Lions Scout Notes: 13th March


Conor Murray
Why Declan Kidney took him off I just don’t know, the Irish wilted following his departure and were resigned to what will be a frustrating draw. The scrum-half looked Ireland’s best player from the word go, producing an energetic and accomplished performance. He injected real pace and fluency into the first half for the Irish, something which they were unable to maintain as the dogged French defence battled determinedly.

Conor Murray will have done no harm to his Lions chances nonetheless as the standout number 9 from the home nations. As we move into the last weekend, this spot is certainly up for grabs but another assured performance against the resilient Italians will certainly give the Munsterman a foot in the door.

Verdict – waiting nervously by the phone

Duncan Weir
I couldn’t help but smile when overhearing the man sat next to me say, “he can’t be a fly-half he’s got no neck”. For all his aesthetic shortcomings the Scottish fly-half certainly compensates in creativity. Scotland will take a lot of heart from this tournament as their youthful squad has begun to lay some foundations for the future.

Duncan Weir possesses a fantastic boot, determination and creative guile, all of which were on display as he deftly chipped the Welsh backline and forced a five-metre scrum after chasing a ball many would give up on. A long shot for Lions inclusion, with the likes of Farrell and Sexton being the obvious forerunners but the youngster will have certainly registered his presence on the international scene.

Verdict – planning his summer holidays

Tom Youngs
The hooker was England’s best performer on a weekend when it was hard to find someone who really stood out. Youngs has dislodged Dylan Hartley following an impressive autumn series and has begun to stake a real claim for the number two jersey. An industrious and battling performance against Italy helped preserve England’s grand slam hopes.

Hooker will be an interesting position to resolve for the Lions tour and Youngs is certainly not out of his depth within the pool of talent the home nations possesses. However, Gatland may well opt for a slightly more experienced head when it comes to decision time.

Verdict – waiting nervously by the phone

Sam Warburton

A fantastic return to form for the former captain has put him right back in Lions contention. Having drifted out of the frame in recent weeks, Warburton’s resurgence was typified by a determined display, on a number of occasions securing vital turnover ball and carrying ferociously. As Wales centre Jamie Roberts stated, “Sam has delivered, hasn’t he?”

Emerging from a difficult period, Wales seem to be regaining their strength and if Warburton can help propel Wales to victory over England this weekend then it is likely to give him the momentum to secure his place on the plane for Australia. Quite an incentive!

Verdict – packing his bags

By Jono Frank

58 thoughts on “Lions Scout Notes: 13th March

  1. Getting very interesting. Gatland says 22/23 places are nailed down from 37. There’s quite a few fighting for those last places. With the competition I can’t really see an uncapped player going. Does anyone know if it is a “mandatory” tradition?

      1. From a one-eyed England perspective, either Bath’s Kyle Eastmond or Wasps’ Christian Wade would be my calls. Both exciting players, as Australia have, if we’re going to fight fire with fire. I’m sure there’s a load of uncapped players from the other nations who are equally deserving.

      2. What about Burns? Behind Sexton and Farrell the fly-half options aren’t terribly inspiring. Hard pitches etc. could suit him. If he can stay fit and find some form could be an option and at the very least would be a great midweek player.

        If Priestland returns in time, however, I can see him taking the other spot.

    1. Possible bolters from Ireland (although they have had caps)- Marshall. Gilroy and henderson. Unlike the english equivalents we know they have test ability.

      I would reckon Wade would be a good bolter but usually the bolter comes from the final stages of the Heino Cup. Therefore, possibly a sarries or ulster player.

  2. Can’t see Wade going. Have previously said that I thought Eastmond or Tomkins were the two possibles from England as they have a bit of x factor, but are they really better than what has been on offer in the 6N. From my albeit limited knowledge of other nations, Rhys Patchell must be close to a Wales berth but he isn’t going to get in, and there must be some players knocking on the door from the Irish provinces, as Kidney has relied on the same old players – just look at the impact Marshall has made.

    1. What has been on offer in the Six Nations? Nothing particularly blinding (although that is in part thanks to the weather). I’ve heard an argument that Italy have actually played the most exciting rugby, in their games against France and England – and that’s not actually a ridiculous statement.

  3. Actually maybe Billy Vunipola, but is he ahead of Heaslip, Faletau and Morgan?

    Maybe injuries will open a door?

    1. Billy V would be a nice little option.

      Another 2 players who have come to me as possible uncapped options (although I could be wrong, if they got small appearances in the autumn) are Paul Marshall of Ulster, and Eli Walker of the Ospreys. Both pretty exciting, and I think both could do some damage on the hard grounds of Aus.

      Wade is another option, but I think gatland likes bigger wingers, in which case we could see Jonny May it Biggs (both long shots).

      I think Eastmond is a great shout! Not only is he electric, and Aus at that time of year is great for running rugby. But he is a playmaker, and he has played across the backline for bath, and that versatility will be very useful on a tour.

  4. Just watch an ulster game, they seem to be unearthing future Ireland players for fun. I really like some of the young welsh front rowers coming through like ken Owens and Samson? I think anyway. Doubt they’ll make it though since the lions will be wanting to field the biggest, nastiest pack on the whole continent

    1. I have a suspicion Varndel’s could be the suprise tourist as he has a wasps connection with Gatland, as for hooker the welsh boy hibbard has a shout.. the three touring hookers could well be youngs, best and hibbard… but ford has been tidy too…

  5. Gatland likes his big ball carriers so I think Billy Vunipola is the most likely as it is sadly looking like he will remain uncapped.

    Wade is a decent shout as not many wingers are on fire at the moment and Aus aren’t behemoth wingers or a predominantly high ball team.

    Tomkins has a chance to put his hand up in the HC, I think there’s a lot ahead of him but he has a chance to stake a claim.

    Eastmond is still finding his best position, so I think it’s too early for him.

    My bolter would be at fly half as there isn’t too much below Sexton and nothing of note below Farrell. Ben Botica is not super consistent yet, but anyone who means Quins don’t miss Evans has something special about them.

      1. I think he’s eligible, he was over here for quite a few years as a kid when his dad was playing here and I think he has a British passport, so doesn’t need the genealogists.

        Could he play for the Lions, remain uncapped by England as still be eligible for the All Blacks one day? Not saying it’s likely or anything just curious as to whether it would be possible as surely it would be a first!

        1. I like your thinking. Would certainly depose Riki Fluteys Lions exploits, from top spot in the most bizarre!

    1. The Lions No8 jersey is wide open. I don’t think that Heaslip and Faletau have nailed the slots during the past few weeks.

      I guess that the likes of Best, Tuilagi and Warburton are all sure to go, but for me, the only player to have played himself into a deserved Lions shirt is Halfpenny (albeit an option of 14 or 15).

      So its Halfpenny PLUS the rest for me.

      1. Halfpenny, Tuilagi, B Youngs and Launchbury are the ones I would say have pretty much nailed down their spots, but find myself surprised that that 3 of these are English! I would say that Halfpenny and Launchbury have earned it and Youngs and Tuilagi, as there hasn’t been much competition – late run from Murray aside.

        I have left out some very good players purely as there is so much competition in their positions.

        1. Staggy, your point on Youngs and Tuilagi is pertinent, and the phrase “least worst” does spring to mind.

          1. Personally I think that’s harsh. Youngs is playing pretty well, and better than anyone else without being at his complete best. Tuilagi is a weapon any team in the world would want to use. I’m not convinced that he is being used to his full potential at the moment with Barritt inside him, but I think Gatland will be able to use him to his potential.

          2. Yes, Staggy it is harsh – and rather tongue in cheek. The point is that there are very few who have been consistently excellent across the four games.

            Personally I would go with Youngs and Tuilagi, but I am not sure that either have been great.

            It is only when you look at the alternatives, and realise that none of them have been great either that they nudge forward.

        1. For what reason? Given Gatland has been picking one of the biggest back lines in the history of the game (5 of the 7 above 100kg) and had a game plan of winning collisions I would have thought Tuilagi would fit the bill quite well.

          I think Byrne is excellent as well, but I would be surprised to see him make the Lions without having made it back into the Welsh squad though.

          1. Hi Matt, i agree with you, just rumours from his press statement – think Gatland won’t pick him purely for his antics in the World cup – not saying it’s right, think Care will be overlooked for the same reason

          2. I would be surprised if that was the case, would be double standards if you look at some of the people he took to the world cup! I don’t think jumping off a ferry compares to having a fight outside Maccy Ds!

            Johnno took a bunch of lads on an amateur style rugby tour and called it a world cup campaign. The culture is now very different, so hope they are judged on how they are currently conducting themselves now.

          3. You would hope so and i think SL has done a great job ensuring professionalism and i hope i am wrong for the Lions reputation but !!!!!!

        2. Nothing against Lee Byrne he’s a great player. As far as Tuilagi goes, I think Gatland will and I also think he will use him better as mentioned above.

  6. Re; Botica – I have a vague recollection that his Dad played for Croatia
    (after he finished with the AB’s)

  7. Lions team is looking to be overloaded in some area and weak in others, buut isn’t that always the case.

    I don’t think the wingers have been that bad in the 6N, they haven’t really had a lot of opps.

    Props, strong area lots of options.
    Hooker, problem area, no real outstanding candidates.
    Second row, strong lots of options, although Richie Grey has opened a spot
    Blinside, Flankers for fun hear, Wood, O’brian, Brown, Robshaw, and this is with Ferres injured, Lydiate injured, Croft just coming back.
    Openside, Strong again, O’Btrain, Robshaw and Brown play here and then we have the welshies
    8, Faletau looks good but a bit shallow after that.

    9, totally open, no one making a huge claim, but lots of steady players.
    10, behind Sexton (who is injured) there is no obvious choice.
    Centres, Problems, no team has managed to open up the ball fequently, BOD is broken and not much creativity, looks like bashers.
    Wingers, look strong, I rate North, Cuthbert, Maitland, and Visser
    Fullback, 2 good options third is wide open.

    surprise selections will come in the weaker positions, look for a hooker,8, a centre, maybe a 9.

    1. You really think Farrell isn’t an obvious choice behind Sexton? He has good composure, and with him and 1/2p on the pitch we’d be able to kick our goals from anywhere within about 50m.

      1. Also not convinced that we are weak at 9. For me B Youngs is clear first choice and a very good player. Then there is Laidlaw, Phillips, Care and Murray?

        Agree with you elsewhere though. I think hooker is the weakest position. T Youngs still doesn’t convince me come line out time – I would probably go for Best at this point.

        1. Youngs would be my starting 9, he has had a good champoinship but he has gone a bit quiet around the fringes, i would like to see him looking to break more, it is one of his strength. Maybe it is a tectical demand made by the coach, don’t know.

      2. I agree that farrell is the obvious choice, as bnack up for Sexton. However I don’t rate his game that much, his kicking is great, his defense is good, he is a good player but needs to improve.

        And with Halpenny in the team, long range kicking is not going to be a problem.

    2. Best and Hibbard look Lions quality, Youngs, Hartley, Ford & Strauss (rate him more than Cronin) are all in with a shot at a 3rd spot.

      Farrell is reasonable back up for Sexton, but I’m hoping Sexton is fit and firing. Behind those 2 there isn’t a lot.

      There are lots of good centres …. though they are mostly 13s. But, in many cases, playing outside mediocre 10s, on appalling pitches in dreadful conditions isn’t showing them at their best. Don’t think we should be in despair because it’s been a poor 6N for centres.

      Heaslip has played himself out of a spot, possibly by Beattie. But with Faletau, Morgan and Beattie I think there’s good competition. If 3 specialist 8s to go I would go for Faletau, Vunipola and maybe just Morgan over Beattie.

      For scrum half I like Philips on the bench and with Reddan and Youngs to fight it out for start I think we have decent depth there as well.

      Depth at 10 and selection at 12 are the only big problems I think we’ve got at the moment.

    3. I would rate Hooker as steady. T Youngs, Best and Hibbard can all do the job for the Lions, albeit none of them are Keith Wood!

      I’d have Farrell in front of Sexton, although bit of a drop off after those two. Weir, Jackson, Biggar, Sir Wilko, Burns, Hook or Flood could all get the nod.

      Centres have been poor generally. Tuilagi, Barritt, Twelvetrees, Marshall, BOD, Scott and JD have probably been the best of the lot. BOD, 12T and JD as the most creative of these, but with one falling apart, and one very inexperienced, the pool is rather shallow on the creativity side. Maybe the one area where an uncapped but creative centre may be picked as a wild card. Haven’t mentioned Marshall for creativity as I don’t know enough about him to comment.

      1. Nice mention of Wilko in there, and I do believe he is still in with a good chance. If he can be released for training, I think he could be first choice FH.

      2. I would like to see Wilko go as a third 10 as well, his experience could be vital, better than bringing on O’Gara in the last 10 minutes.

        Agree that we have better outside than inside centres, and creativity os defintely an issue.

        As for uncapped players, I think a creative chance would also be the best bet, Burns might get in at 10 considering the creativity issue at 12. Twelvetrees maybe, Marshell has looked good in parts of the game. Could even look at playing BOD at 12. Really slim pickings in this area.

        Best would be my hooker at the moment, Youngs off the Bench.

        1. Agree with your Hookers at present. Either Best or Hibbard to start and Youngs would be the best impact off the bench of any of the 6N hookers. 23 man squad!

  8. I think if there is to be an uncapped player it will be in the back line. None of the fly halves, centres or wingers have shown any great form. And there are plenty of choices outside of the capped selection. George Ford, Tom Heathcote, Ben Botica could all be outside shots for FH. Tomkins & Eastmond are definitely in with a chance. Eli Walker, Wade or May are possibles on the wing.
    Stand out one for me is Eastmond as he seems to be able to play pretty much anywhere across the back line outside of the FH.

    1. He played 20 minutes for us at fly-half (admittedly only against Bucharest) and didn’t look out of place.

  9. This may be disgustingly worng and people seem to have been staying away from doing this, but I thought I would name a squad and gain feedback.
    First of all, I am Irish and I am worried about being biased but feedback welcome.

    healey, grant, marler (will corbiserio be fit)
    youngs best hibbard
    cole cross jones
    launchbury parling awj ryan gray
    o brien robshaw wood warbuton faletau beattie brown/croft/ferris/lydiate (idunno really)
    youngs laidlaw phillips/murray
    sexton farrell biggar
    maitland gilroy north brown halfpenny (bowe could get involved)
    BOD (C) tuilagi davies marshall
    Hogg Kearney

    36 (8 irish, 7 scots, 10 welsh, 11 English)

    May have counted that wrong. Shoudl really be working

    1. Pretty much agree with most of it if I’m honest!

      Although wont go so throw Lawes in there. And I would say the 9s would be Youngs Phillips and Murray with Laidlaw missing out.

      Otherwise I would basically agree with all of that!

      I make that 38 though! And I should also be working so that could be wrong!

    2. Thats a pretty good pick. I would suggest that Vunipola may go before Marler, and probably Paul James before either of them, but other than that, difficult to confidently challenge.

      Is Richie Grey going to be fit?

      1. I was wondering about this. If he isnt fit, who goes?
        Lawes? O connell? Evans? Even maybe Iain Henderson as he covers front and back row

        1. Pretty good picks

          Where’s halfpenny?

          Don’t think Laidlaw deserves a spot, Would go hook over Biggar.

          Gethin Jenkins myabe go as well

          1. I took halfpenny as a winger as I feel he could do as job there better than most of the wings.

            There are lots of options for full back but no real stand out wingers. So I included 4 FBs any of which could play wing well I.e. brown Kearney Hogg and halfpenny.

  10. There seems to be a bit of a number 10 debate. Just to throw in another name. Matthew Morgan from the ospreys. Uncapped but still battling for the 10 jersey with Biggar at his region. Quick, impressive runner, good boot, defence needs improving but I think he’s the future for Wales.

    1. Dont really agree with Morgan being the future for Wales. You also have to consider Patchell at the Blues and Sam Davies (Nigel’s son) who will be going for a GS tomorrow with the U20 squad. All 3 could turn in to quality players.

      Could be a good battle for the 10 of Wales in the years to come!


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