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.
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.
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.
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)