Lions and Cubs – no Pussycats

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After having a few days to dwell on Gatland’s British & Irish Lions selections, his 37 man squad seems rather more impressive and ‘well-rounded’ than at first glance. Particularly, after the last month of analysis and prediction from pundits and fans alike, many were shocked at some of his choices, however Gatland still remained much composed and almost nonchalant about his decision. I can remember after tuning in to Sky at 11am in preparation for the announcement, and then, rather impatiently listen to Andy Irvine stretch his speech out a little, tweeting my personal choices, alongside choosing, what I thought to be, certains for the trip Down Under! At the time, a passionate rugby fan that I am (and Englishman), I felt a little cheated for those who failed to be part of the select few to have the chance to wear the most meaningful shirt in Northern Hemisphere rugby. Other avid followers were having kittens too, reiterated by Twitter, Facebook and even pundits! Names such as Jonny Wilkinson, Chris Robshaw, Joe Launchbury….see a trend?! However, there are plenty more players that were certainly disheartened and even surprised about their failure to book a seat on the plane, like; Tim Visser, Simon Zebo, Ryan Grant and Rory Best especially.

Pre-Lions selection, a lot of the talk centred around young stars and possible wildcards that would just creep into the team, and even though such predictions have not been matched, Gatland has certainly made some interesting selections, and not missed out on giving young cubs a platform to really impress. The particular stand outs who raised eyebrows and caused some gawps, in my opinion, were; Matt Stevens, Dylan Hartley, Richie Gray, Owen Farrell and Sean Maitland. All (bar Stevens) have been involved on the International scene of late, and have shown a consistent quality, and occasionally established themselves to be possible contenders. Matt Stevens, is perhaps the most unforeseen of all, and with a clouded background, the odd individual could even describe his opportunity as undeserved and unfair. Yet, the Saracens Tight Head has come back to decent form after retiring from International rugby a year ago, and the 30 year old has toured before in 2005. An ambidextrous Prop, he offers Gatland cover where needed, and has a strong carrying ability that could wear down an average Aussie pack, when donning the Scrum Cap, and coming off the bench. Frankly, apart from out and out Loose Head Ryan Grant, I can’t think off too many Tight Head’s who really have something as versatile to offer! Not to forget, Graham Rowntree does know a thing or two about scrums!

In the case of Scotland’s (and New Zealand’s) Richie Gray and Sean Maitland, both underline Gatland’s desire to have a team of highly skilled, mixed players, who can offer the hard and fast style of rugby he looks to play. Gray, who had a flat Six Nations, is a man-mountain that is a solid Lineout jumper, and offers a good gainline break when coming blind round the ruck or on the pick and go. Still young, Gray is a good selection, but maybe Donnacha Ryan or Launchbury were more deserved of that fifth Lock spot!? Maitland, the Glasgow Warrior and former Canterbury Crusader, is a Southern Hemisphere veteran, who very much has pace on his side. Understanding the climate is a benefit that hopefully Maitland can pass on to his fellow Three-quarters.

Whereas the two Englishman, Hartley and Farrell pose questions about Gatland, Rowntree, Howley and Andy Farrell’s picks. Hartley, generally an aggressive, skilled Hooker has not displayed his finest form of late and seemingly pipped Irish Captain Best into the third Hooker spot. Strange considering Best’s obvious class and reputation. To be fair on the Northampton Saint and Gatland, Best also had a shaky Six Nations and underlined that even the best Lineout thrower’s in the world, have off days.

 

With Owen Farrell, where do you start? I’m not sure it is a case of the odd Sunday morning, U7s, my daddies the coach, so I’m Captain, Vice Captain, and first name on the team sheet. Farrell is a world-class goal kicker, a Wilkinson-esque defensive 10 and has shown his attacking ability, just look at his performance against the Kiwi’s in the Autumn. Even though he won’t be the fan favourite, and Wilkinson, even though ruling himself out, will probably still fly out there, Farrell has a lot to offer. Moreover, I still don’t quite understand how Hook has exhibited enough pedigree to be a Lion.

As aforementioned, I am English, therefore obviously I am biased when discussing rugby with mates, or Welshman, yet, taking a step back and evaluating Gatland’s picks of Roberts and Tipuric, I’m not quite sure what brought Gatland to such a decision.  Roberts, yes, has toured before and is a physical 12 with plenty of go forward, yet the past 2-3 years, Roberts, the newly qualified Doctor, has underperformed. Tipuric on the other hand, has played extraordinarily well, especially in the last half of this season, with eye-opening games against England and for the Ospreys. Although again, I do wonder, surely Robshaw is the more rounded player, who adds further leadership to the team?…

Chris Robshaw, England’s shining light misses out, and so does Kelly Brown, Scotland’s hard as nails Captain. Yet, we all know how likely injuries are to occur before and during the tour, and I feel  safe in the knowledge that many not picked by Gatland to begin with, will still fly, and do some damage in the gold and green nation.

Hindsight is a superb thing, and hopefully we can look at the Tour in mid-July and say ‘we did ruddy well!’ Why not, 3-0 whitewash? Possibly, but never, ever underestimate the Aussies, even though Deans’ need to cry out to the officials for the tests does seem rather fearful of him. I haven’t mentioned Warburton’s appointment for a good reason, I’m not keen-but you will always pick the people you know and trust best, and that’s why the Cardiff Blues Flanker has the armband.

I look forward to an exhilarating June, and a victorious one!

 

My prediciton:

 

Test Series: 2-1 to the British & Irish Lions

 

Team for 1st Test (if fit)

 

1. Cian Healy

2. Richard Hibbard

3. Adam Jones

4. Alun Wyn Jones

5. Paul O’Connell

6. Dan Lydiate (if fully fit-otherwise Sean O’Brien)

7. Sam Warburton (C)

8. Jamie Heaslip

9. Mike Phillips

10. Jonny Sexton

11. George North

12. Brian O’Driscoll

13. Manu Tuilagi

14. Sean Maitland

15. Leigh Halfpenny

Subs

16. Tom Youngs

17. Mako Vunipola

18. Dan Cole

19. Geoff Parling

20. Tom Croft

21. Ben Youngs

22. Owen Farrell

23. Tommy Bowe

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