Lions Scout Notes: February 27th

adam jones

Greig Laidlaw
Scotland’s victory on Sunday was built on stubborn defence, and Ireland’s ineptitude when faced with scoring opportunities – of that there is no doubt. It was all the more impressive, then, that Greig Laidlaw was so composed and clinical when points were on offer. Scotland haven’t lacked for kicking options over the past few years, with Paterson and Parks to the fore, and Laidlaw seems to be continuing that trend. One huge benefit of taking him on the Lions tour is that he can play both scrum and fly-half – as we have seen in previous years, versatility is an attribute that can get you on the plane in itself. Composure, kicking and the ability to play multiple positions is a potent mix that is making Laidlaw’s case for inclusion increasingly tough to ignore.
Verdict: dusting off his passport, nervously waiting by the phone

Chris Ashton
A short while ago, Chris Ashton was nailed on to go on tour and being mentioned as a Test starter. Now, he faces a race to find some form in the last couple of games in the Six Nations or he risks missing out altogether. One of the biggest issues is that his defence looks scarily suspect and it is something that could easily be targeted by the Aussies. His fall from grace has been widely reported and while it is tempting to press the panic button, it is likely he will come good again. The question is, can he make it in time for the tour? And with whispers in the press that he is set to be dropped for the Italy game, will he even get a chance? Time will tell.
Verdict: at the airport, but can’t find his passport

Adam Jones
A return to form for the shaggy-haired Welshman could not have come at a better time for him, or Wales. Faced with a vastly experienced Italian front-row, it was vital that the Welsh unit stood up to them – especially in terrible conditions, as it was always likely to be the area that decided the game. With Dan Cole and Mike Ross not having great games, Jones has thrown his name right back to the top of the list for a Test place. Who wins the front-row battle in Cardiff on the final weekend could go a long way to deciding who will be on that plane and, come 22nd June, who is lining up in that famous red jersey.
Verdict: in the departures lounge

Sean O’Brien
With each week that goes by, Sean O’Brien strengthens his case for inclusion. Back-row is another area that now looks vastly different in most people’s Lions teams to a year ago – injuries and form have decimated a lot of players’ chances. That said, it is not necessarily an area of weakness. The likes of England duo Robshaw and Wood, along with Scotland Stalwart Brown, means that there is still strength in depth here. O’Brien made 22 carries against Scotland, almost a fifth of his team’s total. Whilst this is not entirely surprising given his team’s utter dominance in possession and territory, it was still an impressive stint from the gnarled back-row man.
Verdict: in the departures lounge

By Jamie Hosie

Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

52 thoughts on “Lions Scout Notes: February 27th

  1. Glad to see Laidlaw finally getting some recognition! Haven’t seen his name mentioned by any of the BBC pundits as a contender and he’s been great so far this tournament. With no clear starter for England, no clear starter for Ireland, and Mike Philips failing to shine he’s in a great position if he can keep it up.

    1. and Laidlaw is one of the few current players (along with his fellow Scots) in the frame who has actually BEATEN the Aussies. Now, having said that, I await the torrent of ‘ah, yes, but’ posters!

      1. ‘Kin love it DC. The boys in blue have finally worked out how to win.

        How many times have we heard about Scotland losing whilst dominating stats like Ireland did.

        Throw the likes of Hogg, Scott, maitland, gray, grant in there and a lot of u might be pleasantly surprised.

        Kids who have learnt how to win. They did me proud on Sunday. bring on Wales and long may it continue.

        Loving being a Scottish rugby supporter ATM

  2. On Ashton, I think the Aussies would be licking their lips at seeing a player who is so easily wound up on the pitch. Remember 2003? The sledging in both press and on the pitch was legendary. I hope Ashton is left at home – the Lions don’t need him (we’re not playing Italy) and he’ll only be a bad tourist.

    O’Brien I think goes as a 6 – with Ferris and Lydiate out he’s the outstanding 6 candidate.

    I think Laidlaw has a shout as the test scrum half if he keeps playing like he has.

    1. If Ashton gets his mojo back, the aussies will also remember Twickenham, however time is running out and I think he is a way down the pecking order.

      Agree O’Brien is the starting 6 at the moment, although Wood isn’t too far behind.

      I think Laidlaw’s versatility and goal kicking will help put him on the plane. Think Phillips is the on in danger here.

      1. I like laidlaw too but re O’Brien, he does give some silly penalties away occasionally

        would take Lydiate and Ferris over him if they are fit – esp Lydiate

        1. SOB is outstanding at tackling and running though. Are Lydiate or Ferris likely to be fit? If so Lydiate definitely on the plane – not sure about Ferris, and doesn’t he have continuing knee problems?

      1. I’m pretty sure that Care did not come off the bench in the Ireland game. And the fact that Youngs has started the last three games (at least) surely makes him a clear starter.

        1. Is there a scrum-half in the 6 nations who isn’t normally substituted at some point?

          Its a right bugger trying to find one that will play a full game for fantasy league point purposes

  3. I always thought the definition of a test starter was someone who started the test.

    Care did not feature in England’s win over Ireland either…

    Youngs is rarely taken off for bad play, the nature of Care is that his playing style is ideal against a tiring team in the final quarter. I would still take Care and Youngs over Laidlaw. With the likes of Sexton, Halfpenny and Farrell (and even Wilkinson) likely to be on the plane, Laidlaw’s kicking is pretty much redundant, as his ability to play fly half…

  4. SO’B’s value seriously sank on Sunday, when Ireland needed a cool head to maintain their lead he gave away 2 silly penalties at rucks, 1 of which was the game winner & he argued with Barnes about them too. Imagine Gatland’s looking for a back row that won’t do either of those things.

    Unless something drastic happens to prevent England’s slam Robshaw will be a shoe- in for skipper and with the race for the #7 short being lead by Armitage or Tipuric there’s a bit of a log jam for back row spots, indiscipline & lack of composure aren’t traits that fit Gatland’s game plan particularly well.

    1. Interesting that you think Armitage will be going. I wonder if Gatland would be able to secure his release for training etc. The French teams tend to make it so difficult for player release for training squads etc, I wonder if Gatland will just pick from what he’s got directly on hand i.e. Robshaw, Tipuric, O’Brien (although better at 6), Warburton or Brown.

    2. Anyone seen how Armitage is going lately? With so many excellent back rows to choose from that are playing international rugby I think he’s going to have to produce something monumental to force his way in. Of the ex-internationals in France I think Hines and Sheridan may stand a better chance as there are fewer standout candidates/less strength in depth in their positions.

    3. Not sure that Robshaw is a shoe in for the tour captaincy. I am thinking BOD, due to Gatland’s earlier comments about Robshaw, and also Brighty’s sensible suggestion that Gatland might not want a current home nations captain as his choice. However at present I can see BOD starting the tests on the bench and therefore Robshaw might well end up as team captain.

      1. Really not sold on Tipuric yet. He has not translated his club form into the international arena.

        Thought he might show it against Italy but he seemed somewhat anonymous and out-muscled at the breakdown

        Is he destined to be one of these players who never quite make it?

        Or will I live to regret writing this when he produces an open-side masterclass to beat england on the last weekend?

        1. Personally I think Tipuric is best as a sub, when he makes an impact due to his speed. If he starts he does seem to get outpowered at the breakdown. Therefore not convinced he will be going to Oz. Would rather have Haskell on the bench.

  5. Rumours that Ashton is set to be dropped for the Italy game appear to be just that, as he has not been released back to club duty this week. I think the Italy game is the perfect opportunity for him to get some form back. He just needs one good game for England to get some confidence back.
    At the moment though there are several candidates who are in front of him in the queue. Cuthbert, Maitland, possibly even Halfpenny if you want Kearney on the pitch as well. On current form I would rather play Wade than Ashton, but Lancaster will stick with him because he knows what he’s capable of when on top form and full of confidence.

    1. Agree, think it makes sense for him to stay with the England camp and put in work with Farrell, rather than being released for more game time. I would pick him for Italy as well. From an England point of view I think it’s worth noting he always seems more effective when playing with Foden, the 2 seem to have a very good understanding and run great lines off each other. He got a lot of tries for Saints where Foden had put him through, knowing where Ashton would run and Ashton knowing where Foden would be looking for him. It’s no use running a smart support line if no one is looking for you to be there.

      For lions, on current form, he is well behind both Scottish, Welsh and at least one Irish winger.

      1. His link up play with Tomkins is very good at Sarries. They played a lot together at Wigan in their League days and it seems to have carried over. As a result Tomkins game has got much stronger as well.
        Ashton is a confidence player, and with little chances on the wing so far he hasn’t had much to show.

        1. Part of the problem in my eyes is playing Goode at fullback.

          Whilst he’s astute tactically he rarely runs a counter-attack in the manner that either Foden or Brown would, breaking the first line of defence and giving Ashton the opportunity to get on his shoulder and capitalise on the attack.

          Play either Foden or Brown at FB and you’d probably see a different Ashton

  6. Laidlaw is on the plane… I thought so after the England game, and getting more certain. He’s a canny operator, and I thought against the Irish his kicking game was excellent. If he’s behind a good pack then he’d be laughing.

  7. His kicking game was appalling against Ireland and was the main reason Scotland couldn’t get out of their own half..

  8. I really like Laidlaw, but I don’t think he will go. I would think Youngs, Care and Phillips will go surely? I think he will take three fly halfs as well, so him being able to play there is redundant. There will also be one of Halfpenny, Sexton or Farrell on the pitch at all time; and therefore his kicking from tee is also redundant. I think if you then take a look at it, the other three 9s are in a better position.

  9. Anyone got any views on who could make the squad as a zero capper? My 3, from varying degrees of leftfield would be:
    – Billy Vunipola
    – Wade
    – Ben Botica

    1. I’m hoping that Vunipola will feature in the Italy game if he’s fit. Fingers crossed.

      Tomkins, Eastomnd, Eli Wlaker. I think most of the forwards positions are safe. It’s in the backs where the zero capper is likely to be selected I feel.

      Anyone know if Zebo will be fit for Lions selection?

  10. Some very interesting comments being made and it’s thought-provoking to see how many variations are being talked about from the original suggestions made on the Potential Lions XV Jan 13, Jamie Hosie.
    There are still a number of ‘shoe-ins’ Halfpenny, Tuilagi, Cuthbert, Heaslip, Parling and Hibbard.
    I believe that 13 and 14 are very much undecided as none of the players in these positions shone on the weekend. As for the rest, Farrell along with Care and Youngs have to be leading contenders for 10 & 9. A complete Welsh front row of Jones, Hibbard and James with Alun Wynn-Jones partnering Parling, and a back row of Heaslip with Robshaw at 6 and Warbuton at 7.

    1. Hibbard is a way off being a shoe-in he just performed best of a bad bunch at the weekend. Best is probably top and if Youngs can do better at scrum time he offers far more in the loose than any of the others but that’s a big IF.

    2. Hibbard a shoe in you have got to be joking. I would pick Best, Youngs, Strauss all ahead of Hibbard.

      This is the problem with the Welsh they value their players a lot higher than people from outside their nation.

      I was listening to the alternative commentary a few weeks ago on the Wales v ireland under20 and they were saying Jones, Jenkins and Rees were the starting front row for the lions!!! I mean come on what on earth is all that about?!!?

      1. Jambo – I think that the Welsh do value their players highly, but then again so so we! If you look at the Welsh team the back 5 are all class operators although Roberts is in a dip at the moment, FH is a problem, Phillips has been world class but maybe is just going over the top now. Quality back row (with Lydiate injured!) 2nd row only average althouh Coombes maybe one for the future, and front row have got their mojo (and fitness) back. Jones has been a class scrummager for some time Jenkins seems to be back to his rampaging best and Hibbard is in with a shout in what is a position with no one holding their hand up.

        Therefore although my first choice Lions FR is Healy Best and Cole, Jones Hibbard and Jenkins aren’t far behind, so although inevitably one eyed, I don’t think that they were too far off the mark.

        1. Coombes is 28. Not too far in the future. i have to agree with Jambo. I think the welsh have some very good players but they regularly bandish terms such as ‘world class’ about too liberally. I think the only possible world class players in the Welsh team are Lydiate, North (at his best) and Halfpenny. I did used to think Warburton fell into this category also.

          1. Who are the “they” that “regularly bandish terms such as world class about too liberally”?

            Much like when Wales were slated for supposedly going around saying we were amazing after winning the GS I would say that “we” didn’t – and I’m only saying we as a single Welshman; it does amuse me when I hear these generic “the welsh” as if you can somehow work out that all 3 million of us are thinking and saying the same thing.

            Also when you have clarified to me who “they” are can you share some links or other pointers to where I can hear “them” liberally talk up the welsh as world class?

            Jambo, as for “Jones, Jenkins and Rees were the starting front row for the lions!” being a quote on the welsh rugby coverage, I heard that as well. It was referring to them being it in the middle test of the last series. Do you deliberately go looking for imagined arrogance?

  11. Armitage has been the best player in France for 2 years, he’s the highest scoring forward this season too. Not entirely sure what’s going on with the whole Toulon refusing to release players row, but if Gethin Jenkins keeps improving in the next 2 6 Nations games it’s gonna be a hell of talking point, I had read that the IRB class the Lions tour as an international window so clubs have to cooperate, but we shall see. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wilkinson on the plane either ROG has gone backwards at a rate of knots lately. With Sexton & Farrell the only 2 number 10’s guaranteed a spot there’s a place for a wildcard to stand up and be counted.

    1. The Lions Tour constitutes international window, but only for the tests. The Lions are playing the Barbarians on the 1st June as a warm up in Hong Kong, same day as the Top XIV final. They’re not required to release players for that as it’s not a test and the coaching staff had been insistant on players being available for that to tour (though there are 5 more warm ups after that before the first test)

  12. Zebo should be back in a month I think. Back 3 positions will be like rocking horse teeth. Gatland loves huge backs, so presumably Cuthbert and North will go, Visser’s huge so he’s with a shout. Ashton’s very strong in defence, as is Trimble. Gilroy’s been impressive since he came into the Ireland team & Zebo can play wing or fullback. That’s 7 straight off the back in the mix without even thinking too hard.

    1. Rhys;
      “Ashton’s very strong in defence” Are you sure about that? Also, I am not so sure about the link between Gatlnad and huge wingers. Shane Williams?
      I think Cuthbert and North are picked for Wales there because they’re the best not because they’re the biggest.

      1. love that you picked up on the ashton is strong on defence comment… after all, this blog has just produced a piece on possible ashton replacements due to his poor form and defensive lapses…

  13. I am surprised that Laidlaw has not been mentioned much before, as i think he has been very consistent, which is not something that can be said for any of the other 9’s.
    A lot of calls for O’Brien at 6. Does he ever play at 6? It is not as if there are a lack of other options here already.
    If I could afford to, my money would be on Robshaw to go as captain – and more of an outside bet – to play at 8!

    1. o’brien spends most of his time at 6 at club i believe. as leinster have shane jennings, who is an “out and out 7”. so SOB plays 6 when he is on. otherwise he plays 7 when ruddock or mcclaughlin are on.

    1. I would put Barritt at 12, with Scott as the next in line, although Marshall looked good, but only one game of evidence and defences will have a game tape to work on now! At 13 Tuilagi to start with BOD as the back up.

      Still think Faletau as the starting 8, although Morgan could yet make a run for the jersey if he gets fit.

      1. Inside Centre? That Marshall showed well against Scotland – although I do wonder how much of that was down to playing outside Paddy Jackson.

        Scott is going well of course, but what part of his game is stronger than Barritt?

Comments are closed.