Lions Squad 2017: Initial Reaction

Lions Rugby

Well the wait is finally over – we have our Lions squad for 2017. A few surprises but certainly not the controversy that was being suggested the day before the announcement.

Here are some initial thoughts on the squad.

Don’t believe the hype
A salient lesson in not believing everything you read in the papers. No, Jamie Roberts will not be touring this year and Jonathan Joseph will. That would have been a farcical selection, and thankfully it turned out to be complete BS. Although there are still a couple of big lump 12s in Ben Te’o and Robbie Henshaw, picking Roberts would have been as good as shouting from the rooftops that Warrenball was on its way to New Zealand. Instead, I remain hopeful for a slightly more nuanced gameplan.

Tough calls
It’s a Lions squad, so there were always going to be some supremely hard decisions and a few deserving players left behind. Despite being the heart of the Scottish team, the two Gray brothers suffered from being in the most competitive position, whilst Chris Robshaw is perhaps the most heartbreaking omission. A player who has turned his form around after the World Cup and forced himself into Eddie Jones’ plans – in my opinion, he was England’s best player from 2016 – he has been cruelly robbed by injury. Surely if he had avoided injury and his form had continued he would be there. But there will always be hypothetical ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’ This was likely Robshaw’s last chance at a Lions tour, however.

Perhaps the player that can feel most aggrieved though is Joe Launchbury – two man-of-the-match awards in this Six Nations and probably one of the top three players with CJ Stander and Stuart Hogg. Sorry Warren, but I don’t understand this one.

Wasps speaking for the majority methinks.

No bolters but a few surprises
No curveball name creeping out of the leftfield , but the likes of Ross Moriarty, Kyle Sinckler, Dan Biggar, Jared Payne, Jack Nowell, Ben Te’o, and Leigh Halfpenny all raised a few eyebrows. Te’o and Sinckler benefit from Gatland’s love of power (and are fine players), while Nowell and Payne were both in brilliant form before suffering with injury – we know how good they can be though. Maybe Halfpenny’s place was booked back in 2013 after his man-of-the-series award, but I am struggling to see anything in the past two years which earned him his place. I hope he proves me wrong.

Dan Biggar? Maybe Gatland is making it up to him after being the only player from Wales starting XV that thrashed England in 2013 to be excluded from the tour.

Not enough Scots
I am trying to be purely objective here, but there are not enough Scots in the tour party. For a team to have played with such flare and beaten Ireland and Wales then to only have two players called up is a bit of a slap in the face. I can’t help thinking that capitulation against England meant a few pencilled names were rubbed out. One game it seems can make a huge difference…

England v Ireland
On which note, the deciding match of the Six Nations – just as it did before the last tour when Wales hammered England despite their earlier poor form – has gone a long way to influencing selection. Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson make the cut on the basis of their fantastic performances in that game, while it could have been that match that did it for Launchbury. Bit of a déjà vu for him – he apparently suffered in the selectors eyes for a slightly naive performance against Wales in 2013.

Don’t book your holiday just yet
But for all the contention around selection decisions, it’s probably best that a few of the near misses don’t book their fishing trips just yet. There are still a couple of rounds of the Champions Cup left to play, alongside the business end of the Pro12 and Premiership. It’s likely that the squad will look a little different when it turns up at the airport compared to the original announcement.

What did you think of the squad now that you’ve had time to mull it over?

By Henry Ker

23 thoughts on “Lions Squad 2017: Initial Reaction

  1. My 1st thought was that Gatland has taken 6 centres so Farrell is going as a 10.Therefore unless Sexton plays rubbish or gets injured hes going to be on the bench. I would be happy with that hes not as good a 12 as Henshaw or Teo

    1. Farrell not as good as Henshaw or T’eo? He’s a different kind of 12, certainly compared with the likes of T’eo, but to say he’s not as good is wildly inaccurate. Farrell over the pair of them for me.

  2. No Joe Launchbury or Jonny Gray is a disgrace.I also would have Finn Russel over Dan Biggar!However whosoever was picked there will alwas be plenty of opinions.I wish them all good luck!

  3. Stuff the lion’s going to really enjoy watching the sans lube prison style treatment the All Black’s are going to give playing Warrenball against them. After the disgusting treatment of the Scottish players last time and the current selection means that the Lion’s is dead to me.

  4. Whilst I feel for Launchbury, I think what hit him is his lineout ability. He is ok in that area, but it’s not a strength for him.

    Itoje, Lawes, Kruis and AWJ are all very strong in that area, so he was probably in a straight shoot out with Henderson. Can’t say I disagree massively with that call despite the fact I’m a Wasps fan.

    On the Scots, the only one I’d have in is Russell (over Biggar), but otherwise when you go through man for man I just don’t see any others I’d take.

    I’m really hoping he does pick Sexton and Farrell together, but I’m not filled with hope after his selection of 6 centres and just one other 10. I’d have probably taken Ford and Russell in a 41 man squad and left out Biggar and Te’o.

      1. I can see why you would, but I can certainly see why you wouldn’t. AWJ is the best of those 4 in the line out, so I can see why that is attractive to Gatland particularly when you throw his experience in (all the other locks haven’t been on tour before).

        Gray/Launchbury/Henderson is then a toss up. Assuming he believes he is picking one of those as a “finishers” with maximum impact, I can see why he went for Henderson.

        1. AWJ is better than Itoje and Kruis? Hmm I don’t think I can agree with you there. Kruis has been praised by McCall for having great lineout intelligence, whilst Itoje is an absolute beast in the air.

          AWJ was outplayed by his opposite number in almost all of the 6N games against home opposition, including at the lineout.

          1. Absolutely not – by AWJ being better than those 4 I was referring to the options of AWJ, Launchbury, Henderson and Gray!

            Kruis is the best line out forward we have, and for that reason absolutely has to start as far as I’m concerned.

  5. I feel for the Scots, but lets be honest, who out of the Scotland team would you take instead of those selected?

    Russell over Biggar….that’s about it.

    You could argue Jonny Gray…but in place of who? Itoje? Kruis? AWJ maybe…but you would have Launchbury above him first.

    1. Russell over Biggar, J Gray over AWJ/Henderson, Watson over Moriarty, Taylor over JD2, Maitland or Visser over Halfpenny, Dunbar over Payne, R Gray over Lawes. Some are 50/50s, but it’d be nice to get the benefit of a 50/50 for once…

      1. They’re all good players – but genuinely better than those selected?

        Russell undoubtedly over Biggar.

        R Gray wasn’t better than Lawes in the 6 nations. Dunbar was really really bad against England, whilst Payne rarely makes mistakes.

        Watson is an out and out 7, whereas Moriarty is a 6 or 8. For Watson to go he’d have had to be ahead of Warburton/Tipuric/O’Brien – unlikely!

        I can see the Scottish grievance but I don’t think there are really many individuals that are missing.

        1. I’d put Watson miles ahead of O’Brien. O’Brien was totally anonymous during the 6N, I’d play O’Donnell or Van der Flier ahead of him for Ireland.

  6. Squad for 1st test
    Mcgrath George Furlong Itoje Kruis Stander Warburton Vunipola Murray Sexton Williams Henshaw Joseph Watson Hogg
    Bench Mako Best Sinckler AWJ O,Brian Webb Farrell Daley

    1. I like this but witth a couple of changes.

      On current form I think I’d be starting either Marler or Vunipola. But if you don’t start Marler I wouldn’t have him on the bench.

      There’s enough ball carriers that Stander is not needed. I’d rather have POM as 6 for his massive workrate, nous and impact in the rucks and at the lineout (I’d have preferred Robshaw but c’est la vie).

      Other than that perhaps North over Williams if he keeps up the form he seemed to find at the end of the 6 nations.

      Bench I’d have Lawes/Henderson ahead of AWJ for impact and ability to play 6 as well. and then a toss up between O’Brien and Stander – prob Stander on recent form.

  7. Thanks Pablito you are the first person not to insist Farrell has a divine right to start 1st test.
    He is a fine player but not as good a 10 as Sexton and not as Henshaw or Teo end of.

  8. Please allow me to resubmit the last line
    He is a fine player but not as good a 10 as Sexton and not as good a 12 as Henshaw or Teo can cover both positions from the bench and make a valuable contribution

    1. I think Farrell is a brilliant player. Is he as good as Sexton, quite possibly. But if you are going to play Murray – and you have to – then it makes sense to play Sexton. And I just don’t see Sexton / Farrell working in the same way that Ford / Farrell does.

      I also like Henshaw at inside centre. He’s quick, strong, runs good lines and has better hands than he is given credit for. A combo of him and JJ will be absolutely solid defensively and able to take advantage of any chink in the ABs armour. I don’t think centre is a position of huge strength for the Kiwis since Nonu and Smith retired and Henshaw and JJ is a strong combo.

      Farrell is a great player to have on the bench. But it would not surprise me at all to see Gatland select Biggar instead

      1. Pab. You ‘think Farrell is a brilliant player’. Why, when he’s basically a goal kicker & a tackler. How many tries does he score @ Int’al (& that’s the point) compared to Beauden Barrett? JJ?
        Ok in a winning team as per v Scotland, but why was he subbed v Ireland? Perhaps because he was anonymous?! What chinks? Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Moala, Seta Tamanivalu & oh, SBW waiting in the wings. You need to wake up. And then you need to watch more S Rugger fella.

  9. The marginal calls went against the Scottish players and I don’t think it’s a coincidence given members of the Irish, Welsh and English coaching team are on the selection panel.

    It’s not a case of bias just, where it’s a very close call, you naturally favour the player you know over the player you don’t.

    Including players selected now that are ruled out before the tour and players called up during the tour I expect there will be plenty of call ups. Corbs went from call up to Lions legend in the space of a few weeks in 2013! There’s a reasonable chance of quite a few still joining the tour at some stage.

  10. Perhaps we shoukd have seen this coming from the moment Gatland was reappointed. His decision to drop BOD showed a. his rigid adherence to the one dimensional game plan that has stifled a hugely talented Wales side and b. his refusal to pick anyone who doesn’t fit that game plan and willingness to trust those who will play it. Nothing else explains Te’o, Halfpenny and Biggar – and for that matter Howley as attack coach (seriously?). I suspect Steve Hansen went back to sleep soundly last night knowing exactly how to win against Welsh tactics (which have proved so reliable against SH sides for the past 8 years). It’ll be close, it won’t be pretty, it will probably produce a lot of Lions injuries and likely 3-0 to a Kiwi side that is still maturing. Wish I could be more positive but can’t see this side having the tactical nous to unpick the ABs.

    1. Scrappy
      Agree. That BOD was prev dropped didn’t nec prove anything just because the Lions won that particular match. Who knows, they might have won by more WITH his being in the side? Gatalnd’s gone for known qualities in that bigger, stronger is better with the inside backs you mention. Understandable to a degree as it’ll be a robust series, but where’s the guile to unpick NZ? Pab reckons JJ, Henshaw? Maybe, but they’ll need to dominate possession as a team 1st. Another maybe.

  11. I have to question Warburton being named captain when he is going missed the rest of the Blues’ season with injury. He will go into the tour without playing for almost two months. He is the type of player who needs playing time to find form. I have a hard time believing that he will play enough to find form before the tests.

    This is crazy!

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