Thursday, 18 June 2009

Lions test team


Here's the team:

L Byrne (Wales and Ospreys); T Bowe (Ireland and Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Ireland and Leinster), J Roberts (Wales and Cardiff Blues), U Monye (England and Harlequins); S Jones (Wales and Scarlets), M Phillips (Wales and Ospreys); G Jenkins (Wales and Cardiff Blues), L Mears (England and Bath), P Vickery (England and Wasps), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales and Ospreys), P O'Connell (Ireland and Munster, capt), T Croft (England and Leicester), D Wallace (Ireland and Munster), J Heaslip (Ireland and Leinster).
Replacements: M Rees (Wales and Scarlets), A Jones (Wales and Ospreys), D O'Callaghan (Ireland and Munster), M Williams (Wales and Cardiff Blues), H Ellis(England and Leicester), R O'Gara (Ireland and Munster), R Kearney (Ireland and Leinster)

All I can say is wow - the selection looks spot on.  I've written about the back row and half backs already, so let's have a quick peak at the rest of the side.

Full Back

Byrne ahead of Kearney (and that muppet Earls).  This is the correct selection, but it's been a pretty close call.  Two very similar players, both exhibiting impressive range, tackling and deep field kicking.  Byrne is a touch better in defence, Kearney a bit swifter.  I wouldn't like to say who's better under the high ball - Byrne has a solidity about him which makes him a great selection, but Kearney has a bit of the GAA bred player about him.  In terms of form Byrne is the guy, and it's nice to see it recognised.


Ugo has been in menacing form this tour, despite being something of a fringe selection in the squad.  He's scoring a lot, and bulldozing people on little wing incursions.  Bowe is a pretty similar player stylistically - he comes into the line at pace and uses good balance and shake moves to go past people.  His kicking game is a bit more finesse based than Monye's booming style, and suffers a consequential diminution in range.  He's in good form also.

Fitzgerald struggled in the centres, and has had something of a up and down tour in terms of form.  At the risk of over emphasising - that game in the centres has cost Fitzgerald a chance of playing in the first couple of tests.  Shane Williams has been awful on the tour.

Kearney provides back up on the wing and in the centre, which fits the defensive plans, but might limit the overall attacking potential of the team in the final 20 minutes.


These selections are the easiest on the tour.  Flutey has struggled with injuries and hasn't had the chance to hit form.  Leaving aside the fact that I wouldn't have taken him (he's not British!) he was the player who made England's backline tick in the Six Nations.  He won't get the chance for the Lions for now.  I guess he'll be the starting centre in the third test, after the shoulders of the incumbents have worn down.

Roberts has been the player of the tour for the backs - big, strong, quick, surehanded.  He adds to the possession and breakdown battle in a way that the other backs simply do not.

O'Driscoll is the highly rated, high reputation player on the squad.  I've seen him in the meat once, where he and D'Arcy were played off the park by the Leicester combination of Smith and Lloyd.  That game gave Smith his chance with the Lions (although he never really got a proper push on that tour, and following his father's tragic early death his form suffered - which is totally understandable - and he's not looked quite the same player since... here's hoping France is helping him feel at peace).  BOD get's the call simply because there's no one else - Earls has been dreadful - even though his form hasn't been epic.  He's been OK though.

D'Arcy was a late call up, and never had a proper chance of an early test slot, despite his rapport with BOD. 

Hook is out, possibly for the whole tour, with a head injury.

Front Row

The Hooker selection is really interesting.  I thought Rees would get the nod, because there hasn't been a lot to choose from between him and Mears, and Rees has a significant size advantage over Mears.  Line out throwing is going to be a battle ground for the Lions, given the proficiency of Matfield and Botha - this is why Ford is going to be playing the remainder of his tour in the midweek side.  Mears gets the chance to impress, but if he struggles, expect a switch for the second week.

Prop wise, there's been a lot of talk about how Sheridan must start because of the weakness of Smith as a tight head.  I never bought that, and always felt that Jenkins superior technical ability would win out.  Win one for me.  He's a great asset in the loose too.

Vickery plays, and is a professed favourite of Rowntree.  I'm prepared to accept he knows more about scrummaging than I will ever learn, and so will take this selection on faith. 

Jones adds a lot to the breakdown (massive massive unit).

Euan Murray got himself banged up, but he was playing well as well - I'd think he'd have started ahead of Vickery, but as I said, I won't argue with Wig.  This is the strongest performing group in the squad, and I couldn't say if this was due to selection, combinations or coaching.

Second Row

O'Connell was a shoo in, a gimme pick.  He's been paired consistently with Wyn Jones, and it's been obvious that this was the plan - pick two line out forwards to attack Botha and Matfield. 

O'Callaghan adds experience, strength and power for the loose.  At a push Croft can come forward.  Hines has been pushed around the pack, and seems to be considered as exclusively a midweek player.  Shaw is a huge lump of a man, solid at 5 and plenty of power on the break.  In the event the captain gets spear tackled in a challenge from which no player is cited, expect Shaw to come up into the test squad.

No comments:

Post a Comment