Lions Scout Notes: April 17th

Jamie Roberts

The Welsh number 12 bid a fond farewell to Cardiff Arms Park this weekend as he helped his side triumph over bottom of the table Zebre in less than favourable conditions. The gulf in class was clear from the outset and the soggy, heavy pitch helped to compound a miserable afternoon for the Italian side. Nevertheless, France-bound Roberts reminded us just why he is a strong Lions candidate with another powerful performance at centre. A well timed pass for an assist and a trademark barrelling run for a try emphasised the importance of a physical presence at 12. For me, Roberts is a slightly more consistent performer than the likes of Tuilagi and has slightly more to his game technically. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a Welsh pairing in the three-quarters come the summer.
Verdict – in the departures lounge.

Tommy Bowe

A lengthy layoff may well have lessened the Irishman’s chances of making the Lions tour. However, the winger was back to his lightening-quick best at the weekend as he scored one try and initiated another to help his side lay waste to the Dragons. Bowe’s first came courtesy of good work from Marshall; neat footwork then took him away from the Dragons defence before offloading to allow the returning winger to finish in style. The Ulsterman’s other telling influence came from an incisive line coming off his wing to create the overlap for Olding to score. Having missed the Six Nations, Bowe may be hard pushed to make the Lions squad. However, a second tour is not out of the question due to the winger’s undeniable quality and experience.
Verdict – Looking frantically for his passport.

Ben Youngs

The England scrum-half looked at his sniping best as he notched two tries for a rampant Leicester Tigers. With Danny Care also in fine form there is going to be an interesting battle for number 9 when it comes to Lions selection. On this occasion however, Youngs certainly stood out. His first try was the culmination of a fine move, with a piece of excellent opportunism and finishing skill, squeezing between two forwards and finishing one handed. The second wasn’t too dissimilar, latching onto the number 8’s pass off the back of the scrum and darting through a gap. This was the perfect performance as the season draws to a close and will have reminded Warren Gatland that he is firmly in contention.
Verdict – In the departures lounge

Greg Laidlaw

The Edinburgh half-back is certainly in the running for Lions selection this summer, following some assured displays. The versatile Laidlaw, who can play at scrum-half or fly-half, kicked all of his side’s points at the weekend as they fell short of a Connacht side who were masterminded by the old head of Dan Parks. A successful Six Nations for Scotland carried a recurrent theme of Laidlaw’s assured performances and he has maintained his form since then. Although competition is fierce, Gatland may just be swayed by the Scotsman’s versatility.
Verdict – waiting nervously by the phone.

by Jono Frank

32 thoughts on “Lions Scout Notes: April 17th

  1. When you weigh up Laidlaw’s chances, you really have to consider whther Gatland considers him to be a 9 or a 10, or a legitimate cover for both – Gatland was on the Rugby Club last week stating that he is only taking 2 fly halves with him. This would suggest Farrell/Sexton, but would also mean that he would surely have to select a versatile back (or two) who could provide emergency cover for 10 if needed. This would point to Laidlaw, or if you are a gambling man, Ian Madigan…

      1. I am really not a fan of him, but does this open the door slightly to Alex Goode?

        I would have Laidlaw as 9/10 cover. Half backs being: Youngs, Phillips, Farrell, Sexton and then Laidlaw.

        I don’t think Hook, Madigan or Goode will go.

    1. Think it’s unlikely you would have 1 player on the bench covering 9 & 10. He’s in with a good shout of going as the 3rd scrum half, being able to do a job at 10 also a bonus. But when Gatland was talking about “2 FHs and someone who can do a job from the bench” I am guessing he was referring to Hook.

      1. That wouldn’t leave him with only one bench player covering 9 & 10? Test match option would be the other four half backs I mentioned and not Laidlaw. The midweek games Laidlaw can play either 9 or 10 and other players can be used dependent on how he wants to play it.

        I agree with Dave’s comment below. I think Twelvetrees has a really good chance of going! He is a distributing 12 (which there aren’t many of), and cover at 10.

  2. Madigan or Hook weren’t the ‘cover’ Gatland was referring to. He was saying he will take someone who plays a different position but can cover 10 in an emergency. Madigan and Hook are primarily tens. It’s irrelevant that they can play elsewhere. It sounded like he will either; take Laidlaw as the third 9 who can cover 10. Goode as a 15 who can cover 10, or Twelvetrees (who nobody has mentioned)as an extra centre who can cover 10. The latter the most likely for me as of the other 4 centres who will go, none are distributing and playmaking 12s which Twelvetrees is and will offer another option in midfield.

    1. agree that 12Ts is something different to the other centres. I ahve mentioned on some other posts that i think he has a chance of travelling. because not only is he, as you mentioned, a distributing 12 who can cover 10, but he is also 6ft 3 and about 100kgs. we all know that gatland likes his big backs, and i would say that 12Ts would fall into that category.

      1. Absolutely agree re the physicality side of things. I think if he were Welsh he would be right up Gatland’s street. The more I think about him going, the more sense it makes. Of the 4 likely centres going (BOD, Tuilagi, Roberts, Davies), only Roberts plays 12 regularly. So having an extra natural 12 who offers better kicking and distribution skills to Roberts is enough in itself to take Twelvetrees I reckon.

  3. Anyone else think Johnny is still a good shout for 10? If’ he’s only taking 2, I think Johnny and Sexton will go. Don’t see the sense in only taking 2 fly halves though.

    Laidlaw is nowhere near good enough for a Lions 10, and Goode hasn’t even played at 10 for Sarries for about 3 or 4 seasons.

    1. It is pretty common to only take two 10s. For example in 2009 only O’Gara and Jones went, with Flutey as cover (hardly a Lions standard 10) – and the tour went ok. In reality, Laidlaw will spend very little time at 10 if he does travel in this way. If we have Laidlaw covering this, as well as Twevletrees going – we are more than covered I believe.

      1. I think if this is the strategy, then it has to be Hook going as cover. He’s the only one of these ‘utility’ backs who has international experience at 10, (12?), 13 and 15. As you say, Goode hasn’t played 10 for a long time, and Laidlaw seems to be much better suited to 9.

        1. The way that Gatland said it though, I got the impression that he wanted two tens and that was it. His comment on a third option was more, well if someone else can cover 10 then great – but he didn’t say he was taking a third 10 option that can play elsewhere – like Hook would be.

          1. I don’t even think Hook would make it into a midweek team at the moment imo. We have much better options in all areas than to take Hook as a utility back. Personally I don’t think Laidlaw will be going as Youngs, Phillips and Murray are all above him in the pecking order for the 9 shirt.

      2. “It is pretty common to only take two 10s. For example in 2009 only O’Gara and Jones went, with Flutey as cover (hardly a Lions standard 10)”

        james hook was a lion in 09… he was selected to travel as a replacement for halfpenny, who arrived late. so yes “originally” they only chose 2 10’s, but they set of with 3.

        1. True Simon. But Hook was not considered a true 10 in 2009. It is not until he has moved to Perpignon that he has played regularly there. In his Ospreys days he played centre most the time. Basically what I am saying is, he may not feel that need to have another true 10 with Laidlaw as potential cover, and maybe a Twelvetrees in there.

  4. Agree with Jacob. Would also send the wrong message by picking Hook as a ‘utility player’. Telling Hook that says that he will have next to no chance of being in the test team which would be bad for squad morale.

    1. Not so sure about this, he’s unlikely to be picked ahead of Sexton or Farrell as a dedicated 10 but he’s a great bench option covering 10, centre and fullback. Hook on the bench allows for there to be a bench spot for a back 3 flier (like Hogg or Zebo). So I think his inclusion can make the bench considerably more potent.

      1. If you say he won’t get picked ahead of Farrell or Sexton, isn’t it a bit of a moot point as he won’t be on the bench anyway? Regardless, Farrell can cover 10 and 12 and effectively 13, as whoever is 12 (Roberts/Manu) will be able to shift to 13 easily. And I doubt they would have a winger on the bench as Halfpenny will already be acting as wing cover should he start at 15.

        The thing is, I actually really rate Hook, he tore England apart in 2007 and 2008 and played very well against them in 2010, but since then WG has given him little opportunity. But when Gatland said he wanted his 10s to get 3 or 4 starts each before the tests, where would that leave Hook? He wouldn’t be good enough to take game time over potential test centres and similarly at 15. My gut is that Laidlaw or Twelvetrees will go as this ‘3rd 10’ cover.

        1. My logic was Gatland doesn’t seem to view him as an out and out 10, but does consistently pick him in the utility role. Agree if he is being regarded as a 10 who can do a job somewhere else then he’s not the option Gatland was referring to.

  5. Although I think Mike Phillips will start at 9, I think that Danny Care has to be on the bench. He offers more from the bench than any of the others in my opinion. Thought?

    1. Big Danny Care fan, but sadly think his poor performance against Italy will have put him too far down the pecking order to make the tour.

    2. If Gatland is taking two SH’s then I think it will be Phillips and Youngs. Phillips gives a more physical presence at the base, and Youngs is a more technically gifted SH, and better kicker. Care offers less than both imo.

  6. i like the idea of laidlaw travelling as the 3rd 9 because i think he is different to all of the other 9’s that we have.

    Phillips, Youngs, Care and Murray all have slightly different strengths, but ultimately they are pretty similar. Quick and like to snipe, so keep the defence honest. all can bring fizz to the game, and all have shown glimpses of being relatively physical.

    Laidlaw on the other hand is almost like a french 9. He runs the game from 9, taking a lot of pressure off of his 10. i think that taking Phillip, Youngs and Laidlaw would be a nice blend. Murray is an obvious call up if something happens to phillips, but i would maybe look to care if one of the others got crooked.

    with regards to the “covering 10” topic. i think dave has come across a good point. Gatland has said that he wants a guy who doesnt play 10 but can cover it. Madigan and Hook are 10s at their clubs (and had played there the week before gatland’s interview) so i would see them as falling in the “10 who can play elsewhere” category.
    this means that i am really struggling to see anyone other than Twelvetrees, Laidlaw or (big long shot) Goode being the options. i even think that we could possibly see both Laidlaw and Twelvetrees travel, because they do both offer something different to all of their competitors.

    with the ability to call on a player back home with total ease, i think what gatland means when he says that he is looking for someone to “cover 10” means that if an injury occurs on the field that guy will shift there to see out the match. a replacement 10 will be flown in ASAP, so its not like we will be seeing 12Ts or Laidlaw starting a test at 10!

  7. I really hope 12t isn’t picked. I want to see him establish himself for Eng on a tough summer tour, not kicking his heels as contingency cover.

    Really tired of this lions speculation on every rugby site. When does Gatland pick the squad? As someone who’s never given a hoot about the lions (ooh the sacrilege) I’m more looking fwd to the bile and outrage when certain players are/ aren’t picked.

    1. understand your point benjit, the lions is a strange concept, especially with the inclusion of ireland when no other british team includes ireland (didn’t something happen 1921 to separate them? haha), still looking forward to some summer rugby to fill the void. but looking forward to the england tour to argentina as well and agree that twelvetrees is not good enough for the lions yet.

      still 14 days to pick your lions team ahead of the actual selection.

      1. I’ll bite.

        Leaving aside the fact that they’re officially called the British *and Irish* Lions these days, Ulster would be considered a ‘British team’ right? And that team consists of 9 counties located on the island of Ireland, 6 from Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and 3 from the Republic.

        Conversely the Ireland “national” squad represents Irish and British territories, players & citizens. It’s actually one of the beauties of rugby that we’ve not descended down into all that sectarian shite that you get with the soccer.

        1. The Republic of Ireland is part of the British Isles so it has often seemed a little bit overly political to have recently added in the “and Irish” bit.

          Originally they were of course known only (and accurately) as The British Isles.

          1. Without getting to bogged down in the history/terminology of all this, I will say that ‘British’ in the geographical sense (ie. the Islands) and ‘British’ in the identity (& citizenship) or geopolitical sense overlap but are not entirely the same thing. And it’s not just an Irish thing, I know plenty of Scots who don’t identify as ‘British’ despite Scotland being geographically on the island of Great Britain.

            It does rankle me a little bit when they’re just called The British Lions. I’ve got no problem with British people or the Queen or anything like that but I’m not British (despite where my island is located) so from the identity context I can see why they added ‘and Irish’ to the Lions but personally I’d be happier if they just shortened it to ‘The Lions’ and be done with it.

  8. sexton and WILKINSON go…. farrell picked at centre and so able to cover 10….

    your mind. officially blown!!

  9. Good thread, Would just like to pour cold water on those Johnny for Lions dreamers

    Much as would bloody love to see him in red again, Gatland has pretty categorically shut the door on French based players involved in the league playoffs. Yeah, Nathan Hines managed to talk his way out of his club commitments in 2009 to make himself available, but I don’t think that Johnny wants to do that – I distinctly remember hearing him say (can’t think where though) that he had achieved everything he wanted to at international level, but what is still driving him has been his relatively modest success at club level. Not the talk of a man desperate for another Lions tour…

    1. When did Gatland shut the door on French based finalists? Does that rule out Gethin Jenkins? I would be surprised if that was the case.

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