Five Lions Who Roared

Leigh Halfpenny

So many superlatives have been thrown the way of the young Welsh full-back in the wake of a sublime string of performances on tour, carrying on from a hugely impressive Six Nations campaign. He handled the tremendous pressure of the goal-kicking duties with ease, and although he will have been disappointed not to stop Israel Folau in the series opener, his tackling was otherwise solid. In defence, his excellent covering and positional play (particularly in the final test) allowed him to comfortably field kicks from hand, preventing the Wallabies from gaining territory, and thus providing a dangerous counter-attacking base for his side. Although many of these punts fell distinctly into the “average” category, Halfpenny’s reading of the game allowed him to show his prowess with ball in hand, cutting loose to provide two brilliant assists for the tries that sealed the series.

Alex Corbisiero

With the scrum proving such a pivotal battleground in all three test matches, the Englishman played a crucial role in winning penalties and quality first-phase possession for the Lions. Alongside the powerful duo of Richard Hibbard and veteran Adam Jones, he decimated the Wallaby front row in the final showdown, consistently providing Halfpenny with three-point opportunities – one of which also resulted in a yellow card for Australian tighthead Ben Alexander. He showed up well in the loose, setting the Lions on their way with a try in the second minute in Sydney, and was dynamic and abrasive with ball in hand. His performance on tour, particularly in that deciding fixture, was made all the more impressive following a domestic season marred by injury, and indeed a calf strain having kept him out of the second test.

George North

The hulking winger engaged in a ferocious physical battle with Folau, and proved himself – on his day – virtually unplayable in attack. With the Wallabies bereft of their most competent midfield defender in Pat McCabe, North exerted a telling influence on their defensive play. His support lines and decoy runs were of such great concern to the hosts that they often left gaps for his teammates to exploit. A magnificent solo effort in week one of the series was followed up a fortnight later by a more straightforward finish. Without the ball, he put in some huge hits in his own 22, one of them (on Ben Mowen) almost certainly saving a try. He ensured that the lasting image from this Lions tour will not be that of the visiting captains holding aloft the Tom Richards Trophy – rather North subjecting Folau to the same fate.

Alun-Wyn Jones

The self-confessed “workhorse” of the pack was exactly that. He tirelessly offered himself as a ball-carrying option, repeatedly crossing the gain line and getting the Lions on the front foot. In defence, he put in tackle after tackle, and his ability to cause the Wallabies problems at the breakdown was very impressive, although not altogether surprising from a man who prides himself on being as active around the pitch as a blindside flanker. Despite speculation in the media and among supporters surrounding his suitability to take on the burden of captaincy for the “decider”, he led his charges by example in Syndey, putting in a near-perfect second row performance. His sheer work rate and willingness to take on the less glamorous aspects of forward play see him among the very best locks in the Northern Hemisphere, and when combined with Paul O’Connell, presented a truly formidable partnership with which to implement Gatland’s power-centric game plan.

Johnny Sexton

Though question marks were raised over his defence – particularly in the wake of James O’Connor’s third-test try – the Irish stand-off had a solid series. With only Owen Farrell and the out of position Stuart Hogg rivalling him for the number ten jersey, the pressure was on Sexton to come up with the goods. Although there were few flashes of brilliance – barring a sumptuous crossfield chip in Sydney gathered by the onrushing North –perhaps owing to his playing for the most part in a largely unfamiliar backline, he consistently did the basics well, and controlled that deciding fixture with an impressive show of game management.

Honourable Mentions:

Sam Warburton – back to his disruptive best, and was the outstanding player of the second test. Desperately unlucky to miss the third through injury – not that his team seemed to miss him.

Conor Murray – showed in his substitute appearances a striking blend of power and guile, and may consider himself unfortunate not to have started in place of Mike Phillips in Sydney.

Adam Jones – the furry-faced stalwart of the Welsh pack proved once more why he is rightly regarded among the best tightheads in world rugby.

By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)

25 thoughts on “Five Lions Who Roared

  1. At least a mention for Jonathan D, please. He delivered wonderfully having taken the place of an icon, and must also be in the running as most improved player.

      1. No need to keep everything square. If 6 Lions roared, then 6 Lions roared. If only 4 whimpered then 4 whimpered. Good choices though.

    1. Had JD not spent the first two tests at 12 he may well have been on this list. As it worked out, he looked poor in those two, particularly the first. Was fantastic in the 3rd but not sure he quite makes this list.

  2. I’m really glad you put Sexton in here. He was really impressive in the third test in particular, and he also did the basics very well in the first two. Baring in mind he had a very poor Phillips in 1st and 3rd tests to play outside, and in the 2nd test our game plan was apparently to defend – he did everything asked of him and worked very well with what he had.

  3. I suspect Adam isn’t in the main list because he can’t really go any higher – he is so dependable when fit and just did what everyone expected of him i.e. be the best tight head in the world.

    Bending “roared” to mean “improved” for a 2nd did I imagine it or did Farrel turn into an attacking fly half, at least for one match, on this tour? There will be a lot of eyes on him when he returns to see if he can maintain that (if he is allowed to).

    1. Agreed on Adam Jones – unbelievable player. Although did you see this week he was speaking about retiring? He was hoping to make it to 2015 WC and then that would be it. Do Wales have any other good TH coming though? (Genuine questions btw)

      Also, Farrell. I think he is going to have to start playing that way. Burns has proved you can be an attacking fly half and also manage a game well. I am looking forward to seeing how those two go as the competition between can only benefit England.

      1. Nope, we do not have a replacement for Adam. It’s scary really. RWC 2015 was always the goal so we’ve got 2 years to get some subs sorted. Paul James can do a job there but that says it all really that we’ve got him flitting between loose and tight when we’re stuck. Scott Andrews for The Blues might be good one day. Samson Lee might be good one day. But there are no real storming contenders – scary when you consider that most props don’t really get really good until late 20s. We need to enjoy it while it lasts.

        1. Wasps have got a young Welsh lad called Will Taylor who looks pretty decent, but as you said, not going to be approaching his prime ready for when Adam Jones steps down. Paul James always looks better as a LH IMO, but I suppose is an option.

        2. Agree that Andrews and Lee are probably the brightest prospects at 3 for welsh rugby.

          I would hope, for welsh sakes, that the management start to fade them in (i.e. giving Adam max 55mins, or even resting him for a couple “lesser important” test matches)

          if the management dont start fading them in, the wales will end up in a situations like england. we have to hope that wilson is up to scratch, because if something happens to Cole, we arent too sure of what we have. (too much emphasis is placed on Cole, luckily wilson showed he is pretty good in Arg)

          I would hope that the management of wales learn from england’s mistake, and plan a bit. especially if adam has warned them that he will retire in the not too distant future!

  4. Oh, and Fale, don’t forget Fale. Had to bide his time behind the distinctly average Heaslip for the first two tests; when he comes out he shows exactly what we missed in those matches. Carrying, off loading, tackling. Heaslip is meant to do all of that plus leadership; he didn’t seem to show any of the latter and was not as good as Fale in the former. Can’t be long before The Dragons lose Fale. In fact I’d be amazed if any of the Welsh Lions are still playing in Wales come Christmas. If Sexton is worth 600K, if a top Welsh player in Wales isn’t even on half of that, then the French clubs must be lining up what to them will seem like bargains.

    1. this list seems to be only based on the test, but Faletau was a star in the midweek games, and when he eventually got the chance in a test, he did not disappoint.

      he is worthy of a mention, in the very least.

      would say that Tom Youngs and Hibbard are up there too. (exclude the odd off throw) and both players had excellent tours. Hibbard cemented his reputation as a top hooker, and Youngs will have enhanced his reputation.

  5. Another one for me would be Geoff Parling. I thought he was fantastic on tour. Considering he came into the test side under the pressure of replacing O’Connel he performed brilliantly.

    1. Still loving the memory of that tap tackle. Up there for me in the top 3 moments of the series.

  6. If terms of TH, Aaron Jarvis isn’t a bad player. Its going to take a lot for a replacement to be found! Maybe try converting Ryan Bevington?

    1. i’d keep LHs as LHs, after all, Gethin isnt going to around forever either. plus he is seems to be relatively injury prone.

      i think wales need a “play in wales to play for wales” policy, that should keep a fair chunk of talent in the country. tat way they should find developing talent a bit easier.

  7. JD and Parling played above themselves, but honourable mentions only.

    Probably would have had Jones over Sexton on the list. The front row was where the Lions was won.

    Not sure about Conor Murray on the list. He finished strongly but was pretty shaky earlier on the tour.

    You might want to add Gats to the list- if he who laughs last laughs loudest, he must be roaring……..!

    1. I’m glad you picked up on Murray. He had two cameos on the last two tests and made good impact in both – but looked very poor early on. I was at the Rebels game in Melbourne and he looked woeful. I suppose Test appearances trump earlier poor performances! For me he is still a bit slow at the base of a ruck.

  8. Many thanks as always for the responses, folks. I’ll try and answer any points raised here:

    With regards to Jonathan Davies, I thought Sexton had a better overall series, despite his excellent performance in the final test. He certainly handled the pressure and scrutiny surrounding the BOD decision very impressively.

    On Adam Jones – as someone posted above, top performances in the tight from him are now the norm, and I tried to acknowledge how well he played in the honourable mentions section. I thought Corbisiero was a better pick for the main five under the circumstances.

    Faletau was also brilliant in the third test, particularly with regards to ball-carrying and turnovers, but didn’t get much of a look-in elsewhere thanks to Heaslip – who imo followed up a poor Six Nations with a below-par tour.

    Conor Murray gets a mention off the back of his sub appearances, where I thought his combination of quality service and abrasive play showed what the Lions had missed out on at 9. Perhaps a bit exaggerated because Phillips was so poor.

    There are definitely a lot of potential choices for this one – I could justifiably have plumped for five Welshmen – so plenty of debate to be had!


  9. Again taking ntionality out of it I am staggered that Adam Jones isn’t the top of this list!

    He was consistently dominant over his opposing number, did the basics very well, and won shot at goal after shot at goal at scrum time, he was IMO the lions most important player despite having such a talented TH behind him!

    Leigh Halfpenny won player of the series for his goal kicking ratio and 3/4 breaks against a beaten pck in test 3, very good player but ws he more important to the lions as Jones? No chance!

    I am also amazed that Sexton is in this list, he proved very shaky both in attack and defence, and on return to the UK and rewatching the games he is responsible for nearly half of points conceded, through either missed tackles, wayward kicks, creating confusion in defence etc…

    How is T Youngs not in this list, from 3rd choice selection for his dynmism alone, to then third place behind Best, to test starter who worked out all of his lineout and scrum issues on one tour, he was one of my most improved players.

    JD was a victim of circumstance, consistently outplayed BOD yet had to cover 12 in test 1 and 2.

    My 5 ‘Roares’ would be…


    Too many Welsh for my liking but thats how I saw it.

    1. Agree on Jones but then Corbs caused the real damage in the final test, and having two props on the list would be a bit much!

      Also, was Tom Youngs third choice? And then third choice after best? I had him down as second choice (behind Hibbard), the whole time? Although I agree he was excellent. Already disagreed re: Sexton in my last post.

  10. I had Youngs down behind Hartley who was playing very well nd captaining his club, allbeit behind Youngs in the England pecking order granted.
    I also had Best as top dog after his club season, but Youngs probably deserved to start all 3 tests on form.

    Corbs was very good, in one game, and is a real class act, but and your right maybe 2 props are too much, but how he can be placed ahead of Jones who manhandled all in front of him…
    Jones for me shouldve been named player of the tour, Welsh player of the season and world player of the year, I am amazed I am the only one to see a TH who dominates every player he comes cross as worth their weight in gold. He is worth 6-9 points a game single handedly to the Ospreys, Wales and lions, that is not to be sniffed at!

    1. You’re not the only one who see’s a TH as good as AJ as worth their weight in gold. The problem with AJ in relation to this list is that he’s consistently excellent, therefore excellence starts to look like the norm.

      It is apparent to all Welsh rugby fans that AJ is key to all the good that Wales do. If AJ is absent the team as a whole is nowhere near as effective (Autumn Internationals). He really is that important to us.

      It’s enough to make the blood run cold to know that retirement looms after 2015, if indeed he makes it that far.

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