Lions Scout Notes: April 24th

jon davies

jon davies
Ben Morgan

With the fierce competition for places within the back-row, Ben Morgan really has to shine over the last few games. The England number 8 certainly helped his chances with his performance against Saracens at the weekend. An incisive line cut a hole in the Saracens defence and allowed the barraging back-rower to set off on a stampeding run, handing off two would-be defenders before crashing over for a try. With his opportunity to prove his worth during the Six Nations being cut short by an untimely ankle injury, Morgan will have to work hard to be included in the tour. Nevertheless if he can help his side cement a play-off position, he may well find himself included amongst the wealth of talent Gatland has to choose from in the back row.

Verdict: Waiting nervously by the phone

Ryan Grant

The powerful prop remains firmly in contention for the Lions squad with another excellent performance to add to what has been a very successful season for Scottish loose-head. Solid in the scrum and effective in open play, the 27-year old may well provide the perfect foil for Warren Gatland’s front row. His side’s tremendous season only furthers his cause with another vital win this weekend against the visiting Ospreys. Grant provided a telling contribution, powering his way over the line to add to his side’s try tally, as they came away with a bonus-point victory. Although he may not start, the Scotsman certainly has one foot in the door.

Verdict: Looking frantically for his passport

Andrew Trimble

Although omitted from the Irish team for the Six Nations, the Ulster wing has hit top gear of late and could be a late-runner for the trip down-under. The 28-year old is looks happiest out wide but is able to play in the centres. This versatility will be highly regarded when the final selection is made. This weekend saw Ulster weather an early Connacht storm and string together some fine running rugby in which Irish-man was instrumental. Ulster’s first try was a great example, as some sublime handling and awareness carved open the Connacht defence. However, it was Trimble’s line and Pienaar’s pass to send to send his team mate over that was really the highlight of the match. It was a fine example of two players being on the same wavelength with the creativity and audacity to match.

Verdict: planning his summer holidays

Jonathan Davies

The Welsh centre has pretty much cemented his place on the Lions tour. He remains a consistent performer at international level and for the Scarlets. His defence is always strong and his performance at the weekend reminded us of his finishing ability. The outside centre ghosted through the Cardiff Blues back line with an intelligent and incisive run going against a drift defence and the second was finished clinically and powerfully. He is likely to partner either his Welsh compatriot Jamie Roberts or England’s Tuilagi, in what is shaping up to be an assured and accomplished three-quarter line.

Verdict: In the departures lounge

By Jono Frank

28 thoughts on “Lions Scout Notes: April 24th

  1. I don’t think Trimble has a chance of going – far too many wingers to choose from. I would definitely take Grant, with Davies and Morgan both being probables for me.

    I would take Morgan as second choice 8 after Falatau – they are both better than Heaslip for me.

    I am a big Davies fan, but he did’t have a great 6N, when beforehand he was near a test starter for me. With only four centres likely to go, and I think Roberts, BOD and Tuilagi definites, he is likely to be the fourth. But I can’t help thinking that there will be a surprise here, and he may look at Twelvetrees as at 12 who can play 10? Meaning Davies may miss out.

  2. As far as Lions centres go, Tuilangi will not be on the plane – he can’t pass and runs into the winger’s space. Yes, he’s an epic strike-runner, but that’s not the trad Lions style.
    Jonathan Davies & his Welsh compadre Jamie Roberts work well as a unit to start the first XV, BOD for his experience, Matt Scott and Twelvetrees/Farrell as an auxiliary Stand-Off/Inside Centre. (Farrell, if he’s not in as the stand-off, but if he is, then twelvetrees)

    1. I would strongly suggest watching more of Tuilagi if you think he can not pass. He can, but England play him only as a strike runner so he often doesn’t in an England shirt. Leicester use him far more intelligently and get more out of him. He can pass, and he can offload as well given the opportunity. He will definitely be on the plane.

    2. Ummm….Jamie Roberts isn’t exactly known for his passing ability either. He’s a crash-ball merchant who hasn’t been very good of late.

      Tuilagi scores tries, gets teams on the front foot and causes havoc just through the threat he provides. He can pass (watch the NZ game for evidence) and can offload, although he should do more.

      He is the most destructive centre available to the Lions by a long way. Gatland would be silly not to take him. And Gatland is not a silly man

  3. Unlikely as it may be, a Test midfield of Twelvetrees and Davies would be about the best combination on recent form.

  4. You would be foolish to say tuilagi wouldn’t make a difference down under. If you watched him play for Leicester recently or the highlights of the ENG V NZ game you’d see he can pass, offload and has a cheeky bit of vision. He would probably be the most dangerous ball carrier on the tour if he went. No lump as big and as powerful as him can shift with an outside break like he has. Plus he scores lots of tries. A lot more than jamie Roberts.

  5. The Lions choices at 8 are not expansive.

    Faletau is very reliable but has never set the world on fire.

    Beattie was looking better but had an up and down 6 Nations

    Heaslip has been pretty poor

    Morgan has been injured.

    I think Morgan and Faletau will probably travel. Morgan’s ball-carrying will probably just swing it for him

  6. I think I would take Ryan Grant as the third LH. I am not looking to stir controversy but I would mainly take him because he is Scottish. Gatland will want all 4 nations to be represented, however except at prop, I can’t see them getting representation in other positions. Murray could go as the third TH, Ford is 5th in line IMO, Gray probably won’t play again this season and won’t be match fit, Brown and Beattie are good but shone in an average Scotland team and are behind the back row from England, Wales and O’Brien. Laidlaw could possibly go as the third 9/cover for 10 but that would mean Care dropping out and I think on the hard grounds of Australia he will cause mayhem. Visser and Maitland could go but I think the 2 Welsh boys, Tommy Bowe, Christian Wade and perhaps Zebo are ahead. And finally Stuart Hogg- I think Gatland will take Kearney for his experience. Hogg was not as good as everyone made out but as he scored two eye catching tries which were breakaways/interceptions, people looked past his deficiencies as a 15. He was poor against France when put under a bit of pressure.

  7. Yes, The Big T played well against NZ. But, sorry James, he only scored 1 jammy try v France in the 6N didn’t he? That’s not a lot, especially in an England that dominated 4/5 games. With the Welsh wingers of Cuthbert & North on the flanks, I can’t see Tuilangi being ‘the most dangerous ball carrier on the tour’. And I’d want my centres to get the ball fed out to that pair rather than run it themselves. A few good games against English Prem opposition doesn’t put him in my Lions squad. I agree with you that he’d make an impact in Oz, but I just don’t think he’s a Lions-type touring back. I’d pick Barritt before Tuilangi, for his defence & passing.

    1. You’d pick Barritt his passing? This just got a bit awkward… Barritt can’t finish a two on one!

      Tuilagi has 10 tries in 19 England caps – I am not going to look up that compared to other centres, but it is pretty certainly impressive.

      The Lions tour collates the best of the best from Britain and Ireland, not a certain style, and Tuilagi is up there with them.

    2. As you’ve got a concern over Tuilagi’s try scoring record …

      Roberts 57 Caps 5 Tries (9%)
      Davies 36 Caps 9 Tries (25%)
      BOD 131 Caps 47 Tries (36%)
      Tuilagi 21 Caps 10 Tries (48%)

      He’s given plenty of try scoring passes and offloads in international, premiership and HC cup games. All four go with a genuine shout of making the test team. But I think they would hold a party down under if Tuilagi isn’t picked, no one is going to line up against him without some fear for their safety.

  8. …and if England only play Tuilangi as a strike runner, then who’s meant to be apssing it out to Ashton? Ashton’s surely not in the England team for his defence!

    1. England don’t play Tuilagi as effectively as they could so I don’t think this is a particularly relevant point. Ashton is a finisher, Tuilagi is a strike runner – I don’t know why you think that means they can’t play in the same England side? Can Roberts not play because North plays for Wales?

  9. No, I reckon that what Lancaster was trying to do with Tuilangi & Ashton was very positive. I just don’t think it gave a very effective return (especially after the Scotland game). I see the Welsh centres as anti-backs, defenders rather than attackers and their wingers as their scorers. I think that pattern works for me as Lions.

    Wingers – yeah,. the 2 Welsh boys look a shoo-in for First XV Lions. I’ve always liked Bowe, too
    But I can’t see Wade going, untried and I don’t know that Zebo’s ready either. Visser and Maitland are big strong boys, similar to the Welsh lads & Bowe, so they might well be the body-shape to go for. A threat of kicking-to-catch-wide makes space up the centre and you probably want to have a game-plan team rather than a lot of different types of player, if you want to knit a new-formed squad together.
    I suspect that Australia will try to slow us up by using the long boot, so taking Hogg/Goode/Halfpenny as Full-back/wingers might be his tactic. Hogg slowed up terribly v France after he was rabbit-punched by their Flyhalf.

    1. Seen as though Tuilagi didn’t play against Scotland I don’t agree there.

      As wingers, I tend to agree with the Welsh guys and Bowe – and my other winger I can see Ashton going. He is finding form for Saracens and is class on his day – Gatland might think he can get the best out of him. If not, one of the Scottish guys may go.

      At full back, Halfpenny obviously, then either Kearney or Hogg – Goode isn’t good enough.

    2. You would take Goode and not Tuilagi?

      Taking Goode is the best way to slow the lions down. He is too slow. And tuilagi brings a serious physical threat, direct running, and his passing is not as poor as you say. Jacob makes a good point about you not taking Manu because of passing, but you would take barritt…

      Also I don’t think that taking those wingers just because of their size is the best reason…

  10. “The Lions tour collates the best of the best from Britain and Ireland, not a certain style”
    Well it’s a fair point that the Lions don’t need to play a certain way.
    But I do think that they should have a way of playing for the tour. They’ll be knitting together players who haven’t met before and don’t have long to do it. I reckon Gatland will think that too. So players who fit Gatland’s game plan will be selected.
    Since Wales have been most successful recently, then I suspect they’ll bring most of the methodology and therefore most of the players to play it.
    I reckon Gatland will go with:
    1.a big/powerful front 5, more strength than mobility and mobile back row, more 7s than 6s
    3.Defensive midfield, 10/12/13, rather than penetrative
    4.A “bossy” scrum-half to run the forwards, rather than a nippy bloke for breakaways
    5.Big and chunky on the wings, but capeable of getting back for …
    6.A ‘kick-receiving’ back 3 (11/14/15), who get into place early and run back kicks, to the front-five

    1. I disagree that because Wales have been successful you need to play the way they play. Lets get a quick reality check, Wales played fantastically against England, just like England did against NZ. IF you take those two matches out of the past twelve months (being the anomalies) – the sides are pretty much the same, if not Wales worse.

      My point is not that Wales are a poor side or that they haven’t been most successful, because both of those points are obviously wrong – my point is that they have not been that far ahead that other game plans should be dismissed.

      Also, I don’t agree with the idea that you take lots of similar players to play a certain way. Yes you’ll have an idea of the game plan you want, and yes you will know who best fits that – but the important part of a tour party is versatility. That does not just mean picking Hook because he can play 3/4 positions – it means picking a squad that can adapt.

      Therefore you pick the best players first (ie. Tuilagi) – and when you are out there, if they feel they will win by playing a certain game plan and that doesn’t involve him then fine. But if that game plan does not work, then what? If you have loads of similar players, then you are out of ideas. That is why Tuilagi is important – he is different and can change things – as well as putting fear into the Aussies as he enters the field, something very few British and Irish players will do.

  11. Apart from the first half v Ireland, Wales had a great 6N and an exceptional one defensively. They were better than results suggested in the autumn and v Oz last summer too. However, results-wise, they’re probably worse than England over the 12 months.
    But it’s not about the last 12 months, it’s about class first & current form second.
    I agree with you that Tuilangi is a fine player. But I don’t think he’s one of Britain & Ireland’s best. Although he does give a squad a powerful weapon. (He packs a big punch too, as Chris Ashton found out. And he’s a confident swimmer. Handy in Australia ) It’s still not enough for me to pick him as one of my 5 centres. I want more than just a battering ram and, at International level, I reckon that’s all I could get from Tuilangi. We can agree to disagree about him.
    Simply because the team picked prefers to play in a certain way and is directed to do so, doesn’t mean that’s the ONLY way they can play. These blokes are pros, now. Georgie North likes a dash up the middle, Bowe can slot in as an auxiliary fullback, many of the England & Wales loose could double as centres. There’s always versatility in any team.
    But I don’t want to be going into a test match versus the Aus on their own patch with effectively a “new” team without a coherent well-drilled game-plan. And that means everybody plays in a certain style. Since, Wales have done well recently, they’ve recent experience of Australia and the Lions coach has a job with Wales, then I reckon the best bet is to play in the current Welsh style. It doesn’t leak tries and it applies pressure such that they score them at the other end occasionally. “Hard drift” defence, tough-tackling centres, big fast wingers, precision kicking half-backs.
    If Oz aren’t scared by a many of our British and Irish players, then they haven’t been paying attention. We’ve any amount of ruthless goal-kickers, that’ll be worrying them apart from anything else. And the most accurate, Laidlaw, likely won’t be going!

    1. From what you are saying we might as just send the welsh team…

      The whole point of the lions is to try and create something different using the best of the 4 nations. Wales may have played well against Australia, but they still lost (as did England in the autumn). So the Aussies are not going to be worried by any individual nation. But if we can provide a good mix then they won’t know what to expect.

      Also on your comment about “class first, form second”. I have two responses to this.
      A) tuilagi showed his class in the NZ game, and by your logic therefore warrants inclusion.
      B) this logic of taking “class not form” means that we should be looking to Gareth Edwards, Dallaglio, Johnson, Hill, John Hayes, JPR Williams, all class players! This is a ridiculous idea. The lions is about this one tour, if you take players who are out of form then you get slaughtered. You take the best players available at the point of the tour.

  12. Oh Simno don’t be silly!
    the Welsh team are going to be supplying the bulk of the Lions 1st Xv anyway, regardless of what we say. In the 6N head-2-head with England, they were nearly all better than their English equivalent. I’d excuse Big Geoff Parling. Mike Brown played well, too, but got outgunned for 2 tries. OK, Wales were at home, but ….
    “whole point of the lions is to try and create something different using the best of the 4 nations”. No it’s not! The whole point of the lions is to pick the best players to create a winning touring team. A secondary consideration might be “ambassadorial”, but it’s not about being different or revolutionary in any way, shape or form.
    And your comments on “class” are ridiculous.

    1. We will have no idea what the right starting XV is until we start to see the various permutations and combinations on tour. Once they are on the plane what happened in one game in the millenium stadium become largely irrelevant. That game will get a large Welsh contingent onto the plane (deservedly). How they train and perform on tour will be what counts and I’m sure the test team will be based on what happens in Australia, and nothing else.

      Wales have managed 3 victories in their last 24 matches against Australia (none of which were in Australia) so to suggest that we just need the Welsh team to get the job done, regardless of how everyone else performs on tour, doesn’t stack up.

    2. Jeppy.

      The bulk of the lions first team will be welsh. That may be the case, and your point of them being better than their English counterpart in that fixture is a valid one. But lets keep in mind that Ireland (who beat wales in this years 6Ns) and Scotland will also be providing players… if we are looking at single head to head games, then I would say that Ireland should be providing the bulk of the team over the welsh (but obviously that is a ludicrous idea, because rugby is about more than just one game).

      My point about picking a team to create “something different” had nothing to do with being ambassadors, it was about picking a team that will PLAY differently.
      Your comment about making a winning formula is correct, but your idea of it is not. Simply picking the welsh players and using their game plan is pointless.
      Wales have lost their last 8 games against the Wallabies, and you would have to go back to Nov ’08 to get the last welsh win against them. (feel free to check the WRU website).
      Even the proudest Welshman (brighty I am looking at you…) has admitted that simply taking the welsh team and playing their style would be suicide. You have to DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. The beauty of the lions is that there is not footage to study before they turn up, because they are an entirely new team each time round!

      You said in your previous post that you don’t pick the form players, you pick the class ones… yet in this most recent post you have said that you pick the “best players to create a winning touring team”. Surely the form players ARE the best available.

      Yes, my comments regarding “class” were ridiculous. I went to such an extreme to illustrate how obscene your point of prioritising class over form was.

      AND FINALLY. Your comment about Brown being out gunned on two tries. Feel free to find the thread were this was discussed at length, and I think you will find that the general consensus was that brown actually did exceptionally well in these two situations. For the first try he had to deal with an overlap, and did well to even get close to Cuthbert. For the second try you will notice that brown stuck to the important rule of trusting his inside man (who then missed the tackle) resulting in him having to turn and track someone who was not his man. In both situations Wales deserve the plaudits for exceptional finishing ability, but Brown quite rightly deserves praise for exceptional defence, unfortunately due to the other circumstances it was too little too late.

      And thanks for weighting in Matt, great points well made. couldnt have put them better (as my long winded reply shows…)

  13. Wales have lost all 3 of their tour matches in Aus last year, it’s true. But they lost by a combined total of 9 points. And they led till the last minute at home in the autumn. In all 4, they should have won. Their performances in all 4 were better than Australia’s. It’s not about results, it’s about performances.
    The last of those 24 games Wales played against Aus would be, what, 20 years ago? How many of those are relevant?
    I’m with you when you suggest that only events on tour should govern team selection.
    But that’s not always been the case with the Lions. Sir Clive’s “picking on form” quotation for the 2005 Lions in NZ proved to be a lie.
    Now, I reckon the current management will be better than that, but I still think that the odd “favourite” will be in there.
    And I suspect that Gat will be picking a squad to play a style rather than just hoping a magic system pops out once he’s got 40 blokes together. He’s much cannier than that.
    I didn’t “suggest that we just need the Welsh team to get the job done”. I stated that Wales outperformed England in the recent crunch fixture. I reckon that the 1st XV will have all4 countries represented in it, all picked on merit and all playing to a system designed in advance by Gatland.

    1. It’s about the performance, not the result… Well someone tell gatland!! Cos I though that a lions tour was about going down there and trying to win. After all, you yourself said that we need a winning formula! Bit of mixed messages here, don’t you think?

      Lets cut the bull here. Saying the performance matters is only relevant when you have a young team building towards getting experience for a World Cup. The lions IS NOT THIS. for the lions it is about winning or losing, nothing else.
      And on that note, Wales losing by a combined total of 9 points over 3 tests… It’s irrelevant, a loss is a loss. Wales may have lost by 9 points, but the series result was a 3-0 whitewash. If the lions come back with a record like that then they will be embarrassed.

      Speaking of embarrassment, the 05 tour was one. The selection was wrong. And that was because Woodward chose guys who “had class” not form. But I probably didn’t need to mention that, because it seems like you have already made a u-turn on your “class over form” point.

      Regarding your final paragraph – I will respond with a quote from your post at the top of this page:
      “Since, Wales have done well recently, they’ve recent experience of Australia and the Lions coach has a job with Wales, then I reckon the best bet is to play in the current Welsh style.”
      Seems once again that you are now contradicting yourself…

  14. If I’m sending mixed messages then I don’t mean to be. I’ll try to explain myself further.
    Sometimes, a poor performance can lead to a win. E.g the 6N Scotland v Ireland game.
    A good (or even great) performance doesn’t necessarily lead to a win.
    Performing well helps and a team can’t really do any better than peforming to the best of its abilities. Sometimes, that’s not enough. Other factors come into play: e.g. luck, bounce of the ball, opposition performance, refereeing.
    I agree 2005 was embarrassing.
    I don’t think I have made a u-turn on class v form. First, I’ll counteract the “play the chaps from the 70s & the 2003 world cup” nonsense. If that defines “class” then how do you define form – last game, last half played, last 10 minutes, last practice session. If you tale the concepts of “class” or “form” to it’s limit, then they become non-sensical. So lets not. People can be playing well now (form) and others may have shown great performances over a period of time in the past (class). Ideally, I’m sure we’d all like these to be coinciding now, for selection and peaking in the summer for the tests. But if I had to pick one at this stage, I’d pick class over form, with a guess as to that class re-occurring in the tests as a result of that player’s experience coming to bear.
    The Wales Squad have done well over the past few seasons, rather than displaying a bit of form as Scotland did in the middle of their 6N campaign.

    1. This is my point though. No one really cares if the lions perform well and lose, we would much prefer ground out wins. Obviously a superb performance leading to a win is the ideal, but your comment saying “it’s not about the result, it’s about e performance” is plain wrong in the context of the lions.

      Form is simple to define. You are as good as your last game. That seems to be the standard by which everyone is judging these players, after all, you yourself have referred to the Wales vs England game countless times. Class on the other hand refers to your performance across your entire career to date.

      On your comment about the welsh having done pretty well over the past few seasons – agree that in the 6Ns and the World Cup they have been good. But outside of that they went on an 8 game losing streak, losing to Samoa.
      Wales’ win over Aus in 08, a draw with Aus in 06, a win over Aus in 05 are the only positive results the welsh have had against a big 3 nation this millennium.

      The point I am trying to make is that your comment about class insinuates that players should be getting onto the plane due to past glories and reputation. However this is not the case IMO. We cannot gamble (or to use your wording “guess”) that someone is going to regain their class while on tour. You have to take the guys who are currently playing the best rugby in the B&I isles. That as the reason I used the 70s and 03 nonsense, to prove that past glories are not enough, you have to live in the now. And the same can be said for taking youngsters, the lions is not a development tour. There has rarely been a more a better team to fit the old adage “if you are good enough, you are old enough”. But this works in the other way too, if you are playing well enough it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, as long as you can genuinely justify being one of the best performing players in your position at that time.


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