Thoughts on the Lions part 2
So what did the Barbarians game tell us about the Lions and what’s going to happen in Perth?
Well firstly, I think it’s fair to say that the Barbars game was a waste of time, unless you’re a Hong Kong based rugby fan. The scratch side with nothing but pride and a pay check seemed up for it, but the Lions are playing for more than pride and they steamrollered the Barbars. It was like a training game played in a sauna. Inconclusive for the fan, dangerous for the players. Maybe good for the sponsors (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), but not for anyone else.
There we some interesting pointers. You could see why Danny Care was left at home. Gatland wants to break the gain line immediately and for every man to tackle big. This means a big scrum half who is nearly a 4th back row, as opposed to a jinker with a lightning pass. Not that “2 step Care” has great distribution anyway.
Phillips played very well and Murray came on and played to the same model. Big, fast, aggressive, direct, linking the back row and the backs. Interesting for a one time 6’1 90kg scum half, but a bit of a shame for someone who loved Peter Stringer and Rob Jones. My favourite moment in rugby is Strings making Betsen look a fool in Cardiff.
The back row showed why its the most competitive position on tour, but I still think Tom Wood could have got a call and still might if there’s an injury. Tipuric played a great classical open side game, always being there, hitting tackles, showing hunger. Shame the captain’s above him. Lydiate looked good for a man out for a year but on hard grounds, I’d have Croft. My reason for thinking Wood is hard done by is I don’t think either 8 is outstanding, and it’s really their relationship with the two main 9s that has cemented their positions.
Other than that, Jamie Roberts showed what he can do yet again, but I don’t think we learned much about the three quarters, apart from Sexton looks a more natural fluid 10, either on the gain line, or kicking for position. Forget Farrell’s fisticuffs; if Burger had wanted to hurt him, he would have. I just think that at the moment, with no need for someone to fill in at centre, because centre is the 2nd tough position after back row, Farrell is a back up, not first choice.
I actually think 10 is a dangerous position. Why are people pining for a good defensive fly half that plays so far behind the gain line he can only kick to move forwards? Johnny last went past a back on the outside in about 2002. He was once brilliant at a lot, especially when guided by greenwood and catt. He’s now limited and needs a dominant pack.
Best hope Sexton stays fit.
So what are we looking for in the next match? For me, centre is the big decision. There are four candidates, each with their own pros and cons, but due to age, form, experience etc there isn’t an obvious stand out combination such as Gibbs and Guscott or ODriscoll and Roberts.
BOD; his brain still works at a truly elite level but can his body get him to where his brain wants him to be? Last time out he made space for Roberts and Croft to be amazingly but I remember thinking then, a younger BOD would have scored himself. Also, can he pay a couple of warm ups and 3 tests?
Roberts; for a man with many skills, including being a Doctor, it seems unfair to call him one dimensional but…. Roberts has never looked better than when playing with BOD but if the Irishman runs out of puff could those crash ball runs be better made by….
Tuilagi; no one hits harder, unless its Roberts. Manu has made a big impact in a short time, but I remain agnostic. Think he needs a system to be built around him, then he can be a monster. Good acceleration, if not lightning fast enough to be moved out to the wing. Might scare the opposition a bit more than others – not in a physical way, just in a “we’ve really got to watch him way, which might open up space for anyone else.
Davies: a very good player, who because he’s very neat, fast, direct, has good hands and can kick, but isn’t necessarily a headline maker, is unfairly judged against the three already mentioned. I reckon he’s on the bench as cover, but he could be a Rob Henderson; underrated until he smashes holes in the Wallaby backline and smashes the crap out of his opposite number.
So where does this ramble end up?
1 Gatland will okay a big 9 in the tests.
2 back row will be warburton, fallateau, croft, but Tom wood shouldn’t risk getting injured in Argentina
3 Sexton’s a shoe in. Best hope he stays fit, as the cupboard is bare.
4 BOD is going to tear the Aussies a new one. Again. And Doc Roberts will sow it up for them. If they’re fit, those two make a great combination, especially with some pace outside them. Manu and Davies are great backups, and don’t forget Tommy Bowe, who is actually the man in possession (with Ricky Flutey)
More on this story later. It’s going to be fun. I’m already getting that Lions feeling. The “7 pints of Guinness before mid day feeling”