[Drum Roll] The Test Team

The day we’ve all waited for is almost upon us.  Gatty’s about to name his test team!  Get ready with your most nationalistic, parochially driven fervour (where are the Ulster players! How come there aren’t any Cork men!).  Before we look at that, though, a few words on yesterday’s defeat…

There was a smidge of hysteria on twitter in the aftermath of the pitiful defeat, but really, it’s too early to let the panic set in.  The team Wazza names tomorrow will bear little resemblance (in fact, probably none) to that which started yesterday.  The Lions will be getting a serious upgrade, not least in the tight five, but in particular in the back division.  That area of the team had a decidedly patched-up appearance to it, with a three-quarter line made up entirely of new arrivals, one of whom was making a bizarre, fleeting appearance.  Gatland and his management team won’t be especially upset, and said beforehand that this week was all about winning the test.  He gave his test team the ultimate protection.

All that said, it’s not the ideal outcome.  The role of the dirt trackers is supposed to be to keep the wins coming and be seen to create competition for places.  With the test team not even named yet, a handful of players should have been looking to present an unanswerable case to Warren Gatland.  This did not come to pass.

Gatland saying before the match that he was happy to lose the game and focus on the test probably didn’t send out the right message to the players.  There’s nothing like handing a team a bunch of excuses to lower their playing intensity.  Is it any wonder the tight five didn’t look especially interested in risking their health around the breakdown?

The game also exposed Gatland’s decision not to bring a third fly-half.  Although Ben Youngs had a game to forget, a player with more experience in the 10 shirt outside him would still have directed traffic a little better.  The decision to overlook the claims of James Hook or Ian Madigan looks a bit of a folly.  It’s hard not to sympathise with Stuart Hogg, a quicksilver full-back who has been denied the chance to press his claims for a test shirt by being forced to muck in in a position where he has minimal experience.

Against that, one has to balance things up against the fact that the Lions backs are really quite terribly injured.  If North, Roberts, Tuilagi and Bowe were all fully fit, we’d doubtless have seen a proper backline here.  It’s a reasonable decision not to risk any more of his able bodied test candidates.  Amid the noises demanding that Gatland is seen to honour the tradition of the Lions, it should be remembered that we are living in an age different to any previous Lions tour, one where injuries and how they are dealt with play a huge part in a team’s success or failure.  As for Stuart Hogg, what chance has he of usurping 0.5p anyway? Maybe there have to be a couple of sacrificial lambs on the tour for the greater good.  All Lions are equal but some are more equal than others.

With that in mind, here’s what we think Gatty is going for in tomorrow’s test team.

Front row: Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones

Doubts remain over Vunipola’s scrimmaging ability but he is fearsome in the loose.  Seemingly flown out as an impact player, fate has handed him a more prominent role with Healy and Jenkins at home, injured.  Tom Youngs has impressed with his unfussy, busy performances and is the best of a ropey bunch when it comes to throwing.  Adam Jones is an A-grade scrummager.

Second row: Alan-Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell

This one more or less picks itself, despite the best efforts of the impressive Geoff Parling.  Jones and O’Connell are test match animals, but they failed to provide the necessary beef in South Africa, and a change of tack was required for the second test.  Gatland presumably reckons that against Australia he can afford to go with two athletes (and another off the bench) and manage without a specialist tightead-scrummaging lock in the Shawsy / Hines mould.

Back row: Tom Croft, Sam Warburton, Jamie Heaslip

Time to make your peace with Sam Warburton at 7, and to be fair, Tipuric didn’t make this call any harder with a tentative showing in yesterday’s loss to the Brumbies.  Tipuric at his best is sensational, but perhaps amid the hyperbole we need to bear in mind that there are days when he fails to get out of the fringes of the match, and yesterday was one of those.  Sean ‘Penalty Machine’ O’Brien didn’t really do his chances much good either, and Tom Croft was at his best against the Waratahs.  Can he bring that performance again in the test?  One can never be sure with Crofty, but at his best he is devastating, and if the hooker can throw straight, he might even deliver some off-the-top ball in the lineout.  Jamie Heaslip probably just – JUST! – holds off the challenge of Toby Faletau, one of the few to emerge with credit yesterday, but the Welshman can consider himself unlucky if he does miss out.  Heaslip will need to be at his best in the first test.

All in all, it’s a slightly lightweight pack.  Tom Youngs is small by hooking standards, there’s no secialist tighthead lock and Tom Croft is another willowy specimen.  Where’s the beef?  It’s a gamble going into the first test with such a light pack, and ominously, the very error that Ian McGeechan reckoned cost his team the series in 2009.  That was South Africa, this is Australia and the challenges they pose are very different; Gatland will be reckoning he can get away with it this time, but it might neutralise just how much the Lions can target the Aussie scrum and maul.  Never give a sucker an even break and all that.

Half-backs: Mike Phillips, Johnny Sexton

No arguments here. At scrummy, Youngs and Murray have both flattered to deceive when starting, but made an impact off the bench. It was always going to take something special to dislodge Phillips from the team – he is a key part of Gatty’s inside ball, bosh it up the middle gameplan – and we haven’t seen anything special from the backups. Outside him, it’s Sexton by miles – he has played right on the gainline and got the backs moving and looking threatening – he will be the first Irish starting test outhalf since … Ollie Campbell? Owen Farrell has continued his patchy form from season end, and Stuart Hogg is entitled to have a right old moan – he travelled as a 15 who can provide emergency backup at 10, but has played as a 10 who can give emergency backup at 15. He hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do in an environment which should suit his style – if he sees Simon Zebo or Rob Kearney in the test 23, he can feel hard done by.  It has surprised us how little gametime Phillips and Sexton hve had together – around 50 minutes by our reckoning.  Hopefully they’ve been tethered together in training.

Centre: Jonathan Davies, Brian O’Driscoll

Outside Sexton, Davies is arguably the third choice inside centre, but he’s flying – Oooooooooooooohh Jamie Roberts MD crocked himself against the Tahs, and Ooooooooooooooooooohh Manu Tuilagi is struggling to shake off a niggler and get match-fit. In will step JJV, who is having a cracking tour. Cause for concern? Definitely, despite the talent of both men – not only has Davies extremely limited experience there, but he has struggled with the blitz they want to employ. Again, this partership has had minimal gametime on the pitch together.  Having said that, BOD will make any player playing with him look brilliant – Roberts got player of the tour last time out on the back of O’Driscoll. The last player preferred for the Lions 13 jersey to Some Bloke Called Brian was Oooooooooooooooooooooohh Scott Gibbs fully 16 years ago.

Outside backs: George North, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny

Halfpenny is bulletproof these days – he doesn’t miss kicks or tackles. Unlike in 1997, the hosts might test the kicking fullback under the high ball, but everything he touches turns to gold at the moment. It’s a different story on the wing. Of the first choice pair, Tommy Bowe will miss the first test but George North is passed fit – let’s hope he’s properly match fit. In Bowe’s place will come Alex Cuthbert – destructive on his day, he has weaknesses which can be (and have been) exploited, with the Reds taking him to the cleaners. With the turning circle of the Titanic, the Lions won’t want to see him going backwards.  Huge wingers coming into midfield channels and feeding on disguised passes from Jonny Sexton is almost certainly going to be one of the most prominent patterns the Lions will look to bring to the first test, so it will be a massive relief to Gatland that he has two giants ready to go, even if he’d prefer Bowe at 14.

Bench: Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Rob Kearney

No shortage of impact.  Expect the front row to come on more or less en masse.  They may even improve the scrummaging, with Hibbard and Corbisiero stronger in that department than the starters, and Cole no slouch either.  Parling has been one of the revalations of the tour and terrific off the bench, pinching lineouts and restarts within moments of coming on.  O’Brien always looked a likely first reserve in the back row due to his versatility, and the fact he brings something different to the starters – explosive carrying ability.  Has Ben Youngs done a Danny Care on it and played himself off the squad?  Just maybe; Murray is less of a gamechanger but looks the better bet of the two right now.  Farrell takes his place by default, and in the outside back division it looks like a shoot-out between Kearney and Zebo.  Zebo has made an impact since arriving, but Kearney, better able to cover full-back, looks the pragmatist’s choice.

Meanwhile, the Australia team has been announced:

Australia: Robinson, Moore, Alexander; Horwill, Douglas; Mowen, Hooper, Palu; Genia, O’Connor; Lealiifano, Ashley-Cooper; Ioane, Folau, Barnes.

Bench: Slipper, Fainga’a, Kepu, Simmons, Gill, Phipps, Beale, McCabe

Amazingly, the Australians might have the power edge in the front five but the Lions look far more mobile. Horwill is a tough player – captain and the pack leader, he keeps the Wallaby front five together. In the back row, Mowen is a good carrier and an excellent lineout option – expect him to move to 8 if Gill comes on for Palu to make the breakdown a war zone. Gill and Hooper are both bang in form – Dave Pocock will be a loss (as we have covered before) but not as big as two years ago when Fez and SOB made hay in his absence. The front row cover is poor, and Rob Simmons is the second row backup.

In the backline, Justin Bieber starts at 10 – he may not fnish the series there (Beale or possibly Cooper will) but he attacks the gainline well, and, especially with Lilo outside, has every chance of exploiting any dog-legs the Lions might leave. Lilo keeps Pat McCabe out of the Brumbies team, and has been given the nod here for the first test.  Barnes clings to a place, holding off Nick Cummins with  Israel Folau on the wing – turning out for Straya in his third code. The mega-hyped Folau has the potential to be a real earner for the ARU star, especially if he turns out to be facing Cuthbert or Zebo.

Advertisements

57 Comments

  1. Alun Wyn Jones is not the same physical specimen he was 4 years ago. He is 19 stone.

    • I think that’s a fair point, he’s beefed up a bit. Still not in the big lump category, though. Tell me this: which of he and O’Connell packs down on the tighthead side when they play together??

      • AW Jones has been the tighthead lock for Wales, and was the TH lock in the Waratahs game. Once Evans came into the Welsh team, he began to specialise.

        • Thanks Henryitz. Intriguing, I’d have thought Evans was classic TH lock material.

          • toro toro

             /  June 19, 2013

            Isn’t that what he’s saying? AWJ played both until the specialist TH Evans came along?

            It’s for that reason that my pick would be Evans + AN Other, probably O’Connell

  2. Thought Faletau was the worst of the back row yesterday. And I don’t think Gatland will be too impressed with TF having a much better last twenty minutes – after the back row sub had already been used and it became clear Toby is very unlikely to start on Saturday. Noticed him being exceptionally lazy a couple of times at rucks.

    Also, I thought Tipuric and O’Brien were the two best starting forwards by a distance. SOB may have got pinged a couple of times, but at least he was putting in at the breakdown. Tipuric too – though the fact he’s not very powerful should perhaps stop surprising anyone now? – while I thought the other six starting forwards were poor in all facets. (The backline was rubbish too, but they have much more of an excuse).

    Pretty much agree with your selection – though I’d have Tuilagi on the bench if he’s fit, and suspect Gatland will have Lydiate in the 23. I’d also just stick with Ben Youngs, despite yesterday.

    Most importantly, very sad there’s no room for the Badger.

    • Rava

       /  June 19, 2013

      If Tuilagi is fit then surely he will start at 12. JD2 would then bench.

      • I forgot about that – though, with JD’s work so far on tour, there’s a genuine dilemma where I didn’t expect one. I’d probably still go Tuilagi.

    • Faletau carried effectively, and gave one super offload, but you’re right about his work rate at the breakdown. The fellows in the Sky studio repeatedly insist that Croft must be paired with Faletau rather than Heaslip, because of Faletau’s abilities in the tight, but I’m not seeing it at all. They appear to be stuck on 2010 vintage Heaslip, but the current model is quite different. If anything, Heaslip is the far better operator close to the ruck, and has played this role for Ireland for the last two seasons. His clear-out work is ferocious and he frequently wins turnovers at the breakdown.

      • My thoughts too. Jamie’s gone on a couple of big gallops in the past couple of months – which in and of itself is nothing new, just hasn’t happened much of late – and all of a sudden he’s Tom Croft plus two. I think his work at the breakdown is his strongest suit.

  3. Rava

     /  June 19, 2013

    Nice balanced analysis guys. Agree with the lineup but I personally would play Parling instead of AWJ. Minor point though.
    Bench options might generate a bit more discussion but again it would be down to personal opinion, nothing more.

    • B

       /  June 19, 2013

      Parling is going to be on the bench the whole tour barring some freak occurrence; he covers 4,5 and 6 and thus (imo at least) is too valuable a sub to start. In that vein of thinking I can’t see Kearney taking up the last bench spot, yes he theoretically covers wing but only just. Considering North is probably the main injury concern and Farrell covers 10/12, I would go with someone like Zebo, or before the tour started I would have said Maitland but he doesn’t seem to have shown his best form and might be carrying a groin injury/strain.

  4. I wonder how different the squad Gatland names tomorrow will be to the one he would have selected before the tour started? Regardless of injuries, who do you think are the payers who have made him change his mind? Not saying he came on tour with a 23-man squad picked, but subconsciously he would have had his favourites. Youngs probably the standout in terms of no one expecting him to start the first Test?

    • Youngs the standout, and perhaps Davies. I think most of us would have had Parling down as dirt tracker material, but he’s brought his A-game to the tour, and is a little unlucky that his specialities are similar to those of O’Connell, otherwise he’d be starting.

      • Have to say I didn’t expect what Parling has brought. Had him down as probably the last guy in the locking depth chart. Totally agree with you on the similarities to O’Connell, shame for him. His performance against the Reds was superb. Also, I couldn’t have predicted Jon Davies impact. His passing has been a real surprise based on what we’ve seen from him in the past. Even with injuries to the starting centres, I would have said Tuilagi was definitely next in line.

        • There’s a huge difference in what’s required both in terms of natural abilities and training between short and long passing games. It’s not something I’ve noticed especially before, but JD appears to have a really nice short game (the one-hander to Sexton could easily have gone wrong, while in the first minute of that match the timing to Zebo was spot on, among some other touches); it’s the longer ones that seem all-too-frequently to end up in the crowd, when he’s put under pressure.

          He also has all the hallmarks of a boy who didn’t have to pass very much at school.

          • moreinhope

             /  June 19, 2013

            I completely agree. JD has had some nice offloads close in but his left-to-right passing across the backline (even in the Waratah’s game if you watch it back) is still wayward.

            As you point out, I do often wonder if being a schoolboy superstar has, in the long run, a negative impact on a players’ all round game. To take a parochial view, outside of Bod and Bowe I’m not sure where the brains are in this generation of Irish 3/4s.

          • Spot on Larry. He is slipping lovely short passes to those around him to set up line breaks and help the Lions over the gain line. Not something I really expected from him, and a nice surprise. Tuilagi is probably a better replacement for Roberts as a battering ram and decoy, but Davies has been impressive.

          • Buccaneer

             /  June 20, 2013

            He is a big lad, probably boshed his way through smaller centers for fun! moreinhope that is an interesting point. Marshall is a good footballer but very, very green. I wonder does Schmidt see Madigan as a center or was that just keeping him in the team on the back of his form. Unlikely to be playing much rugby there next season either.

          • Amiga500

             /  June 20, 2013

            moreinhope – keep an eye on the centres at Ravenhill this year.

            Marshall, Olding and Farrell are all young cubs who could all (or conversely may not – too early to say) be what your looking for.

  5. Saul Evans

     /  June 19, 2013

    Don’t think that will be too far off. Corbs and Hibbard are the best scrummagers available and may start the game to establish the platform up front. Gatland would have been reminded of this basic requirement yesterday.

    JD2 will play whatever happens to Tuilagi this weekend – totally underrated player but not by Gatland. Don’t see where he’s had issues with the blitz – he plays outside in for the Walsh blitz as the designated spot blitzer – he is given license to run out of the line and gamble on the early smash.

    On the bench I think Ben Youngs will be the backup scrum half.

    • Davies said the backline were struggling to get on the same wavelength with the blitz system they want to run.

  6. Buckfast Bertie

     /  June 19, 2013

    Agree with all your selections, except no.23 – realistically Kearney has simply not had the time to prove himself (or otherwise), so I’m afraid that I can’t see him making the bench. Zebo might have played if North hadn’t made it, but he’s not quite as versatile as Maitland or Hogg, with the former probably getting the shout – close call between those three, mind

    • I think the big concern would be 0.5p getting injured. If one of the wings gets injured, 0.5p is experienced on the wing, but none of the wings have the ability to cover full-back. Zebo and Maitland can, at a push, but would you want him there in the first test against the Lions? That’s why we described Kearney as a pragmatic choice. Could easily be Zebo though, a tough one to call.

      • pete (buachaill on eirne)

         /  June 19, 2013

        Sorry for throwing this in there but why not put Hogg in at 23!?!?!

        He covers 10-13-11-14 and 15.
        I would have thought that was the obvious call.

  7. Jimbob

     /  June 19, 2013

    I just don’t like Croft – he has good stats and is an excellent player but he’s just not my kind of player (bad face?). It’s a shame that a player like O’Brien, who offers so much versatility in the back row is reduced to the bench (although he will be a massive impact player).
    I’m also disappointed Tipuric had such a poor showing yesterday… he’s handed the jersey to Warburton who has underwhelmed so far. I really hope the adrenaline of a Lions test match can force him to step up to his best.
    Outside backs and bench spot is also a tricky one where Cuthbert/Zebo/Kearney and Maitland have all staked a decent claim for one of the 2 spots alongside 1/2p and North(if fit). I’d go Zebo to start for his left boot and Kearney on the bench.

  8. ehhweasel

     /  June 19, 2013

    Especially if he’s facing Zebo? Is Zebo as dodgy as Cuthbert in defence?

    • In short, no, but I’d still be nervous about Zebo facing Folau.

      • Chris

         /  June 19, 2013

        Whoever faces Folau is in for a tough day defensively, after round 12 of Super Rugby he was on top of the running chart by almost 200 metres and I’m pretty sure I saw a stat that also had him top of tackle breaks/defenders beaten.

        Good article again WoC, I think Hogg not only deserves jersey 23 but would be the best choice given his ability to cover so many positions. And unfortunately I think Gatty will go with Lydiate on the bench, which personally disgusts me, in my opinion he is a one dimensional tackling machine and offers little else.

  9. SedatedFMS

     /  June 19, 2013

    Do I agree that is the side most likely? Yes
    Do I agree with the picks? No.

    • Oh you tease! Go on, tell us how you’d change it up?

      • JT64

         /  June 19, 2013

        Agreed. SOB, Tips & Heaslip in the BR for a start. Big call at 12 if Tuilagi is fit. Does he go with in form Davies (going against the gameplan of having a devastating carrier at 12), or Tuilagi. Big decision for 23 then aswell. Do you put in a back 3 player Zebo/Kearney or Tuilagi, who could have great impact off the bench, but can’t cover many positions?

  10. ehhweasel

     /  June 19, 2013

    Genia, Cooper
    Ioane,Lilo, Folau, O’Connor
    Beale

    Would be a really terrifying combination. We *might* even see it by the end of the tour.

  11. Cian

     /  June 19, 2013

    Seems like a sensible selection, but I’d swap Corbisiero, Hibbard and SOB with Vunipola, Youngs and Croft. I prefer the idea of going with the most solid performers to start and keeping the lighter, faster guys to spring later on than vice versa. I’d also rather see Zebo on the bench than Kearney, but that’s probably a Munster bias talking.

    • Everyone seems a bit nervous about the scrum after yesterday, ourselves included, which seems to be prompting a lot of calls for Hibbard and Corbs. Hibbard’s throwing though… I’m not convinced it’s all that much better than Best’s! And there’s his hair… what a terrible thing it is. Surely no point in having Croft if you don’t pick your best thrower. Or do you put Croft in to give the weaker thrower more options? We need a lie down…

      • Bad hair is bad, terrible hair is terrible, but some hair is so bad that the person in question must know but just doesn’t care. That’s is all good with me. Shane Byrne, FTW!

        Croft’s line out would be a large consideration for me. I remain unconvinced about what he really brings to a team overall, perhaps I’m a bit too concerned about the “big interventions, when I can be bothered” type back rower, or perceptions thereof (including a certain Irishman whose mum apparently is the sports editor at both the Times and Indo – and who I do rate very highly, but come on… anyway, forget that). But, the line out’s been a joke and he’s miles better than Lydiate and O’Brien in this regard, while his fondness for the wide channels hopefully won’t be too out of place in Gatland’s well-trodden shortside attacks.

      • Stevo

         /  June 19, 2013

        I’m of the opinion that if your hooker is having trouble throwing then what you really need is a top quality line-out receiver in the middle e.g. O’Connell or Parling, and hope you can get away with throwing to him or whoever’s at the front. If his aim is off then I don’t care who you have at the back of the line-out, he’s going to miss his man as (or more) often than not and it’s no longer a worthwhile gamble. The situation where you really need a quality line-out catcher at the back is if when you’re relying on him to make up for the shortcomings of your second-rows e.g. Bonnaire for France.

      • Cian

         /  June 19, 2013

        There really are such good arguments to be made either way regarding 1, 2 and 6 that I think the selection of the 23, and a willingness to use all of them, is really more important than the selection of the 15. The difficulty then becomes balancing the sorting-out of whatever problem rears its head (scrum, lineout, breakdown, tight carrying) with disruption of the team through substitutions. I just think the lineout is something that can be sorted at any stage in the match to yield instant dividends, whereas a scrum that’s going wrong from the start can be a huge blow to forward morale and energy.

    • ArtVandelay

       /  June 19, 2013

      As a leinster fan, I’d have Zebo over kearney as well. He was unlucky with injury but what I’d like, like another poster, is to have guys that can change the tempo when they come on. So possibly Tips and Zebo to bench If halfpenny gets injured, jonny can take the kicks and Zebo could go in at 15, although not ideal. If noone gets injured, Zebo could really stretch the defence coming on at 60 mins. Same with tipuric. Unlucky on O’Brien but it’ll be easier to drop warburton for the second test than it will be for the first.

      • I’d be in favour of Zebo too. I always like to see a bench picked with impact in mind, and Zebo can bring that. But I have a feeling they’ll go with specialised full-back cover as their first priority.

  12. JT64

     /  June 19, 2013

    Re front row, I don’t think he’ll start Vunipola with Youngs. Depends what Gatty wants to do- Vunipola exposed a bit so if he starts him, I’d say he’ll start Hibbard aswell to try and negate that loss of power and technique. Personally I’d go with Corbisiero and spring Vunipola on 60 mins.

    Likewise with someone mentioned above, I have a suspicion that Lydiate will be in the 23, perhaps even starting. I don’t think he has played Lydiate with Warburton yet, could be one of the combos that Gatty has said that “they don’t want to show their hand too much.” (You lads mentioned above how Phillips and Sexton have barely played together either). Think Lydiate makes Warburton a better player and they combine well. Then it’s Croft or SOB on the bench, will be interesting to see what he goes with. I refuse to get carried away with the Sky Sports Tom Croft hyperbole- he is good but can also be ordinary at the best of times, and think he’s too lightweight to start.

    Anyway, it’s a strong Aussie backline so Gatty won’t want to allow them too much time. They know exactly how the Lions are going to play, so will be ready for it. Think if we disrupt their set piece then we can negate any influence the backline may have.

    Good call with Kearney on the bench- think it’s the sensible choice.

    Can’t wait to see Sexton vs JOC also. All in all, a fantastic game in prospect. 2nd test from 4 years ago is still one of the best ganes I’ve seen.

    • 2nd test from ’09 was the best sporting contest I’ve seen, ever.

    • Lydiate’s a peculiar one. I’m surprised he didn’t start either of the last two games. Either Gatland is going to pull a surprise on us, or he’s decided he’s not yet up to speed. He looks a touch rusty. Wouldn’t rule him out of one of the later tests, though.

      • JT64

         /  June 19, 2013

        Yeah Saturday week possibly.

        Really think SOB should start. As someone mentioned, Heaslip can do all that showboating/hanging out on the wing a la Croft if needs be, whilst also being highly effective doing the grunt work.

        Croft offers absolutely nothing in the tight.

        As my good friend Byrnsie says- “Tom Croft = ruck inspector extraordinaire.”

  13. To be consistent I posted this in your Wazza’s World piece so this is what I’m going for:

    Vunipola, Hibbard, Jones, POC, AWJ, SOB, Warbs, Heaslip, Philips, Sexton, North, Tuilagi, BOD, Cuthbert, Halfpenny.

    Bench… Corbs, Best, Cole (I had Stevens but that was an oversight – Cole clearly backup TH), Parling, Lydiate, B Youngs, Farrell, Maitland…

    I’d make 3 changes to that in that Davies for Tuilagi due to injury and I’d now have Croft and Zebo on the bench for Lydiate and Maitland. Zebo’s very strong under the high ball and whilst positionally not amazing he would be a good bet for Full Back cover, plus even if North is fit enough to play he surely can’t last the full 80 so I’d prefer Zebo to come on there over Maitland.

    I just think with reasonably lightweight tight five SOB has to play to give that go forward – yes he can cough up a penalty or two but he’s so explosive in the tight and Heaslip can do the glamorous loose forward on the wing sprint for 20 metre try thing that Sky loves Croft so much for, as well as actually being able to do his day job in the tight!

  14. Buccaneer

     /  June 19, 2013

    that is the most likely starting XV in all probability. SOB can feel a bit hard done by but no doubt he will have a huge impact on the test when called upon. Tuilagi/BOD seems are more natural fit but Davies, in fairness to him, has played himself in. Still think he has shocking hands for as center though. Ferrell offers SFA from the bench. With 2 top class goal kickers starting, anyone else think there is a possibility of Gatty going with Hogg in the 22 shirt and putting Zebo/Maitland in 23?

    • JT64

       /  June 19, 2013

      That’s a decent shout. Agreed he offers nothing, and he’s not exactly someone you’re going to call on to try and chase a game, or win it. Hogg & outside back like Zebo/Tuilagi is a good option which offers you cover, and also someone who can make a real impact.

      Unfortunately I don’t think it’ll happen though. Farrell’s initial selection, and performances since, would suggest that his selection was due to his father conveniently being on the coaching ticket. It pains me that James Hook isn’t there. Look at what has happened in terms of call ups and fitness issues since the tour began- Hook is a very good, experienced fly-half, not to mention him being able to cover, no that’s not doing him justice- able to play and shine in both centre positions, as well as 15. Gatty should have swallowed his pride and selected him.

      • Buccaneer

         /  June 19, 2013

        Fully agree about Hook. I have been an admirer for some time now. Versatile, good boot, eye for a gap and creative. perfect touring squad member IMHO

        • Amiga500

           /  June 19, 2013

          But zero ability to actually make the right choices in a game from 10.

          The fascination with Hook… fascinates me. Yes, the man has all the ball skills in the world… but there is more to playing the game than having the skills.

          • Yossarian

             /  June 19, 2013

            Hook is a strange one, wonderful skill set and vision but never seems to have developed the temperament for 10. even though outhalf for me is the problem position for wales.(don’t rate Priestland that highly though Biggar is developing well) Moved around a lot by wales (as far as i can recall he has played 10,12,13,15) when he came on the scene i expected him to be a superstar. Despite having 70 caps you still wouldn’t say he would be a regular with everyone fit.(North,roberts,Davies,Cuthbert,halfpenny)

          • JT64

             /  June 19, 2013

            Hook has had a very good season for Perpignan though- playing ten. Don’t know where the doubts are coming from. Put it this way, he is a better option to have there than Farrell and Hogg. I doubt you’ll find anyone that disagrees.

          • Buccaneer

             /  June 20, 2013

            no doubt about that JT! I think Gatland agrees with you Yossarian, he always preferred Jones and Priestland to him at no.10 and couldnt decide on his best position after that. he got a good run at 13 (which i thought suited him actually) and was then moved to full-back in the world cup.

  15. termagant

     /  June 19, 2013

    Gats will go conservative after Brumbies and rightly so.

    Corbs and Hibbard to start, Lydiate at 6.

    The rest and the bench as you have it.

    We have to win this one and if it has to be ugly so be it.

  16. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  June 19, 2013

    Hogg as fullback, wing, outside centre cover is the obvious option for 23. He is also playing better than the rest of the options when in his first choice position(s).

    I don’t know why people are even discussing this, he’s the obvious choice. Kearney has hardly played.

  17. el muckmeister

     /  June 19, 2013

    I’m fearful for SOB’s prospects of making the 23 if Gats goes with a back row of Croft, Warb & Heaslip. I just can’t see Tipuric and Lydiate not making the match day squad. Here’s hoping…

  18. Agree with all your team except (surprise, surprise) the back row. FR: Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, agreed, because Vunipola has been so brilliant in the loose, (and shown great hands too) SRs: Alan-Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, both nailed on & rightly so, both brilliant last Saturday, no? But wait, Backrow forwards: Tom Croft, Sam Warburton, Jamie Heaslip. What? Noooo!
    Heaslip, okay maybe. has been very solid, and agree with whoever above who said the Sky Commentary guys seem to be stuck in his pre-2010 free-running version, dead right, these days he’s very different, a brilliant down and dirty, rucking & counter-rucking backrow forward, which will be critical come Test time. I really admired Warburton last couple of years, seems a classy bloke too, (important for dealing with Refs etc) but I think he has been semi-anonymous so far. He may have some huge games in him going forward (hope so), but I just haven’t seen his old self on this tour to date, if he is in, then IMHO, that’s his Welshness and his tour captain status getting him over the line. And if Croft really is a “Ruck-Inspector”, – it doesn’t matter how dynamic he is out-wide- that’s a luxury we can’t afford. I’d rather he just helped win/protect the ball and let the backs do the running out wide. If we loose the breakdown, cos he’s gone awol, they won’t even get that chance. So no Croft for ne either.

    What I’d really like to see is Lydiate and Heaslip working together, as an agressive defensive unit. Could be a ball-winning turn-over machine, seriously. Did anyone see Picamoles & Thierry Dusautoir working against BNZ last saturday morning? Any All-Black loose forward trying to gain hard yards near breakdown, Picamoles would tackle, flip, and then hold them (like a vice) so they just could not present the ball, and when possible, Thierry Dusautoir would then lean over & strip the ball off them! Was magical to watch. Okay, sorry, that was a digression, and probably not going to happen. But anyway my preferred back-row would be SO”B, Lydiate & Heaslip. Better defense and would help with scrum too. (Why give away the advantage of what was suposed to be one of our strengths?)

    But agree with all your backline: Obviously Half-backs are Mike Phillips, Johnny Sexton, Cs: Jonathan Davies, Brian O’Driscoll (like a lot of people I’d like to see BOD working with Tuilagi later when he’s fit) George North, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny all best options too, North was superb up to his hamstring injury, (hope he is properly fit again now) Halfpenny super too and kicking like a dream.
    Btw (digression) is it my imagination, or when 0.5 kicked his 11/11, was he striking the ball wide out on the outside of his foot, far off the central axis? Was he kicking it “Tres dados”-style, as the S. American footballers call it, meaning 3 (outside) toes? Never seen a rugby ball hit quite so sweet.

    My bench similar to yours: Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Rob Kearney, all the same, except obviously SO”B is in my starting side so his place on bench taken by Falitua, who I think has been excellent storming forward in loose, and Croft doesn’t make my 23 at all. Thought your commenter above had an interesting point that Hogg might give better cover in the 23 than Farrell maybe. But only maybe. Farrell has had one or 2 dodgy games but he was going pretty well before that, let’s not forget. Please forgive the gargantuan post! As Voltaire once wrote, “Sorry, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one”.

  19. Great post Arran.
    As I have lots of time, I shall write a short one…
    Heaslip: yes, Warburton: yes (no choice), O’Brien: yes, Lydiate: no. But it’s too late anyway…

%d bloggers like this: