Lions Squad Analysis for 2nd Test

The old adage goes that ‘you should never change a winning team’ but clearly this message has been lost on Warren Gatland, who has made five changes to his test XV ahead of the second test on Saturday. In the forwards, Mako Vunipola and Geoff Parling have replaced Alex Corbisiero and Paul O’Connell, both of whom are injured, and Tom Croft, who drops to the bench, has been replaced by Dan Lydiate. In the backs, Ben Youngs and the fit-again Tommy Bowe are preferred to Mike Phillips and Alex Cuthbert, with the winger dropping to the bench at the expense of Sean Maitland.

Vunipola was unlucky to miss out on a starting role in the first test after his imperious form in the warm-up games, but ultimately the decision to opt for Corbisiero, a more proficient scrummager, proved to be the right call. The question now is whether or not Gatland should have selected Ryan Grant, who takes his place on the bench, ahead of Vunipola, with the latter resuming his role as an impact sub. Admittedly, Vunipola’s scrummaging technique needs work, but you can be sure he will have spent considerable time with Graham Rowntree this week working on it, and his form means he is deserving of this opportunity. Whilst the Lions might not enjoy the same dominance at the scrum they had in the first half of the first test, parity should still be achieved, and the writing was on the wall with this selection when Grant played the majority of Tuesday’s game against the Melbourne Rebels, only being replaced late on by Tom Court.

Despite a few cries here and there for Richie Gray or Ian Evans, the Parling selection is perhaps the most obvious of the five. The Leicester Tiger has played superbly so far on tour and his ability at the lineout, not to mention his underrated carrying, has allowed Gatland to bring in Lydiate at blindside flanker, giving himself a balance in the back row that you feel he is happier with. Although Gatland is a big fan of Croft, as illustrated by his decision to keep Croft in the 23 at the expense of having a second row on the bench, you get the sense that he is more comfortable having a work horse at six, which should give captain Sam Warburton more opportunities to influence the breakdown. Croft’s ability to score tries from anywhere on the pitch and his reliability at the lineout do however keep him in the 23, and although he will be disappointed to not be in the XV after a strong performance in the first test, he could well be a game changer coming on at the 60 minute mark.

The Lions played well in the first test, but if there was player who had a game to forget, it was Phillips. The scrum half found himself exposed defensively by the excellent Will Genia, whilst offensively he was consistently stifled by Ben Mowen, who had a fine debut for Australia. A knock to the knee could account for Phillips being dropped out the squad completely, but chances are that Gatland would have already been considering Youngs for the starting role, with the Englishman having experience of terrorising Australian defences on their own soil. Phillips’ power had little effect on the Australian defence last week, and Gatland will be eager to see if Youngs’ pace can create more opportunities for the talented Lions back line.

The last change to the XV sees Bowe replace the try-scoring Cuthbert on the wing. This decision is harsh on Cuthbert, who had a good game on Saturday, scoring a superb try, but if Bowe had not suffered his hand injury earlier in the tour, it’s almost unthinkable that he and George North wouldn’t have started the first test. Cuthbert is a highly accomplished finisher, but Bowe runs some of the best lines in the Northern hemisphere, is always looking for the ball, and has superior defence to the Welshman, and deserves this opportunity for his play earlier on the tour, much in the same way Vunipola deserves his. Any fears that Bowe might be lacking match fitness or confidence following his injury have been eased slightly by the knowledge that Cuthbert will be on the bench, and available to replace Bowe if needs be.

There is clear logic behind all of Gatland’s selection choices, but the dropping of Croft and Cuthbert to bench does suggest Gatland wants to take a more cautious approach to the second test, shoring up his defence and the breakdown. Gatland knows this game is just as important, if not more so, than the first test, and he wants go out there, grind out a result, and secure a much needed series win for the Lions. If the Lions can make it 2-0 in Melbourne on Saturday, it will be interesting to see the team which Gatland picks for the final test, as although he will be desperate to record a whitewash, the Lions could well and truly be unleashed offensively, safe in the knowledge they have won the series.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

53 thoughts on “Lions Squad Analysis for 2nd Test

  1. I am always in 2 minds concerning Cuthbert. He seems to do very little in games and often is out of position defensively but he always seems to score tries?? So what is worth more?

    Prime example was against the Barbarians, he didn’t do anything for 60 mins and I was thinking to myself he was never going to make the test team, then he goes and scores a brace.

    1. its a tough one.

      he is a top finisher. clearly has the poacher’s instinct. but he isnt a classy footballer like Zebo.

      The biggest worry for Cuthbert is that one days the tries start to dry up. if this day ever comes, then he becomes a lot like ashton has recently.

      for his sake, i hope he sees this as a possibilty and starts working proactively to add more strings to his bow. because if he waits until the tries dry up, then he will find it harder and confidence will drop (like ashton). its a slippery slope, i just hope that work is done to try and prevent it before it happens.

      1. Cuthbert will def get better. He’s barely into his first ever pro rugby contract. It’s only been a couple of years since he first started playing rugby. He’s unfinished but has, as everyone can see, undoubted raw talent.

  2. I like the team,

    I love croft but i can see the logic with lydaite, aus will come put firing, hopefuly the will run at the welsh 6 as he never misses a tackle or gives a cm.

    I am concerned at the lack of power in the second row for the scrums, I would have liked to have seen Gray on the bench, I am looking forward to parling playing, sure he is good in the lineout but he makes more yards than people give him credit for, as the article points out. He is also a great defender around the fringes, using his brain to get good positions. He blocks a lot of oposition kicks and if you watch the tigers, you will see he is often the blocker for youngs box kicks, the uonderstanding between him and youngs will hopefully give protection, that in fairness to phillips, the scrumhalf didn’t have last week.

    Bowe is a class act and a great finisher I have no problems with him in the team, however I would have gone for hogg instead of cuthbert on the bench, more versitile.

    SOB was not mentioned here but he will make an impact, the lions have guys who can physically intimediate the wallabies, he is one of them, he could turn the game, if we are going backwards after 60 min, give him the ball and he will always make 5/6 metres up the middle and allow easy recycling of the ball. Imagine him and croft coming on after 60 when the wallabies are tired, lovely.

    Still really worried about he these AUSSY backs though.

    1. Agree the scrum is my biggest worry. Not just because of Vunipola but i’m not sure either of the locks are particularly powerful scrumagers. Also as you point out there is no cover on the bench to add power.

  3. A strong squad. My only concern is Cuthbert, he has poor tackling technique, poor handling, no clue when defending deep, no real kicking game and zero creativity, he often comes inside looking for work although when he does he generally looks confused and embarrassingly ineffectual. A coach without conflicted interests would surely look to Zebo or Maitland as they can play rugby as well as finish from five meters out. AC is the luckiest guy in world rugby, I think it insults Ashton to compare the two.

  4. A strong squad. My only concern is Cuthbert, he has poor tackling technique, poor handling, no clue when defending deep, no real kicking game and zero creativity, he often comes inside looking for work although when he does he generally looks confused and embarrassingly ineffectual. A coach without conflicted interests would surely look to Zebo or Maitland as they can play rugby as well as finish. AC is the luckiest guy in sport, I think it insults Ashton to compare the two.

    1. Is this a serious opinion or just trolling?

      Something unique about English rugby is we prefer wingers who don’t score tries over those that do. Against serious opposition (10 6N tests, 3AIs and 3 tests against the Boks) England have managed a pathetic 4 tries from back 3 players under Lancaster (2 for Foden and 2 for Ashton). That’s a strike rate of 8.3%.

      If anyone can find a period in the history in English rugby (or world rugby for a top side) where the back 3 has been so impotent I would be amazed.

      Many people think Brown is a better winger than Cuthbert despite never scoring an international try in 18 attempts whilst Cuthbert has scored 10 in 20. Cuthbert may not be the most complete winger to ever play the game but he scores far more tries than he’s at fault for letting in (bit like Varndell). I’m glad we’ve got Bowe back, but I don’t understand the hate for Cuthbert.

      1. Interesting comment. Good point and well made, and this from someone who isn’t a Cuthbert fan. (But also someone who would like to see England’s back three score some tries!). Foden, Yarde and Wade anyone?

        1. You took the words right out of my mouth. England seemed to have found the answer to our wing problem in Yarde. Ashton or Wade on the right, but Yarde looked awesome against the Argies, and they are by no means a weak team.
          Cuthbert is a good player, there’s no doubt about it, I just personally feel that there are other players in the squad i.e. Maitland or Zebo, who would’ve scored that try last week had they been on the pitch, but that they would also have tried to get involved in the game a bit more like North does, and maybe create an opportunity for someone else. Just my opinion, but I’m also happy to have a player like Cuthbert who is a proven finisher.

      2. Matt I like your comment but please explain the strike rate thing to me. 16 games, 4 tries. 8.3%?

        1. 16 tests, 3 players, so 48 back 3 caps. Therefore individually they have managed an average of a try every 12 games (8.3%). Should have made that point clearer.

          1. Cheers man, although I don’t find it dubious unlike the other comment I guess I’d make a point that if one winger is scoring a try in a game the other can’t be,by which I mean, that when manu tuilagi broke the line against NZ he could have given the ball to either winger but only 1 of them.

        2. I’m guessing he’s gone 3 players per game, so 4 tries in 48 player-games (like man-hours) = 8.3%

          Dubious statistic if you ask me, but I agree with the point

          1. Why dubious? Think strike rate is a pretty relevant stat for a back 3 player, especially a winger. This aggregation of their collective effort is just to illustrate a point though.

          2. not dubious at all. strike rate is one of the most commonly used stats to rate backs, especially winger.

            planet rugby just released a slideshow of the top 10 test try scorers of all time. they tell you the number of tries out of the number of tests. it gives a real indication of who had a real poachers instinct. eg BOD has 47 tries in 132 caps.) Daisuke Ohata (Japan) – 69 tries in 58 matches. the number of tries isnt too dissimilar, but putting the number of matches into context, its huge! (BOD has 35% score rate, Ohata has 118%)

          3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause offence. I just wonder, is it normal to combine the figures like that? If you’re considering the back three as a unit, I would expect that a 100% strike rate meant one try per game between them.

            I think we can all agree that they don’t score many tries!

          4. No offence taken! Just wanted to know if my logic was flawed.

            Wish I had the data (or the time to assemble the data) to compare the strike rates of back 3 units (Yes I’m a bit of a geek and these sorts of things actually interest me!)

            My own rating scale for a winger:
            >=60% all time great
            >=50% world class
            >=33% solid international winger
            >=20% minimum acceptable
            <20% less than lethal, is this really the best we've got?

            For none wingers I think the following are staggering achievements.
            – Christian Cullen (46 tries @ 79% from fullback. The best strike rate of any of the worlds leading try scorers that play against top quality opposition)
            – Will Greenwood (31 tries @ 53%)
            – BOD (47 tries @ 41%)
            – Joost van der Westhuizen (38 tries @ 43% from scrum half! More than 2.5x better than the lethal Will Genia!)

          5. Excellent stats Matt.

            The thing that impressed me the most with Cullen is that he has the same number of tries as Rokocoko,but in 10 less test.

            Sivivatu had a good strike rate, I recall at one point he was close to, if not hitting, a try a game.

            Other players who are pretty new to international rugby have some pretty impressive strike rates too.
            Julian Savea has a very good rate from what I recall.

            And Israel Folau is currently sat on a 200% strike rate! But that is only from one test… Even so, the worst he can do is finish this lions series with a rate of 66.666% There is plenty rugby left in him, but he is on track to be a great try scorer.

            As fans, what do people prefer, a great try scorer. Or, a scorer of great tries?

      3. Matt, well put. I seem to have found myself defending Cuthbert a lot in the last couple of days and I don’t understand why – he is a winger who scores tries in international matches. Completely agree he need work on his overall game but while he gets all of these crucial tries (and he’s not getting hat tricks against Italy, he’s scoring match or trophy winning tries) I’m happy to stick with him. I’d rather a finisher than a defender. Both would be ideal but let’s nor forget what the wings are really there for and at that particular aspect he is one of the best in the world right now.

        1. Agree with your comments both here and above, he is still relatively new to the game (took it up at 16 or something if I remember correctly).

          He is prone to the odd defensive error, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he leaks tries, so it definitely could be worse. Fortunately for him as well, his defensive issues are not so much missed tackles, but positioning issues. This is a lot easier to teach and correct.

          He does score tries, and like you say, he seems to be a big game scorer.

          I still prefer a quality player like Bowe or North (both pretty decent finishers) but am in no way annoyed at his inclusion on the bench.

          As I said above, he is scoring tries which is great. But I would like to see him proactively trying to add more dimensions to his game (better pass, kicking, defensive positioning, ability under the highball – both offensive and defensive). I think that this is important because when a dry spell comes (and as we have seen, they do come) then it becomes harder to justify his selection.

          A finisher who finishes is great, but a finisher who doesn’t isn’t.

          If you aren’t scoring, you need to make sure you are either creating, or nothing is being scored down your wing, because you won’t last long otherwise.

          Enough of the doom and gloom from me now! I have been impressed with his finishing, and although I am a Bowe fan, I am glad Cuthbert is in the bench.

  5. I’m amazed that Heaslip is preferred to Faletau. Heaslip was poor in the first test and his control at the base of the scrum left a lot to be desired. I could see the logic for keeping him if Conor Murray was starting but not otherwise. Faletau has carried the ball much more effectively during the tour and never seems to stop running.

    1. What makes you think he was poor? His performance didn’t set the world ablaze but he was as good as the other back-rowers. Faletau has been playing great but Heaslip didn’t play poor.

    2. I think Faletau is a fine player but he tries to do too much himself
      he is a poor link man cost at least one certain try on Tuesday ignoring an overlap and tried to go himself.
      Heaslip is safer and more of a team player

  6. Interesting that Phillips doesn’t even make the bench – injured or really pissed someone off?

    1. Allegedly injured. But we didnt hear anything during the week about it.

      My personal opinion is that he was dropped.

      Not only was he crap, but Youngs and Murray were pretty decent during the week. I am sure it made the decision all the more easy.

      1. yes, a real headline statement that phillips not in 23. bbc quotes gatland saying he was fit and eligible altho’ injury had affected his training. i think the failure to chase back for the first try in the first test may have really upset people in the squad, perhaps some player power telling gatland that wasn’t acceptable? conjecture, i admit, but if so, then i agree, it wasn’t acceptable. jockeys get banned for not trying…

  7. The first few scrums will be crucial they could set the tone for the whole battle, I’ll be interested to see how Vunipola does in such a big match, for Saracens this season in the big games he has really struggled in the tight, struggled against Mujati, Afoa, Hayman and when he came off the bench against Jones in the 6n, admittedly they’re all better than Alexander but it will still be tough for him, surprised the Aussies didn’t opt for Kepu, he is the superior scrummager of the 2, it’ll also be good to see whether Youngs will look a bit lightweight without Corbs at loosehead, hope he also goes to the back a bit more for the lineout to give Davies a better chance of getting over the gain-line with direct running, Jones will be key to making sure that they start well in the tight, because we all know how good Youngs and Mako are in open field, if we don’t have parity in the scrum and lineout it will be a long night. Glad Parling got chosen, he’s a very underrated player in the loose aswell, his tackle count is always good and he can make good metres aswell, really surprised that gray isn’t on the bench, doesn’t make sense to me playing a backrower out of position, again it seems a bit like the Cuthbert scenario, you played well last week so we’ll keep you in the 23 so you don’t lose faith. Backrow should be better this week at nullifying Genia and hopefully will help give Youngs more protection than Phillips got, although I still think O’Brien , Warbs and Faletau would’ve been the one I would’ve gone for, I had a feeling Tuilagi may be left out, I’d still rather have him beside BOD than Davies, on his day he is unplayable, I almost feel that it’s too big a risk to assume he wouldn’t have had one of those days because he is the most destructive centre we have, together with BOD they were great earlier in the tour, the back 3 is a dream, the 2 best wingers in the Northern Hemisphere along with the best fullback in the Northern Hemisphere, just hope Bowe is 100% ready, the bench could be what wins it so I’m glad that we have impact coming off it, think we’ll win this one by 8-12 points if the set piece is stable, however if they have a good platform with their backs, I don’t see how we can win, hope to god Lydiate lays out Genia in the first few minutes and they have to play Nick Phibbs! haha

    1. Vunipola doesn’t seem to be the most dynamic on the hit, but he does seem to be pretty reliable at getting his bind. In fact even when he’s not dominant I can’t remember him being a penalty liability or there being many collapses (Jones conning a penalty from not taking the hit doesn’t count!).

      Grant is an aggressive scrummager, but he doesn’t always seem to get his bind (only watched him closely on this tour).

      Taking a quick look at their penalty counts in this years’ HC group games backs this up. I don’t know how many of these are from the scrum (probably the majority) though.

      3 vs Saints (Mugati 1)
      1 vs Ulster (Afoa 3)
      1 Vs Castres (Wihongi 0)
      1 Vs Ulster (Afoa 1)
      1 Vs Saints (Mercy 1) both replacements

      0 Vs Edinburgh (Nel 2)
      1 Vs Racing (as a replacement not sure against who)
      0 Vs Munster (played 38 mins as a replacement, Botha gave away 5 pens over the course of the game)
      0 Vs Munster (played 40 mins as a replacement, 0 pens from Botha)
      1 Vs Racing (played 38 mins as a replacement, mostly up against Ducalcon)
      0 Vs Edinburgh (Nel 1)

      So we may not have a dominant scrum, it may not be perfectly stable every time but, on an albeit small sample set, I don’t think Vunipola is going to be some sort of penalty liability.

    2. Safer to apply comments to just Britain and Ireland, I for one, even as an Englishman, would argue Maxime Medard’s case very strongly :)

      1. perhaps your right, he’s very good in attack but as an all round competent full-back i’d rather have Halfpenny I think.

        1. The thing is, Halfpenny’s kicking (really wanted to put halfpennies) makes him a standout, but if Medard is playing with Morgan Parra for example then who cares how he kicks off the tee. I guess it’s like comparing Zinzan Brooke and Lawrence Dallaglio, yes Brooke could kick a 50m drop goal, but with Wilkinson in the team there was rarely a need for Dallaglio to attempt.
          SO the question is do you rate him as a better full back than someone else who is equally good at everything else (medard is better at other things) but can’t kick?

          1. Kickers always get the headlines.

            If you were to take away the goalkicking, would Halfpenny still be the best 15 on the lions tour? Probably, as defensively he is excellent. But in attack, Hogg and Kearney do offer more.

            Medard is a class fullback, but can be very French (blow hot and cold).

            I would rate Foden as one of the workd’s best (when on form) as he is probably one of the most complete and rounded 15’s around. Kearney and Beale are up there too.

          2. It’s a fair point, for me Halfpenny is the most well rounded full back in rugby, his kicking contributes massively to this opinion, you have other like Dagg and Beale who are terrific attackers but not as solid in defence, Foden is pretty well rounded yes, Kearney is a bit suspect defensively, even back at his best last year, I’ve always rated Frans Steyn as a pretty complete full-back, good under the high ball, biggest boot in rugby, very strong, sound defensively and pretty good in attack?

  8. philips and warburton were left unprotected beacuse we did not tie up there backrow , i was surprised that heaslip and croft were in the same back row as they play a similar wide game .Although individually brilliant the balance was not right .great selection of lydiate he will do the unseen work and allow the others a bit more freedom …….. but the plus is his tackling because an injured kangaroo is going to be very very dangerous !
    i think vinepola and youngs are worth a shot and will give the aussies something to think about ! hope sob gets on and frightens the life out of them ! cuthbert unlucky but agree with bowe ! GO LIONS !

    1. I see your point, but Phillips didnt have to run the ball.

      The wallabies left half gaps for him, knowing that he couldn’t resist the chance. Then they slammed the door shut in his face and man-handled him. The problem was that Phillips kept trying.

      Unlike with Wales (who have decent 10s), Phillips has a world class 10 outside him. So he should have stopped trying to run and just given Sexton the ball. Alternatively, he could have taken the ball to the gap, then off loaded instead of looking for the contact.

      Phillips’ physicality is a nice added bonus, but he is a 9 first and foremost. Everyone complains about props not scrummaging right, hookers not throwing straight, or flankers not working hard enough at rucks. Well is a 9’a primary job is to pass the ball and get the backs moving. Running is a backup option, not default mode.

        1. Agree with you totally Tom.

          Either he played the game injured, or he felt he was in droppable.

          As we have seen with Ashton, poor performances going unpunished breeds more inadequacy, so I am very happy that Phillips was dropped.

  9. I agree with Bowe over Cuthbert and although I understand the concern about Bowe not being 100%, he has previously come back from major injuries and performed mesmerically so I’m absolutely not concerned about his performing ability although the thought of reinjury does sit somewhere at the back of my mind – he does tend to throw himself into everything wholeheartedly.

    Would have liked to have seen Manu with BOD as I didn’t think JD and BOD clicked as well as they might. On that note, there hasn’t been too much said about BOD’s performances this tour – perhaps we are so used to him being so good we take it for granted – but I’ve rewatched all the games this week (geek alert) and he has been phenomenal; particularly his link-passing and offloads. He seems to have the ability to set the ball up perfectly every time he goes to ground no matter how many players bring him down. Willing to forgive him the slight drop in pace.

    As for Phillips, I’m a big big fan of him but he was woefully slow in the 1st Test. So, unfortunately I agree with the decision to drop, sorry, ‘rest’ him. Youngs is a very different player so it’s difficult to compare them despite the fact that they play the same position. Also, I think that Murray has improved so much this tour that it’s rather lazy, now, to label him the ‘poor man’s Mike Phillips’. And he has been comparatively effective against Genia – particularly in the RWC – so I’d like to see him on for last 30mins.

  10. Cuthbert is a perfect finisher although his all round game is not up to scratch, he does what a backs purpose is which is to score tries, I think he has put many chances away in tight situations (Lions tour, Six nations, Cardiff blues) and at the minute its hard to find a new winger who is never touched running a perfect line, breaking tackles and as fast and big as Cuthbert, supported all the way!

  11. Just for the fun of it, while we’re talking about wingers and strike rates etc. Let’s look at Chris Ashton. Interestingly for someone who hasn’t scored for England in quite a few games, he still has a very good strike rate, 17 tries in 30 games. And in a team where he doesn’t get much ball on the wing.

    Cuthbert has played 18 games for Wales and scored 9 tries. Both have been accused of dodgy defences lately, but I’m sure that if Ashton had been selected, a lot of people would have had a lot to say. I know Ashton has been out of form, but it made me wonder that if you could swap them for a couple of games would Ashton score more tries playing for Wales, than Cuthbert would playing for England?

    1. Dazza, I looked at this a while ago (from an English point of view) just updated my data. These are the premiership strike rates.
      #Tries #Games Strike Rate
      Ashton 39 64 61%
      Wade 23 37 62%
      Varndell 73 129 57%
      Yarde 5 27 19%
      May 19 43 44%
      Sharples 25 84 30%
      Strettle 30 117 26%
      Monye 47 138 34%

      For Ashton I’m convinced his current issues are form only, he’s been lethal at premiership level over a decent period of time. He is a class winger.

      Wade is only marginally better than Ashton’s average, despite being scorching hot for the last season or so.

      Varndell can consider himself really unlucky for sticking so many points on the board, but not being given another chance over people who score far less.

      Considering May plays some of his games at fullback he’s getting his career off to an excellent start.

      Let’s not build Yarde up too much yet, he’s looked excellent against questionable opposition, but he’s just starting his career.

      We shouldn’t have been dishing out the caps to Brown (as a winger), Monye, Strettle & Sharples at the expense of people who actually score a lot more tries.

      If Ashton can sort his head out, play like he’s enjoying his rugby again, then Ashton and Wade have the potential to be a lethal combination (off Foden!).

      1. That doesn’t display too well, the 3 numbers are:
        – Number of premiership tries
        – Total number of premiership appearances
        – Strike rate

        Hope it’s decipherable.

      2. I think moving to Sarries has hindered Ashton.

        The gameplan there does not seem to suit him, and he does not work well with Goode.

        Add to that that England have been picking Saracens at 10,12 and 15 while Ashton plays, and I think his confidence has been knocked.

        He will work well with Foden. I had thought he would do well with Brown, but have since changed my mind, as Brown tends not to pass the ball.

        Ashton also plays quite well with Flood. Floody likes to attack the line and pop inside balls, this suits Ashton’s tracking game. His tracking was what made him a top class winger. He could run off Flood or Foden and know he would get the ball.

        With Brown he knows the ball won’t come. Goode is difficult to run off. Farrell has shown that he can play like Goode, but is yet to do so with England.

        With Burns at 10 and Foden at 15, Ashton could thrive. Similarly, 12Ts at 12 could provide another player that Ashton can take passes from.

        Ashton needs to spend his time running off Tomkins at Sarries, then tries will come. His confidence will build, and defence should return to how it used to be. (Unlike Cuthbert his positioning is ok, he just slips off tackles).
        England need to either pick the right people at 10 and 15, or not pick Ashton. They can’t mix him with people he is not suited to.

        1. Even for Sarries he’s managed 6 tries in 13 prem games (plus a few in the HC as well I think).

          Even in a year where he’s struggling he’s still managed to dot down at a reasonable rate.

          Sarries are clearly wanting to play a more ambitious game on the rubber crumb, he’s also got targets like Billy V to run off next year, so he may well do OK.

          Right this is well off topic for a 2nd test lions squad analysis, and I’m not getting much done today, must keep enthusiasm contained until tomorrow morning!

        2. I think not pick Ashton would be the best idea.

          You can’t choose your 10 and 15 according to who gets on best with one of the wingers. These two positions are far more important.

          You choose your 10 and 15 and then decide who can work with them

          Likewise, whilst the primary role of a winger is to score tries, at test level you can no longer hide a wing who cannot tackle – not when they will be facing players like North, Folau or Savea. This is why Varndell has only a couple of caps

          And the two are not mutually exclusive. There are wingers who can do both – May, Yarde and even Wade for example (suprisingly decent for a small guy).

          Its for Ashton to remember how to tackle and to learn to play with whoever England choose at 10 and 15, not the other way round

          1. While not sticking up for Ashton Pablito I still couldn’t disagree more with what you say. You pick a team of players best suited to get the win which is not always the same as the most talented player in each position.

            I can think of loads of examples – the backrow balance on this very tour is one of them. How do you decide if Lydiate or Croft is a better player? They’re so different you can’t, so you pick the guy who matches what the 7,8,9,10 are doing and even consider the lineout jumping options etc.

            The centres – is Tuilagi a better rugby player than JD? No. Might he be a better foil for BOD? Quite possible.

            As for Ashton – he owes his career to Foden. Moving to Sarries was a daft move.

          2. OK, A Chris Ashton tribute isn’t going to be your favourite way to spend 3:04 of your life but you need to take a look.


            He can score off anyone with the presence of mind to pass (Foden features in one of these I think).

            I agree moving to Sarries currently looks like a poor move, but we need to see how this season pans out as they actually started to play a far more attacking game on their new ‘turf’. Goode is a nightmare to run off though, as rarely makes a break that can be supported, so it will be the likes of Farrell, Tomkins, M&B Vunipola he needs to hunt off.

            I don’t see anything wrong with a winger having a good understanding and working as a unit with a full back. How is it any different to Lydiate making Warburton more effective? (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either!)

          3. Pablito, this was my original point of why I wouldn’t have Cuthbert in my team, when there are other players on the Lions tour who can score tries, create try scoring opportunities, position themselves better in the defensive line, and tackle better. But as Brighty pointed out, Cuthbert scores a lot of tries, so as a winger he is doing his primary job of finishing.

          4. I perhaps wasn’t overly clear on my point there.

            What I was trying to get across was that when there are plenty of other options, there is no point picking players just to accommodate one particular player.

            Yes Ashton may play better with Flood and Foden, but if Burns and Brown are the form picks at 10 and 15 then you play them and replace Ashton

            To do otherwise would be madness, he’s no Jonah Lomu and team plan would never be just “pass it to Chris”

          5. Agree with Pablito, it would be madness to pick two players just to accommodate another.

            Having said that, I think that on-form Foden is the best fullback England have.

            Also, I think that Ashton could play quite well with Burn (yet to see them apart from 20mins against the ABs). Flood is better suited to Ashton than Farrell, but Burns may be the best if all, we don’t know yet.

  12. I sort of agree and disagree with the comments made about Ashton. Yes he has to work with whoever is picked and 10 is pretty much the most important position, but a coach should also maximise the potential of his players by using them correctly.

    To get back on track and worringly agreeing with Brighty again (sorry, must stop doing this!) this is why Lydiate is in, as the backrow didn’t work as a unit (the players individually were fine). But Gats has failed to address centre where JD and BOD don’t work as well together, despite being 2 of the form players on tour. Gats is obviously waiting for Roberts but missed a trick with not selecting Tuilagi, who I think has really developed on tour.

    Could be an interesting topic as to who has improved most on tour come 10 days time. Mainly going to be the younger players. To my mind Vunipola, Youngs, Parling, Farrell, Tuilagi and JD all deserve mention. A bit Anglocentric I know, but they all seem to have played better than anyone thought they would. Maybe the England coaching set up isn’t as good as we thought!

  13. cuthbert played terrible and only scored because of bod’s block? so you cant call it harsh.

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