Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Lions thoughts, take two


Oh the halfbacks... spine of the team, most important positions on the park... decision makers... coaches on the field.

I think it might be a bit over baked, the whole worship of the halfbacks, but that is probably a typical Leicester front row forward mentality.  I've watched Leicester compete with the very best with some pretty limited half backs, and come to value some of the qualities which those limited guys had.  Calm heads (when they were playing well), a quick pass from the 9, sensible kicking... yes, Mr Serevi, I'm looking at you here.

The Lions were in an awkward position, what with the French having opened up a brutal monopoly on half backs in the last couple of years, clever little players who can switch between 9 and 10, kick goals, run games, distributed efficiently from out half with no pressure or ferret the ball out of the ruck and maul and fire it across the field. 


The best out halves in Britain are both Welsh, for my money (Stephen Jones and James Hook are very different players, but both excellent, and you know full well there are a handful of other Welsh tens just waiting... I remember that Arwel Thomas and Ceri Jones never even got a run for Wales, even though they were quality, so I'm going to assume there are more).  ROG used to look like a pretty gifted, flash player, but something happened at the World Cup and he's (for my money) done.  The Scots have nothing, the English out halves are all separately and difficultly limited - Cipriani has a need to reduce his cuntyness and regear his kicking, but runs like a gazelle, Andy Average has one of the best kicking games you'll ever see, but is a confidence pony, the younger guys need seasoning (Myler and Geraghty come to mind, but Barkley barely played this year also).  Vesty is a Leicester guy, but not an international stand off (see weak leg, lack of goal kicking range for more details) who played himself out of contention in the last two games of the season.

I can totally understand why the decision was made to take ROG and Jones, and the belated addition of Hook made sense to me.

Tour form has been hard to come by for all the out halves - ROG has played awfully, absolutely awfully.  Jones has had a couple of good games.  Hook has been given no quality time, and seems to be viewed as a utility back for the midweek side, which is a shame, as he could lean on the game management expertise of the grizzled forwards and the (allegedly world class) O'Driscoll and make a name for himself.  As it is, the pick will be Jones.


As I said, the best 9s in Europe are all French.  Yachvilli, Elisalde, Dupuy, Michalak... there's something for everyone there.

The Lions went for the Tomas O'Leary, unimpressive scrum half for the Irish team, who actively impaired the team function of Ireland during the Six Nations.  Every time Stringer came on ROG looked better, the ball moved quickly and the team looked fluid.  Unfortunately Stringer is an old man, and has no pace.  I'd have considered taking him as an impact sub.

Then O'Leary got hurt and Mike Blair got called up.

Since then he's looked like the old man, out of place, unable to manage the Lions backline.  We can safely say he's out of contention, regardless of his nationality.

Then there's the Leicester man, Ellis.  Ellis has shown off his stunning box kicking game, putting pressure on the wings and sidelines.  The ball comes off the deck quickly when he's in the game and allowed to play the ball (fucking Wayne Barnes) and Ellis brings a ferocious amount of pace to the table. 

Mike Phillips is the other contender for the jersey.  He's afflicted with what I like to call Matt Dawson syndrome - the habit built into 9s these days to pick up the ball and have a little look to see what is on for them.  That might wash at junior level, where they're the best player on the paddock, but in the international test arena, they could really do with coaching that back a bit.  Phillips isn't as quick as Ellis, but is bigger.  He'll go through a tackle which Ellis would go over, but won't beat a guy to the corner that Ellis might.

As it is, Phillips has had all the plum starting jobs, and so looks likely to start.  He's also got the advantage of having a rapport with ROG.  I think that the third test will show Hook and Ellis in the starting roles, battling to get some respect in a series which is already lost.  For the moment though Phillips is tied on for the starting role.

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