Lions Squad Predictor: The Centres

The fifth instalment of our Lions Squad Predictor series brings you one of the most hotly debated positions on the touring squad – the centres. Warren Gatland has some very exciting options to pick from in this area, but as is the case with most positions in the game of rugby union, picking a combination of players who complement each other, and not necessarily selecting the best two players, often proves key to victory.

Definites: Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Manu Tuilagi

The leadership that O’Driscoll brings will be vital for the Lions backs, but that is not to suggest that he will simply be on the plane in a locker room leader role, as he can certainly still mix it with the world’s premiere centres. In attack, there is arguably no player out there who plays with the same intelligence as O’Driscoll, and certainly none that have the skill set required to exploit that intelligence. He’s also no slouch defensively, tackling with a ferocity and efficiency that often belies his size.

Separating Roberts and Tuilagi is extremely difficult. The Welshman has shown a better ability, at least at international level, to break holes in opposition defences, and then get his hands free and find his supporting teammates with offloads, whilst Tuilagi arguably shades Roberts in both pace and power, and can more often create scoring opportunities from seemingly nothing. Both players will almost certainly tour, and both would arguably provide the perfect foil to silky running of O’Driscoll. Roberts may be the pre-tournament favourite to start alongside the Irishman, given the potent attack they formed together in South Africa on the last Lions tour.

Probables: Jonathan Davies

It may be harsh on Davies to not be included in the definites, as there is a strong consensus that he will be joining the three previously mentioned players on the plane to Australia, but if there is one player of the four likely to be sacrificed for a bolter, or a player offering unique skills, it would likely be Davies.

Like Roberts and Tuilagi, Davies is a big, powerful ball-carrier, but he uses intelligent running lines and surprising pace to make up for the fact he does not quite have their strength, and finds holes in opposition defences, rather than making his own.

Possibles: Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Sean Lamont, Scott Williams, Matt Scott

Twelvetrees and Earls perhaps have the best chance of ousting Davies, or being selected as a fifth out-and-out centre if Gatland wishes to go down that road. The Englishman offers a kicking option which the Lions would lack in the foursome mentioned above, and Earls would provide like-for-like cover for O’Driscoll, if there are concerns over the veteran’s durability on a rigorous tour. Matt Scott, like Twelvetrees, is also in with a shout, given his ball-handling skills – something that is glaringly lacking in the options above.

The duo of Barritt and D’Arcy may have to rely on injuries for them to get their shots. Barritt has often stated he wants to be seen as more than a defensive player, but has not displayed that regularly enough at international level, and his chances will likely rest on whether or not Gatland feels his dominant defensive skills are enough to warrant a place on the plane, even as a backup.

Given the powerful ball-carrying prowess of Roberts, Tuilagi, and Davies, it’s highly unlikely that either Williams or Lamont will be picked in preference to them, but there is always the chance they could feature as injury replacements.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

30 thoughts on “Lions Squad Predictor: The Centres

    1. Have to say I agree with you. He’s been on the wing for Ireland, and not even doing a good job there. Plenty of options way ahead of him.

    2. Don’t think K. Earls should or will be a Lion this time. Not doing too good a job here and seems only happy when he is scoring, doesn’t show much team spirit. I know they may be less experienced but really think that Simon Zebo or Craig Gilroy would do a better job. On form at the present is Andrew Trimble or Tommy Bow, what about them?

  1. I would say this is pretty spot on. Those definites will probably all go, and then for me it is between Davies and Twevletrees for the fourth spot. Davies is the better player at present, and is more experience. But then Twevletrees offers something different.

    The only way I can see both of these two going is if Gatland decides that he doesn’t think BOD will last the tour – so he may not take him on that basis. Also, arguably, if it is picked on form for the tour, he is fifth behind the others. To be honest though, I think his experience/ sentimentality will get him on the place.

  2. I don’t think we are going to see anyone on the possibles list being selected ahead of the other 4. With Farrell and Sexton being more than handy in the centre I don’t see there’s space for a 5th out and out centre.

    We then get back to the 2 FHs point. Most people regard Hook as an FH, but Gatland has rarely selected him there, so I think Hook may get the nod as the versatile back who can cover many positions. I don’t think Gatland can see 36 as anything other than a 12. It would be a huge call to have 36 cover anything other than 12 for Lions given how little he has played at 10 and how little test match rugby he has played in general.

    The only player I think has any chance of getting selected ahead of those 4 is Barritt, I can see that Farrell will push pretty hard to include him as he knows he can build a pretty tight defensive system around him. He’s still only a possible, just slightly more possible than the others!

    1. Twelvetrees wouldn’t be covering 10 for the test matches. I think the idea was to have him on the bench as a cover for 10 for the midweek matches to give one of his 10s a rest. Having said that I wouldn’t be too against Hook travelling but seeing as Gatland hasn’t picked him in any position but 10 for the last couple years (ie since he has played for Perpignan week in week out at 10, rather than Ospreys where he was all over the place), I’m not sure he sees him as the ‘cover for 10’. Then again it is never easy to decrypt what Gatland says sometimes so will just have to wait and see!

  3. Roberts has to be the only centre, for me, who is certain to be a test start. Would like to dee him in action with Zebo if fit.

    As to Jonathan Davies, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Sean Lamont, Scott Williams, Matt Scott I can only se JD, BB and possible BT being in the squad. I am sure that gatland will be looking at a utility back (Hook) to cover 10, 12 and 13 meaning only 4 centres. Really hoping that bod is totally out of favour.

  4. The three definites are spot on, but I can’t see Earls as the extra man, his defence is too weak. Roberts or Tuilagi with BOD would be good, but Roberts and Tuilagi together would not be a good combo. Davies again for me is a little too similar to Roberts and Tuilagi. To make the centres more effective you need a “Greenwoodesque” player. If BOD is not fit, or gets injured on tour (either is likely), I think Gatland will not to be brave and pick someone very different. Twelvetrees is a possible, but would you move Roberts to 13 to accommodate, or would you put Twelvetrees at 13 (taking away some of his effectiveness).

    I’m thinking outside the box here, but Eastmond at 12, with Roberts or Tuilagi at 13 could be exciting. Or Tomkins at 13 with Roberts or Tuilagi at 12. Both are very good playmakers with excellent vision and distribution skills. Under Farrell’s supervision either could ben worthy “uncapped” additions.

    1. I think Eastmond is more likely than Tomkins. It could be a very interesting selection. He can cover 10 to 15 as well, which would work to his advantage. He may go as the utility back?

      1. Eastmond isn’t too outrageous a call. Gatland was at the Rec watching Bath vs Stade a few weeks ago and Eastmond was impressive then. He made one superb line break in the opening minutes which mustve caught his eye. His distribution is excellent but sometimes he passes TOO flat which at times confuses the referee into thinking it is a forward pass. He was also superb against the Tigers last week, his step past Tuilagi was superb and I dont think any centre we have on offer couldve defended it.

        I cant see both Wade and Eastmond travelling but Eastmonds versatility, as he covers 12, 13, wing and at a push 10, could see him be the shock inclusion.

  5. I would say that centre has to be one of the least contentious position. Everyone seems to agree on about 6-7 names that they would happily see travel.

    Earls being mentioned has to be a joke?

    The only other thing I would say is that I don’t agree that Roberts “has the be the only guaranteed test starter”. Until he england game he was out of form for a fair chunk of the last year. I am not saying anyone else would be a shoe-in over him, I just don’t think anyone is guaranteed to start, especially in this position!

    Would love to see 36 travel, as he offers a different dimension, plus he is a big lad. But I doubt he will. Having said this, to those saying “he doesn’t have enough test experience” – it is tradition for the lions to take an uncapped player, so experience isn’t always the most important thing.
    Eastmond or Tomkins could travel as an uncapped player, and they too offer something different.

  6. Not sure where the Keith Earls suggestion came from. I guess he’s an outside chance simply because he’s eligible for selection – but nothing more than that

    Think centres are very diffcult as BOD is likely to get injured at some point, which, if its Tuilagi, Roberts and Davies leaves us with very similar centres

    Would like to see Gatland take a ball-playing centre, but he does tend to like his big, physical players

    1. The only reason I could try and explain earls being on this list is because he has done it before, and he is quite versatile. Neither would be enough to warrant him ACTUALLY going though.

      With regards to a ball playing centre. Twelvetrees fills that category, and he is 6ft3 and 100kgs, meaning that physically he is not far off the others. His ability to play 10 (in the midweek, not test start) could help him. Also he made his Heineken debut at 13, and turned out there a few times for the tigers.

      If 36 doesn’t go first up, he has to be high on the list to replace any of the others.

  7. Think the 4 listed by most will go, no major surprises here. One thought is I believe they may be viewing BOD as a 12. Say with Tuilagi or Davies outside him. He would still be a ‘ball playing centre’ in that he has excellent handling and offload skills, as well as the ability to time a pass to put Tuilagi (or if he’s at 13 Roberts) into space. Less of a distributor in the adding width sense, but more in creating space in a congested midfield, under pressure.

    Davies is a better footballer than people give him credit for i think. Without him in the AI’s Wales were utterly toothless. Roberts can crash onto the gainline all he wants but if there isn’t anyone to work that final pass then there isn’t much point.

    I think Roberts 09 tour showed that used in the right way he could be devastating. He is invaluable from 1st phase, however as you get beyond that he starts to look a little one dimensional for my tastes. Tuilagi can still do the gainline job but can also use his feet a little better and if he is encouraged not just to use his route one bulk could be a smarter option. Ditto Davies, who isn’t exactly a small bloke either.

    1. I recall gatland saying that he thinks guys like Manu could play 12 or 13. I think that if BOD tours he will go as a 13. The other 3 (Roberts, Davies and Tuilagi) have all had experience at 12. I would leave BOD at 13.

      As you said, he creates space, but not in the way of adding width. You want that type of ability at 13, making room for the wingers and fullbacks.

      Manu and Roberts will both be bringing the physicality to the party, any other centre who tours needs to be able to run off them, and also get the ball to the wings. BOD, Davies and Twelevtrees are the prime candidates in my mind, and probably in that order.

      1. I see your point Simo but I just feel BOD could be very effective there (of course with the use of set moves etc it wouldn’t make a huge amount of difference who plays inside or out). Particularly as defensively there is an argument he is the most physical of the bunch, certainly in terms of aggression in the tackle and ability at the breakdown. This could go some way to slowing up Genia and starving Aus of the quick first phase they crave.

        I think his distribution skills would be more than good enough to add width and that with too direct a 12 we might be a little predictable. I feel its unlikely though but it would be a more interesting use of the resources available.

  8. No hope – Earls, D’Arcy and Lamont. Eastmond or Tomkins more likely for x factor. Twelvetrees does bring something different but I think the lack of international playing time has probably meant this tour has passed him by.

    Still not sure why everyone is in love with Roberts. He only had one good game in the 6N.

    I thought that Matt Scott was pretty much the most consistent centre in the 6N, but can’t see him going sadly.

    1. Experience has NEVER mattered to Gatland so I wouldn’t count Twelvetrees’s lack of test match rugby a real issue. Gatland is the guy who gave Tom Prydie, who had barely played for the Ospreys, a few caps in 2010, who picked George North when only 18 despite just a few games of pro rugby under his belt and also the guy who made Rhys Priestland his no.1 fly half at the RWC despite making his debut in the warm up games. He also doesn’t pick on sentiment either, so POC or BOD not going wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world.

      This is a guy who never gave Martyn Williams his 100th cap, who had to wait until Howley gave it to him in a meaningless match vs the Baa Baas. Williams wasn’t given a cap out of sentiment as there are younger, better and fitter guys ahead of him like Warburton, just like guys like Launchbury or Gray could go ahead of POC and Tuilagi, Davies or perhaps 36 could go ahead of BOD because of the same reasons, as neither have really played consistently to the level of the guys I mentioned.

  9. Dave, thank you, understand now except have said it in my own accent (Irish) and it doesn’t sound like that at all. Never mind, thanks for clearing it up.

    1. I think that it came from the way Geordan Murphy said it at Leics. Don’t know if your accent is different from his.

  10. Did anyone watch bod and sexton for Leinster yesterday? Amazing options to have. Add tuilagi And doc in and you have something very good.

    BOD is fit and ready. He or I Connell should captain.

  11. Roberts, Davies, Twelvetrees, Tualagi.
    No BOD! Can’t believe that I can’t find room for him. He might be no 38!

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