One of the key concerns for the Lions has got to be the back row.
Let me rephrase
The Lions have got to be concerned about all their positions. For every player who's put their hand up for test selection, there's an injury or a hopeless bust (I'm looking at you Shane Williams you overrated little smurf)
But the back row is critical to victory. Winning the breakdown and turnover battle can make or break a test team.
The squad selection for the back row was interesting to say the least. Alan Quinlan got selected as a squad filling hardman/bolter, and promptly got himself banned for gouging. Out he went and in came Tom Croft, a personal favourite of mine, and a man many thought would be in the test team prior to the squad announcement.
Tom isn't a prototypical openside though, he's a freak athelete who could play on the wing if he wanted, but has the side of an early 90s lock. Let's talk opensides:
Pros - freakish speed, and I don't use that phrase lightly. Reputedly the second fastest player in the Tigers squad, after nippy little Tom Varndell. A monster in the lineout, partly based off the same kind of explosive power which drives his pace, and partly because he's comparatively light for a big man, at about 16 stone.
Cons - he's too fucking tall. This is a typical Leicester attitude, but an open side should be able to get low to the ground and scrap. Too many times in the tour we've seen Croft blown off the ball. Not his fault, but it's an issue.
Nominally a 7, which is where he was first selected for England. People said he'd replace Neil Back, and despite his dozens of England caps, let's face it, he never did.
Pros - love him or hate him (I hate him) he can tackle and has a mastery of the Edwards defensive system.
Cons - he's slow. And he's too fucking tall to play 7.
Here's a Wasps coaches select Wasps player thing - the coaches know what they're getting, and took a guy on tour who had one good international match all year.
Pros - great in the tackle area, great around the park.
Cons - he's too slow, he's too tall... when a player is touted as a player who can play anywhere in the back row, there's a guy who cannot play openside against the Springboks.
Last seen missing a penalty kick against Leicester (oooh, salty) Williams is limping around with injuries a plenty.
Pros - a true openside
Cons - he's old, he's hurt, he's never been as good as people made out (typical Welsh player in other words)
Oh yes, the cupboard is bare, and it isn't like there were any quality 7s left at home. Looking at the English, Moody was hurt all year, Narraway is too small, Armitage is overrated and simply not a big game player, Ben Woods looked good for Leicester but isn't a test player... there's not a lot there
The Welsh don't have any opensides outside of Williams, hence his unretirement
Scotland's top back row players played hurt and out of position, Simon Taylor is the openside you'd have wanted to step forward, but he didn't. Ho hum.
The Irish are short of players too, outside the two we've mentioned. I love Shane Jennings, but he has never got a look for Ireland. At Leicester, he was spectacular. Ludicorus. Since... less so.
So Williams it is.
I love Geech, but in his wisdom he opted against taking any out and out 8s. Instead we have the massive unit that is Andy Powell and the flexibility of Stephen Ferris.
Pros - what a beast. Brrrrrrring. Beast. A big hitter who's pretty close to the line at all times, and a huge carrier.
Cons - not exactly a force in the lineout, is he. Hands are a little bit suspect. Has turned it over a few times when isolated.
Pros - Good around the paddock. A mixture of skills.
Cons - He's not a massive crash ball guy, and he doesn't scare people.
Here's a man who'se put his hand up big time for the test place, one of the very few. He's been pretty impressive. Ferris.
Blind side is the toughest position on the park, the hardest to play, the hardest to value. It's also the place in the squad where tactics come into play the most, certainly in the pack at least.
This spot was absolutely locked down. Heaslip was playing like a man possessed. A demon on the park, quick, skillful, good in the line and the loose. He would have formed a terrifying tandem with Croft and run the Boks off the park. Now he's gone, there's no chance of Croft playing openside (although blindside isn't out...) and the other contenders for the shirt are...
All discussed above!
Wallace, I guess, could play, but hasn't stood out
Worsley hasn't played superbly
Croft looks savage quick
Ferris could play 6 to allow Powell to play
I'm going to say Croft, because Botha and Matfield are going to dominate the lineout, but I think it will be Worsley for the first test. I don't think he'll be good though.
In the words of So Solid