Lions Scout Notes: 15th May

Tom Croft

There is no stopping Tom Croft at the moment. He is rapidly shifting through the gears back to top form with such smoothness that his Lions’ place looks like a no-brainer. Over the past few weeks the flanker has been in scintillating form and this weekend was no exception. Croft’s contribution to Leicester’s semi-final victory should see him firmly in contention for Test Match action during the Australia Tour. The versatile flanker burst away from the Harlequins defence with frightening pace to score the try of the match as well as denying Danny Care with some outstanding defensive work. With strong competition in the back row, Croft’s starting role is up for some debate. For me, however, he has to start against Australia.

Johnny Sexton

With Owen Farrell’s Saracens coming up short against Northampton the stage could be set for returning fly-half Sexton to take the leading role during the Lions Tour. The Leinster fly-half battled against some tricky conditions to kick his side to victory over Glasgow. One contentious aspect of the Lions selection is Gatland’s decision to only take two fly-halves with the only possible cover coming from Stuart Hogg. With Farrell young in years and Sexton making his way back from an injury suffered during the Six Nations who will start against Australia remains to be seen. Based on this weekend’s action, Gatland is likely to opt for the more experienced head of the Irish number 10.

Manu Tuilagi

Jonny Wilkinson felt that the rigours of a Lions Test would be too much of strain physically. Similar fears were undoubtedly raised as Brian O’Driscoll made an untimely exit from proceedings at the weekend. One person however, who will withstand the test is Manu Tuilagi. A solid performance at weekend showed not only defensive strength but the benefit of having that dynamism in midfield to suddenly provide an incisive and often decisive line break. The extent of O’Driscoll’s recent injury remains to be seen but it has certainly paved the way for Tuilagi to come to the forefront and raise his hand for a starting role against Australia this summer.

By Jono Frank

31 thoughts on “Lions Scout Notes: 15th May

  1. it sounds like SOB has been taken as a 7 who can play across the backrow. therefore, unless the lions opt to play warburton at 6 and tipuric at 7, the lions 6 shirt is a straight shoot-out between Croft and Lydiate.

    For me it has to be croft at the moment, purely based on his form and the fact that he has been playing top class rugby for a number of weeks now. HC quater final, and Prem Final. Lydiate on the other hand has played only a handful of games, and none of these have been european or knock-out games.

    Lydiate will need to bring his A game in the Baa Baas and the warm-ups so that he can push croft.

    1. oh, and Farrell’s form is worryingly poor at the moment. he seems to have lost his temperament as well. on current form he wouldnt be a lion’s tourist, let alone only 1 of 2 10’s.

      i am hoping that after the 1st of June the lions find a reason to call Wilkinson into the squad. a nice thing would be a “niggle” to a player. nothing to end their tour, but enough to call up Wilko as precautionary cover, and then he stays out. I think that this will benefit Sexton, and also he is Jonny Wilkinson… do the aussies fear another player more?

      Manu should start in my opinion, whether it be at 12 or 13, because his presence will cause all kinds of headaches for the wallabies.
      i would be hesitant to choose him and Roberts together, but if we do, they both need to play a bit more rugby and use the passing game (both have shown that they can pass, so they should).
      Sexton will be the key, especially if he can get the wraparounds going, as he essentially is creating himself as a passer wider out.

      1. I always seem to agree with all your points. Farrell really worries me; he looks very uncomfortable at the moment. Tuilagi does have to start, mainly because the Aussies won’t want to play him. By first choice would be him and BOD. Hopefully that can happen, Roberts and Tuilagi looks too one dimensional, and Davies looks well out of form.

        Also, just a thought, do you have to have a player injured and leaving the tour for someone to be called? Obviously that is the case at world cups where there is a squad limit, but is it the same with the Lions.

        Basically, what I am asking is can Gatland make up and old excuse to bring Jonny out when/if we need him? Or must there be an injury?

        1. we do tend to agree a lot!

          once again, i agree that Manu and BOD should be the no1 option.

          i do not believe that Gatland has to have anyone injured to call up a replacement. there is no limit on the squad size, clive woodward took 45 players in 05. the problem with taking too many players is that you tend to have a midweek squad, and a weekend one, so people dont mix as much as they should.

          so i think it is likely that wilko will get a call after the baa baas game for someone who picks up a dead leg or spasm of some type. something not serious enough to end a tour, but enough to give gatland a reason to call someone. how real the injury is is another question, because it seems that this happens a lot now-a-days.
          for example, during the AI’s Launchbury was called into the england camp as cover to Palmer, and yet the very next day there were photos of them training together. in england’s EPS they are limited in how many players they can name, and also the number of changes they can make. but there is a loop hole, whereby if a player is called up as injury cover, they do not have to be released, even after the injured player has recovered.
          although gatland does not have all this red tape to jump through, he will most likely need an excuse to call up any additional players, because otherwise it looks a bit odd…

          1. Ok that makes sense. I can see the reasoning behind needing an excuse. If you were Farrell and they just called Jonny up for no reason he probably would be a bit down hearted; but with the excuse of it being injury cover. everything is less suspicious.

            I’m about 99% sure that Wilkinson will be down there at some point, but I am only in Australia for the first test and the Melbourne rebels games so I want him playing in one of them!

          2. i think farrell is already down hearted. it was announced a while back that they would probably only take 2 10’s, and gatland admitted to offering Wilko a ticket. it wouldnt require farrell to be a genius to work out that he was wilko’s replacement.

            my old man made a pretty good point about it all to me the other day. wilkinson is missing the warm-up games, and any chance of some random clubman trying to make a name for himself by being the one who creamed wilkinson. i think if we see wilko, it will be nicely timed for him to turn up about a week before the 1st test.

  2. Quite frankly if Manu doesn’t start somewhere it will be a disgrace – yes he occasionally has missed a pass he should have made, but who hasn’t. And anyone who watches Leicester will have seen this term his developed offloading and passing game, and his work rate clearing out rucks etc. By far the most dangerous centre we have, and his stats place him as the best centre in the world at present (besides Smith, I would say he is the best current centre playing). It should be a question of who parners him!!

    1. Robbo, that was a ludicrous assertion to state that Tuilagi is up there with the best in the world at the moment. Until i pondered who else there might be, and with the obvious exception of Fofana it is difficult to argue with that point (although I wouldn’t be able to name the Aus and SA centres, let alone judge them).

      It does concern me a little as the two Welsh boys and BOD do not appear to be on top of their respective games.

      1. i did the same thing blub. and ended up thinking the same.

        with SBW having left the game, conrad smith and nonu are the AB centres. nonu is out of sorts, and smith was mentioned as being the one who may be better than manu.

        in Aus its AAC, and then the 12 is unsettled, so clearly couldnt say they are the best. for SA its one of De Villiers, De Jong, F. Steyn or Taute. All of whom were either outshone by Manu recently, or have been in poor form of late.

        I agree that Fofana is probably the best centre, and personally i am a huge rougerie fan too. but Manu is at least one of the top 5.

        1. simo, I am not trying to muscle in jacob’s turf here but i do completely agree with you on Rougerie. I have long wondered what he has done to fall behind Bastaraud and Fritz.

          Actually, Frans Steyn was playing great rugby last time I noticed him also, but couldn’t say whether he is any better shape than the other Lions centers currently.

          1. Steyn’s been getting a fair bit of negative press in South Africa recently for his form – he’s injured at the moment but was dropped a few weeks back. Sharks have been in horrible form, and to be honest I don’t think many down there have forgiven him for jetting off to Racing Metro when he was so young.

          2. I think Rougerie is almost the complete package.

            I too was bemused to see him not in the 6Ns. i had heard something about an injury, but then saw that he was picked for Clermont…

            Last i heard, Frans had been dropped by the sharks. then Paul Joordan got injured, so he was re-promoted, only to get injured himself. I also heard comments in the press that he isnt in the best shape (again).

            I would say another reason for Steyn maybe not making it to the top of the best centres list is the fact that he plays a fair amount of rugby at 10 or 15. in the RWC 07 he was initially a 15, but ended up playing 12 because De Villiers was injured. I think it would be hard to say Steyn is the best centre, when he doesnt play there for SA if all other options are fit.

          3. Forgot about Fofana, he’s right up there! I’m actually a big fan of Jean De Villiers, very underated at 12, but along with those two I think it’s Smith (obviously) and Manu. SBW would be in there of course but he doesn’t play anymore. AAC is very consistent, and when Manu is off form he would be up there, but overall these days Manu is more of a threat.

            Jan Serfontein for the Bulls is a really dangerous young player, could well be the best 12 around in a few years.

            From an Australian pov, Berrick Barnes is also excellent at 12, I don’t think there is a better distributor and reader of the game around in that posisiton, even if he does not have the xfactor of Fofana.

  3. This is going to make me unpopular but I don’t think halfpenny should start. If garland wants to attack he must pick Hogg or Kearney. It seems all of halfpennys attacking instincts have gone. He rarely hits the line at pace and rarely creates much for any other player. He tackles his heart out and has a rapier accurate boot. But I think the lions, especially with their traditional attack minded style of play would benefit from a strike runner to hit the line. Especially in a back line that looks set to be land of the giants. Cry for his goalkicking but both sexton and Farrell are international standard goal kickers. So take halfpennys goalkicking away and tell me who he compares to Kearney and Hogg. I think he comes up short. But gats has his policy of credit in the bank from past performance. Lydiate over robshaw and Jenkins over a number of loose heads that start week in week out for their clubs.

    1. i disagree here James. Halfpenny is excellent under the highball, his kicking out of hand is also of a high standard. also, i dont think he has lost his attacking flair, i just think that he is underused in the welsh team. they have a backline of giants, who they use to batter the hell out of people, and the 4 men with numbers 11, 12, 13 and 14 are the strike runners for wales. not to mention that halfpenny being the kicker means they probably dont want to a) get him injured and b) over exert him, so he is not panting while trying to kick.

      The lions will be able to use him, and with a flyhalf who plays like sexton, i would expect to see halfpenny taking more ball. chances are, if BOD does not make the test team, that halfpenny will be required to pop up more as a 2nd playmaker.

      halfpenny is rock solid in defence, great under the highball, good in attack when used properly, and has an absolute cannon of a boot, so i think we can expect to see him play 15 for the test team. after all, he has been the best 15 in the NH, and possibly world, this past year.

      1. True, I rarely see him in the rabo where he is perhaps used more effectively. He was quite the stepper four years ago when he first appeared

    2. I do think halfpenny will start – as Full-Back. Because;
      (a) I don’t believe he is one of the two best wings in the squad, and with sexton playing they wouldn’t play him only because of his kicking.
      (b) he is a better attacker than Kearney (whose style is very much like the rest of the “big” backs), and
      (c) he is better defensively than Hogg (whom I would love to see included, and may well provide very adequate bench cover in the Tests)

    3. I hope we do see more of 1/2p as an attacking force, however I do think it’s important we have someone safe as houses at the back. With so many running threats the wallabies will make clean breaks so having someone at the back who never seems to miss a tackle will be required (and tested!)

      Hogg is a great bench option to bring some real gas and evasive running abilities later in the game.

  4. If we are up, hypothetically, against Hooper and Smith on the flanks then I would worry if we start with Croft.

    Good bench option to bring something different and increase the pace of the game with the speed of the ball off the top and the incredible pace out wide.

    Would love to see a foot race against the back 3 players. I reckon he’s faster than 1/2p, Kearney & Cuthbert. Maybe a tie with North/Bowe and a shade off Hogg/Mateland.

    1. i am pretty sure that cuthbert is faster than north.

      Cuthbert used to be a sprinter. and has apparently clocked at 4.6 second 40m with wales. North on the other hand has a 4.97 second one with the scarlets academy.

      North has allegedly ran a 11.1 100m time. with maitland clocking a 10.8

      i couldnt find times for the other guys (croft included – as he cannot remember his time from school…)

      to put the 40m times in perspective:
      Joe Rokocoko ran a 4.44 for 40m.
      Dan Norton clocked a 4.81 for the 40m. (he also clocked 2.70 for 20m, which is faster than Usain Bolt managed with his 100m world record by 0.19 seconds) Bolt apparently clocks 4.64 for 40m…

      1. Dan Norton slower than Cuthbert? that’s a surprise. The thing is wingers/fullbacks rarely run from a standing start its always a jog to a sprint with the need to change pace quickly. Acceleration from a standing start is more appropriate for 9s and 8s. Still its interesting to see how they compare.

  5. Speed is an interesting area. A lot of sports use the 40m split as a benchmark for speed in that sport, and the fact is that there are plenty of sportsmen in other sports Rugby, Football and American Football with quicker 40m times than the top 100m sprinters. Christiano Ronaldo is another who is renowned as having a better 40m split than Usain Bolt.

    Interestingly (to me anyway) is that Bolt rarely records the fastest speed during his races. 100m sprinters tend to peak at around 60m, and then decelerate all of the way to the line. As anyone who has ever seen Bolt race (which is probably everyone) this is where he really stands out as his deceleration is markedly superior to his rivals. When watching the 100m it often seems like the winner accelerates past his rivals to the line, when the truth is that none of them accelerate, they just decelerate at different speeds.

    The aim for 100m sprinters is to be still in the race at 60-70m, and then rely on the endurance training to maintain as much speed as they can over the final third.

    As for rugby, I rather think that in the 15 a side game, 100m times, and even 40m times to a lesser extent are a bit of a red herring. The 10m and 20m speeds are the most effective, as it is these that have the real line breaking effect. Sadly it is rare that someone is still going at 40m – I would be interested to know what Tom Crofts 40m splits are.

    1. I would love to see Crofts 40m split time. I reckon it would be right up there. A few seasons ago he was reported to be the fastest member of the Tigers squad.

      1. Dazza and others, whats the consensus on MIke Philips v Ben youngs?

        Such a curcial position, especially on quick pitches in Aus.

        My favourite is youngs to generate the speed , although i suspect he will be on the bench for when things loosen up.

    2. I don’t believe any claim that any of these guys are faster than Bolt over 40. Sprint starting out of blocks is a skill and I don’t see a rugby player (or any other sportsman) being better than a 6 time olympic champ at it (I would gamble my house that Cuthbert certainly isn’t one of them).

      Carlin Isles is the fastest thing I’ve ever seen on a rugby field, but even he is crossing the line 5 or 6m behind the top guys over 100m and probably isn’t going to be leading after 40m.

      Come on Gatland, line them up on grass and lets see them go over 20, 40 & 100m. Let’s have 9 lanes, the back 3 players plus Croft and Tipuric.

      1. …. and when you are done with that can you have a little bench press competition … Manu Vs the props …. all in the spirit of team bonding of course!

      2. It’s actually quite well known that Bolt is one of the worst starters on the sprinting circuit. It is once he hits his stride that he begins to pull away from people.

        I think that with one of his world records he ran it in something like 46 or 48 strides, which means he averaged more than 2m covered per step. This is a larger distance than he is tall, so he is pretty much eating up the ground in front of him.

        If you look at someone like isles, his acceleration is great, so he gets out front fast, and then tries to hold on for the win. This is why he has transferred well to rugby, probably better than bolt would do.

      3. Matt, i think the point is that Bolt is 6 time Olympic champion at 100m/200m etc, not 40m. The 40m are measured as part of a 100m race, which obviously is tailored to enable the athlete to be the first to reach 100m – as opposed to hitting any particular “milestone” before that.

        This is not necessarily the case when measuring other sportsmen at 40m, as this tends to be the optimum distance for other sports, and hence targets those doing it to reach 40m as quick as possible. So in this sense it is entirely plausible that other sportsmen could beat Bolt’s split time at 40m.

        If, of course, they could beat him if he aimed for a quick 40m time on its own – well that is an entirely different matter.

        1. Track and field is my second favourite sport, so although we are well into the realm of pub debates I have to come back on this. No way does Cuthbert beat Bolt over 40m.

          Berlin 2009 Bolt:
          – Went through 40m in 4.64 (0.06 ahead of the next competitor)
          – Went through 60m in 6.31 (the 60m indoor world record is held by Mo Greene in 6.39, Isles has a PB of 6.68)

          I’m sure there are some athletes who could beat him to 40m, but a rugby player (who has to be more than just fast) won’t be one of them. The start out of the blocks is where a rugby player will lose the most ground.

          There is no way Alex Cuthbert would have been leading the field 40m into the 2009 final, or that Joe Rokocoko would have pulled out a 2m lead over Bolt at that point.

          Here is some rugby fast men having a race on the track (video link towards the bottom)

          Note the starts! The guys climb out of the blocks and do not have a drive phase, they are not applying the torque and generating the power of a sprinter and do not accelerate as fast. The race is won in 11.1.

  6. Have, and am still happy to defend Halfpenny. I think that he is the best FB in the squad and a better attacking player than he is being given credit for.

    Have also defended Farrell, but I have to say that his form is looking decidedly shaky at the moment. However delighted that he is with the Lions as this gives Burns a clear run in S. America! If Wilko is called up when the Lions are in Oz – is this going to be the most predicted secret of all time?

  7. your all saying croft is super fast for a backrower remember ferris’s try’s last lions tore when he was a guaranteed starter before injury and then croft got his opportunity

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