Following hot on the heels of our Lions squad predictor debating the front row options, our second squad predictor, rather appropriately, focuses on the second row. Whether you look back to the 60s and 70s, and the successes of Lions’ legend Willie John McBride, or the most recent Lions’ captain, Paul O’Connell, the second row has historically been a position of strength for the tourists. Here’s our take on those definitely, probably or possibly taking a seat on the plane to Australia this summer.
Definites: Alun-Wyn Jones, Geoff Parling
On first glance, this year’s pool of locks seems to be shallow in comparison to the riches which former head coaches have been able to pick from, but Warren Gatland will know all about the qualities which Jones brings to the mix. An in-form Jones is arguably the most complete lock in the British Isles, with no glaring weaknesses in his game and an ability to act as a leader on the pitch, whether that is as captain, or in a secondary role.
Parling is one of the best lineout forwards currently playing, and his ability at the set piece will be vital for a team which will have very limited experience playing together before they take on Australia in the first test. He is also more mobile than your average second row, which will be helpful in combating an Australian team that likes to try and move opposition packs all over the park.
Probables: Joe Launchbury, Paul O’Connell
Following the Six Nations, Launchbury’s stock has definitely dropped, with the youngster looking tired in some of his recent performances for club side London Wasps. The speed and dynamism which helped him shine for England has been missing, and this has consequently impacted on his considerable ball-carrying skills, although his work at the breakdown has still been of the highest quality. Considering he won’t be involved in the Aviva Premiership playoffs or latter stages of European competitions, Launchbury will have plenty of time to shake off any fatigue, and should find himself in Australia this summer.
There is no substitute for experience, and O’Connell, along with his Munster teammates, showed as much recently when they beat the odds to defeat Harlequins in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals. After an injury-blighted year, O’Connell looked back to his best, and Gatland will be well aware of the leadership skills the Irishman brings, having worked with him previously on the Lions tour of South Africa in 2009.
Possibles: Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Donnacha Ryan, Ian Evans, Nathan Hines, Andrew Coombs
The Scottish duo of Hamilton and Gray had polarising Six Nations campaigns. Hamilton was superb in the lineout for Scotland, and helped improve his stock dramatically, but Gray, a pre-tournament favourite to make the Lions squad, certainly didn’t help his chances with a lacklustre showing. A recent hamstring injury also means Gray would be in a race against time to prove his fitness.
Donnacha Ryan and Ian Evans both had good showings with their respective nations, and the former has certainly backed that up since with club side Munster. Both have as much chance as Hamilton to force their way into Gatland’s plans.
The form of Hines has perhaps never been better, and his reputation as a ‘team man’ and a good tourist in 2009, creates the remote chance that Gatland may yet pick the French-based lock. Andrew Coombs was another debutant who impressed during the Six Nations, but will need a healthy dose of luck to make the plane one suspects. Loose forwards such as Ryan Jones and Tom Croft will be discussed in more detail in the back row squad predictor, but given the lack of quality depth in the second row, their ability to cover the position ensures that they are worth at least mentioning.
By Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)