Are French-based players unlucky to miss out on the Lions?

The player exodus to France has been a point of contention in the rugby world for a while now, and it has only been exacerbated by Warren Gatland’s refusal (a couple of exceptions aside) to pick players involved in the latter stages of the Top 14.

The French league has certainly demonstrated the high calibre of its players throughout the course of this season. With financial reward attracting a number of quality names from across the UK over the Channel to ply their trade, it’s a little surprising there isn’t more of a French-based contingent on the plane to Australia with only Welsh-born Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins gaining their places.

Starting with the obvious; European Player of the Year and Heineken Cup Winner, Jonny Wilkinson, is said to be keen to answer any injury calls from Australia. We won’t dwell on Wilkinson as he has already been discussed to great length (and is said to have been approached by Gatland anyway) but there is no doubt he would slot right into the squad should he be needed. You’d be a brave man to bet against Wilkinson playing some sort of role in a Lions shirt this summer. Last minute drop goal anyone?

Wilkinson is not the only Toulon star to be eligible – the Armitage brothers have excelled again this season. Delon has been assured at full-back and has a real spark that can ignite any match. His winning try in the Heineken Cup Final was a true demonstration of his pace and finishing ability, although that wave and the ensuing Twitter warfare showed that he still has plenty of growing up to do.

Steffon has been ferocious and tenacious in the back row, with some of his earlier season performances leaving many crying out for him to be included on the tour. Sadly for him, however, the squad is not lacking for flankers. With Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood, not to mention Kelly Brown, definitely ahead of him in the reserves pecking order it is unlikely the elder Armitage brother will find himself wearing a Lions shirt this summer.

Matt Stevens was brought back in from the international wilderness to everyone’s surprise, but the unlikely prop many thought might make it was Andrew Sheridan. Regularly picked ahead of tourist Gethin Jenkins for club side Toulon, it would have provided a fascinating, and not necessarily beneficial, sub-plot.

Big but mobile lock Nathan Hines, who saw his Clermont Auvergne side come up short against Toulon in a gripping Heineken Cup final, is another former Lion to miss out. At 36 there is more reason for him not to be included, but even with his age his performances have certainly been of a higher quality this season than some of the men going (a certain compatriot of his springs to mind). Again, however, the likes of Joe Launchbury and Jim Hamilton will be wrestling with him for that spot at the top of the reserves list.

And what of fullback Lee Byrne, another from Clermont who featured on the last Lions tour and a player that was once touted as one of the best in his position in the world? He may have fallen from grace in the national stakes, but once again you suspect it is simply a case of there being equally good options plying their trade within the British Isles and Ireland. James Hook deserves a mention also, but it seems there is nothing he can do these days to convince the Welsh or Lions selectors that he is worthy of a spot.

So the Top 14 has provided a hot bed for young talent to thrive, as well as rejuvenating the careers of a number of older heads. The host of British players that featured in the Heineken Cup final are testament to this. The fact that Gatland supposedly invited Wilkinson to tour throws up mixed messages, but for the large part those based abroad have been snubbed for those playing in the home nations. Whether that is the right decision or not remains to be seen.

By Jono Frank and Jamie Hosie

10 thoughts on “Are French-based players unlucky to miss out on the Lions?

  1. and what has james hook done to prove he is worthy of a spot, the only reason he made it on the welsh bench this year was because of injury, surely if he was lions worthy he would have been wales worthy? no?

    1. thats a fair point. especially seeing as the welsh management have made up more than half of the lions coaches.

      Steffon Armitage is another one that has been getting to me recently. everyone singing his praises for both england and the lions. chances are, he would have done similar to wilko, and said he wasnt free due to club commitments. also another point on armitage. he has been relegated to the bench in recent games. the HC quater and semi’s saw Lobbe shift to 7, with Roussow playing 6. sure, now-a-days the game is a 23 man effort, not just 15, but if armitage was deemed to be a better player than roussow then would he not be starting?

      and finally, on a slight side note. i think that photo is cudmore, not hines.

      1. I suspect Armitage’s demotion has more to do with Toulon’s game plan come the sharp end of the season than his form. He’s looked good off the bench but Toulon have favoured a territorial kicking game which favours the lineout ability of Rossouw, plus I think Rossouw is a better defender. Hopefully Steffon will be back in England when his contract in France runs out and we can get a better look at him.

        1. I was never convinced when he had his first run with England.

          He isn’t a workhorse of a 7 either. Armitage is basically everything that England do not want in a 7. He spends his time hanging round the backline just waiting to have a run. He isn’t a lineout forward either. England already have croft as the hanging on the wing forward, and he offers more in other aspects.

          Sure you can play the “out and out 7” card. But England have Fraser and Kvesic who fill that. Neither of them are glory “wannabe wingers” and both can jump in the lineout.

          I also have doubts of armitage’s fitness.

          Toulon’s gameplan of big forwards and field position is how England tend to play, so if Armitage doesn’t ft the bill for Toulon, then surely he won’t for England either.

  2. I don’t actually think many of the French based players would be in had they been playing in Britain and Ireland.

    Full back is a position we are strong, so Armitage and Byrne were never going to go. Hines maybe, but hard to say he has played a great deal better than the locks selected (Gray aside), and with Launchbury and Evans not selected, as well as Hamilton, I doubt it was a decision that was based on where he plays his club rugby.

    Obviously Gatland has an issue with players not being able to board the place from the start, but I genuinely don’t think that there are any French based players that were screaming to be included. (Obviously Jonny aside but that is a different conversation)

  3. Have to discount Jonny as he was asked if he would make himself available.

    Other than that Hines ahead of Evans of Gray is the only one I would say certainly deserves to tour.

    – Sheridan is debatable, but I think Ryan Grant is the one who is massively unlucky to miss out.
    – Difficult to make a case for D. Armitage or Byrne ahead of the 3 FBs selected
    – S. Armitage doesn’t seen to be in quite the form he was in the early HC rounds, so not ahead of Wood, Robshaw, Jones or Brown for starters.
    – Nick Kennedy seems to have really come on at Toulon, if Parling picked up a knock I would be giving him some serious thought.

    I don’t think Hook playing in France has influenced the decision as he is available for the start of the tour, wouldn’t have minded him being included as I like his versatility off the bench.

  4. Sheridan is the best prop in the northern hemisphere and is in great form and should definitely be
    selected IMHO

  5. seems totally reasonable to only select those who can get on the plane on monday as a group. only one who managed to secure release was Gethin Jenkins. there is three weeks between top 14 final on 1st June and first test on 22nd June for these guys to get over as injury replacements.

    I’m surprised no one has been ruled out from the original squad yet to be honest!

    1. “I’m surprised no one has been ruled out from the original squad yet to be honest!”

      theres still time

      1. Sean O’Brien is making a good fist of it!

        It will be interesting to see if BOD comes out of the final in one piece too.

        I think we have a grand total of 13 lions on show this weekend in the Rabo and Aviva Finals. Gethin in in the Top 14 Semi too.

        chances are we will see at least one injury scare (whether it is enough to miss the tour is another matter) this weekend.

        Most of the guys playing this weekend are names who everyone expected/wanted to be lions (Hartley excluded from that) so a loss of any of them would be a big blow. the most debatable lions are all tucked up in bed just waiting for the plane.

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