Five Lions Who Whimpered

It feels a bit cruel writing this just after that wonderful victory in Sydney, but it wasn’t all brilliant from the Lions on this tour. There were a few who sadly did not live up to the expectation we all had for them.

Rory Best

Undoubtedly the biggest disappointment on tour. Many felt he had been harshly left out of the original squad at the expense of Dylan Hartley (who’s he?), but following his late inclusion Best failed to justify those calls in his favour. Replicating much of his last season’s form, his basics were poor; he was extremely wayward in the lineout, ineffective in the loose, and, most damning of all, seemed not to have backing of the players he was charged with leading when the Lions lost to the ACT Brumbies. Not nice to hear him admit that the Brumbies “wanted it more” either. A poor tour.

Mike Phillips

A good player, but was kept in check throughout the two tests in which he played. Phillips is a player that likes to bring physicality to the scrum-half role, but in Ben Mowen found a blind-side flanker who couldn’t wait for more. Mowen was arguably the player of the series for the Aussies and that was predominantly to do with his ability to silence the Welsh no 9. This seemed to affect Philips’ all-round game too – slow distribution, aimless, long box-kicks, strange defensive decisions. A like for like swap with Connor Murray replacing Phillips towards the end of the last Test shored things up which tells you all you need to know.

Dan Cole

Not a bad tour, but certainly not the one he would have wanted. Cole would have been champing at the bit to get more game time in the Tests, and to have more of an impact once there, but the work of Adam Jones was outstanding throughout which limited his chances. Cole could have been an extra back-row forward at the breakdown if given more of a chance to get involved but learning from and watching Jones at close quarters will see him as a far more important player on the next tour. He (rather than his coaches or teammates) will be disappointed in himself more than anything, as he prides himself on being a huge presence, not an afterthought.

Ian Evans and Richie Gray

It could be because they are both so enormous physically that their lack of impact on this tour is so apparent. Both had a great chance of making the Test side once Paul O’Connell was ruled out, and neither was able to take it. Evans in particular looked tired after a long season and was not able to lend his considerable weight to the effort in any memorable way. Gray was rewarded for his determination by being afforded a cameo role at the end of the 3rd test, but for a man with such natural ability it is a shame he still has not been able to make that leap forward to ‘world-class’ yet.

By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)

28 thoughts on “Five Lions Who Whimpered

  1. If Cole is in there because he was expected to roar but was prevented from doing so due to the better form (and skill?) of the players ahead of him then surely Tuilagi as well?

    Before anyone thinks that this is calling Tuilagi rubbish let’s remember that here we are supposedly talking about the top 4 centres in the B&I so being 4th out of that lot is not the same as being rubbish. It is however not impressive given the hype surrounding him e.g. all of those repeated Dan Carter quotes.

    I’d also add Heaslip – 2 tests in which to show he is a carrier and a leader and pretty average and even anonymous in both. Him being made Ireland captain is not the same as him being a leader, as this series showed.

    1. Would definitely add Heaslip to the list. Dan Cole is an interesting one, he actually played very well in the 2nd and 3rd tests when he came on. he basically had a bad tour because Adam Jones was also there – harsh on him really.

      On Tuilagi, I don’t think it’s actually fair to call him 4th choice – he never really had a chance. He was injured most of the tour. I am pretty sure he’d have played 12 in the first test had he not been injured. He only recovered for the 3rd test really, and then Gatland went for the Welsh pairing that knew each other. So not sure how that can be considered in any way him playing badly?

    2. Disagree on Tuilagi, his contributions were:
      – An excellent game with Sexton & BOD (looked like the most promising 10, 12 & 13 combination)
      – An injury
      – A very good game against the Rebels

      Yes I was hoping he would feature prominently in the tests, but if an injury prevents him from doing so you can’t really hold that against him.

    3. You havent mentioned the fact that Tuilagi was out with injury for two weeks of the tour. When he and BOD were playing against Western Force, they were arguaby the most dynamic pairing during the warm up games. They certainly were the most exciting to watch.
      You can’t say he had a had tour considering the injury and inability to play… when he did play he made an impact. The players in the list above, failed to do so.

    4. Tuilagi – probably the best performer at 12 on tour. I think that there were many people who thought that he played better than they thought he would.

      As stated before Cole was definitely on this list until he remembered how to scrummage. So probably deserves his place.

      As for players not playing to their reputation or potential – Lydiate, 6N player of the tournament in 2012, didn’t get anywhere near those heights. BoD – did OK but not the player he was. Heaslip started Ok but dropped off and Faletau was a definitive upgrade. Hartley definitely.

  2. Surely Dylan Hartley has too top this list! Given the ultimate rugby accolade by being selected for the Lions,even seen packing his tour bag on youtube, and he didnt even make onto the plane because of an act of mindless idiocy!

  3. Heaslip & Croft instead of Gray and Evans.

    We were hoping to see these guys ball in hand running all over the pitch, neither justified their inclusions over the likes of Morgan, Wood or Brown. Massively disappointing as these were supposed to be a couple of game changers.

    Gray was taken post injury and on questionable form, lucky to tour but thought he acquitted himself well and improved with time on tour. Evans very solid and dependable, didn’t turn in a poor performance all tour. Being behind 3 exceptional locks in the pecking order doesn’t make it a whimper.

    1. I don’t know if Croft whimpered. He didn’t have a bad test match at all, missed fewer tackles than Dan “I can tackle” Lydiate and made plenty of ground with ball in hand in the tests and warmups, also scored 2 tries in warmups. I might not say he had an amazing game, but he didn’t have a poor tour and ought to go home reasonably happy other than disappointed at being dropped. Similarly, Heaslip played perfectly well, especially in the warmups where he looked much better than Faletau – though Faletau undeniably had a brilliant 3rd test.

      Gray and Evans were poor all tour, neither really getting into the test side. They’re good players, but the only time either of them looked impressive was against the Rebels. That’s why they whimpered. They had opportunities to look good and work their way into the test side, but they were both lacking the physicality, the legs or the precision in their games

      1. Both Croft and Heaslip looked good in the non-test games. I was uncomfortable with the selection of both, but it was hard to argue against the selection of either on form. Beyond that point it’s a definite whimper.

        My recollection of Croft’s ball carrying in the first test is one good break down the left which culminated in him throwing a forward pass. One close carry round the fringes for a couple of metres, other than that I didn’t see anything. Croft’s stats look OK because of the one decent break, but that’s not the full story. Getting dropped to the bench and then out of the squad is a whimper.

        1. Agree to disagree on how good Crogt was in the tests, I’m not going to open that can of worms.

          However, Ian Evans and Richie Gray ultimately failed in everything they did in warmup games bar one. Neither realistically competed for a test spot and Gray arguably only appeared on the bench because of the loss of O’Connell.

    1. I think it’s mostly a question of relative to what was expected of him. Cole was expected to trouble Adam Jones for the starting shirt and never really did. Didn’t help that when he was brought on to impress he came on as a complete front row change in the first test which inevitably crumbled, because that’s what happens when you change a whole front row.

  4. not so much a whimper, but Mako seemed to fizzle out as the tour went on.

    with Gray and Evans failing to really make a mark, i think some players left at home (Launchbury and Ryan especially) will be sat at home thinking that they could probably have brought more to the tour.

    Cole grew throughout the tour, but he did not live up to the “will challenge Jones” tag that people gave him.

    Best and Phillips are DEFiNITES for this list. Grant isnt far behind either.

    1. Cole is a bit off form, he looks knackered. Last time he was injured must have been 4-5 years ago, and isn’t getting as much if any rotation with Castro at Leicester like he used to.

      “but Mako seemed to fizzle out as the tour went on” – Gatland over-played him early on.

      Lydiate was a waste of space in both Tests.

  5. I definitely wouldnt say Cole had a bad tour at all. He was always going to be in Adam Jones shadow but any other tour without Jones and Cole would have started all three tests and excelled.

    Richie Gray I felt was a bit unlucky as his performances for the midweeks teams were strong. Gatland went for two backrowers in the second test on the bench and Gray would have certainly been brought on as Parling struggled had he been on the bench.

    Cant argue with the other three though.

    Do I dare say BOD should be on that list?!

  6. Too many national pride ego’s here, not sure how anyone can say Phillips who started test 1 and 3 can be called as whimper considering the lions won both.

    Dan Cole certainly did not whimper, he just had to compete with the best TH in the world, and when he saw gametime (a lot more than anyone else behind Jones) he was good.

    Best and Evans both looked tired, neither performed the basics very well, and looked ineffective around the park.

    Mako, Grey, Lydiate, Tuilagi, and Cuthbert are all young and showing potential, and none let the lions down but they all highlighted the weaknesses in their game and in each position there were better options.

    My ‘whimper’ list would go Best, Evans, Youngs, Sexton, and Hogg, all of which I expected big things from, and expected them to step up and really impress after last seasons form, none offered much.

    Stevens can’t really be called a flop as noone expected anything except him flopping around like a baby hippo… which he did.

    1. I think anyone watching the games can see that the 1st and 3rd tests were one in spite of Phillips awful performances, not anything down to him – the most patriotic Welshman (brighty), even saw how badly he played.

      Not sure on your flop list. Sexton was excellent with the poor ball he was given, and really stepped up in the 3rd. Assume you mean Ben Youngs, but really don’t think he had a bad tour – he was dropped for the 3rd because they wanted to play Phillips and Murray style – not because of his performances. Would agree with your other flops mind you.

  7. I am no real phillips fan, I see him as a weapon but nowhere near the complete player, but most criticism of him seems to be his tactical orders rather than ability, he marshalls the pack, impliments the direction of the attack and dictates the pace which is why Gatland always sticks with him.

    Ben Youngs I was expecting to take the test 9 shirt, but offered little threat in that area, and even displaced by a limited Murray, maybe I expected more from Youngs than most?

    Again I was expecting a Sexton to really ignite the backline, but he offered little going forward, and I wanted to see Farell much more (never thought I’d say that) at least he wouldve made his tackles and not caused confusion in the defencive line! I like Sexton and think he’s one of the best 10’s around but this tour he was poor by his standards.

    Again my flops are probably more to do with my expectation of players rather than their actual performance.

    1. Philips was a weapon, he was a (blunt) knife in a gun fight. He kept trying to take Mowen on physically and was dominated every time. He’s the only test player who put in a really sub par performance.

      I’m not bothered by his selection in the 3rd test as we won, but I think he was least impressive of the 3 9s. Murray being the best of them in the end.

  8. Personally, I was a little disappointed with Ben Youngs, but I think that much of that was down to the scrum problems in the second test, so not sure that he is being judged fairly. Thought Phillips was poor and Connor Murray had an up and down tour. He looked good at the end behind a dominant pack and much better than Phillips behind the same dominant pack. Not sure that any of them really provided the class we were hoping for.

  9. Well Steve, I must say the Lions missed a real rugby brain when they left you behind in UK. Why weren’t you there amongst the selection group? Your comment was like a shaft of blinding light – OF COURSE! Lydiate was a waste of space, what a terrible player. Gatland’s brilliant strategy, win a Lions series (first this century) by leaving a vacuum at no.6. I just hope the next coach learns from that; 14 men are cheaper as well. Idiot.

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