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.