what armchair pundits in Ireland, Wales or England think with regards to the composition of the back row or how many of our boys make the team.
    It won’t cause a rift in the team – just moronic journalists like Francis.

    • Stevo

       /  June 13, 2013

      You finish by saying that all 6 back row players can make a decent case for inclusion which shows how ridiculous your initial reaction was. If they’re all possible starters then suggesting that Warburton maybe shouldn’t start is hardly myopic or nationalistic shite, especially given that it’s what most of the rest of the rugby watching world thinks. Unless Sam puts in a top notch performance against the Waratahs then he doesn’t deserve to start the first test, but unfortunately I think he will unless as you say he has a disaster.

      I will agree with you about one thing, Francis is a moron.

      • Saul Evans

         /  June 13, 2013

        Stevo – there is no contradiction – all 6 are playing well enough to be included but as the selected captain of the tour Warburton will be favoured unless he has a 5/10 game on Saturday.

    • Easy now Saul. We all know Warburton is a top player when at his best, do a search for him on the blog and you’ll see plenty of complimentary words about him, we knew he was ace well in advance of the World Cup.

      Whatever about being ‘nationalstic’ the player we want selected in the 7 shirt is a Welshman, Justin Tipuric. He’s the form player. If you pick the fellow who isn’t in better form than that is picking on reputation, or pedigree, however you want to slice it up. Now that’s fine, and there are plenty of cases for picking proven winners even if they’re not at their best becuase you fancy them to come good at some stage. But to dismiss the case for the form selection as ‘nationalstic sh*te’? Come on!

      Without wanting to get too parochial, I’ve noticed a tendency amoung the Welsh commentariat to dismiss anyone non-Welsh who’s playing well because of the quality of the opposition, and excuse anyone Welsh who played poorly against the same poor opposition because they only play well in the big games. Seems a bit like having your cake and eating it.

      • Saul Evans

         /  June 13, 2013

        It is nationalistic sh*te though isn’t it. You ‘Sad Ending’ with 3 Welsh guys and your ‘ Mega Happy Ending’ with the 2 Irish guys in the XV.

        Apologies if my tone is a bit full on – it’s just the incessant ‘How many Irish in the team’ angle all the time instead of concentrating on the rugby. This is after all about the B&I Lions not our player is better than yours.

        I’m not dismissing any non-Welsh players – as I mentioned all the back rows have shown in recent matches that they are worthy of a test spot. Particularily O’Brien who appears likely to miss out to Croft.

        • There is no ‘how many Irish in the team angle’. We haven’t taken that angle anywhere on the blog, at any point. The keyword which is used in the piece umpteen times is form. Tipuric is the form 7, so we want to see him in the team. Likewise Heaslip and O’Brien.

          Everyone has some degree of national bias – it’s only natural – but we’re try to keep ourselves in check. You won’t find us campaigning for Conor Murray or Rory Best to be in the test team, because the other players available are better, or are playing better.

          We just want to see the fellows who are playing the best rugby in the team, and to win the first test.

          • ORiordan

             /  June 13, 2013

            How many teams are picked purely on form, however? As I mentioned previously, Gatland appears to have a distinct game plan so a player who doesn’t fit into “Wazza’s World” is at a disadvantage, irrespective of what their form is. Particularly in the back row where balance is everything.

            So the ‘tahs game isn’t just a test for Warbuton, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is also a test to see if Heaslip and Croft can play somewhat tighter than they have to date. If one or both of them spends lots of time hanging around in the backs, then I don’t think this will advance their case for selection in Gatland’s eyes.

  18. Connachtexile

     /  June 12, 2013

    I have to say I’ve lost a lot of respect for you after quoting that moron Neil Francis. Article was decent thought but no more mentioning of Neil Francis please this is a rugby blog.

  19. Yossarian

     /  June 12, 2013

    Saul Evans,you need to watch the game against Queensland reds again,just go player cam on him, he is awful. He makes a good steal at one stage,that’s is it. You can blame fitness but I watched him in the rds for Cardiff and he was also dreadful. He is completely over rated, one good performance in the 6 nations doesn’t warrant lions captaincy. Captain had to be a named on certainty and warburton never was. It’s a mistake that is haunting Gatland now. Trying to find form on a lions tour just doesn’t work. If Gatland sticks with his welsh favourites a golden opportunity to win a series(in which we are underdogs) will be missed.

    Also in fairness like him or not Francis at least speaks his mind and gives a strong opinion instead of towing the media party line.

    • Saul Evans

       /  June 13, 2013

      Sorry mate – no answer for this. “Welsh favourites”…..look at the players not their nationality

      • toro toro

         /  June 13, 2013

        Jesus.

        Looking at the players rather than their nationality is *exactly* what that post – and really everything written on this question by people other than you – is doing.

        The nationality is mentioned only – and explicitly – because of the fear/suspicion that *Gatland* will do the opposite of what you suggest. To skim people’s posts until you find the W-word, strip it from any context, and dismiss the authors as chauvinist is kiddies’ stuff.

        • Saul Evans

           /  June 14, 2013

          Bollacks. ‘nationality is mentioned only – and explicitly – because of the fear/suspicion that *Gatland* will do the opposite of what you suggest.’

          Do you really think a coach at that level, with a huge amount of success, and a history of selecting talent in favour of established ‘star’ names would simply select someone on geographical grounds?

          It just exposes the bean counting that typical of articles like this.

  20. zdm

     /  June 14, 2013

    http://irishlions.blogspot.co.uk/

    Anyone else remember this from last time around?

  21. Megweya

     /  June 14, 2013

    Long time admirer of WOC
    – the Scooby-doo Ending: hilarious,
    but be careful what you might deliriously (dare I say “demented”ly) wish for – it might conjour up a repeat of the predictive-selection of Sir Bald’s RWC 2003 +24-month pre-picks for the Lions 2005

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