Lions Squad Predictor: The Second Row

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)

37 thoughts on “Lions Squad Predictor: The Second Row

  1. I would say the locks would be Jones, O’Connell, Launchbury and Parling so I pretty much agree with this article. Four locks will suffice as I agree with you that these as the front runners.

    1. Think 5 will tour to avoid a test starter being on the bench for mid week games. I think there will be space for 5 unless they tour with less than 37. If they do go with 4 then I think Ryan Jones becomes a must.

      1. Really? I am not sure that a test starter being on the bench midweek is a massive issue. Also, by all reports Croft is a very likely – would he be considered a lock option?

        1. Don’t think you would want any of your test tight 5 (probably the whole pack) on the bench for mid week, the risk being if they are required early as an injury replacement, rather than a planned 60 min impact sub, they could end up playing 3 games in 8 days. Wouldn’t want to see our guys getting smashed up whilst the Aussies are resting and recuperating.

  2. AWJ, Parling, Evans, POC and Hamilton

    Hines deserves a spot on form, but not an option on availability. Would be first in line for an injury call up during the tour.

    Launchbury left it all on the pitch in the earlier part of the season, think Lawes is actually in better form at the moment. A rest and a good pre-season may be best for him long term.

    1. Do you think they will take five locks? I am unsure on the numbers but I would assume only four locks would be needed?

      1. I’m assuming we’ll see a composition along the lines of
        6 Props
        3 Hookers
        5 Locks
        5 Flankers
        2 8s
        3 9s
        2 10s
        4 Centres
        4 Wings
        2 Full Backs
        1 ‘Versatile’ Back

        21 forwards, 16 backs. Given travel time, jet lag recovery protocols, etc I wouldn’t be surprised to see us go with 38/39 but don’t think it will be less than 37.

  3. I’m not sure Parling is a definite, but agree he’ll probably go. AWJ is a ‘lineout nause’ as well, so reduces dependence on Parling a little (and I’m never quite convinced about calling the lineouts making you indispensible…how hard can it be?).

    I’d consider taking Ian Evans or Jim Hamilton as well as AWJ, POC, Launchbury and Parling, but may depend on the makeup of the back row. Launchbury could be considered cover at 6, but there’s probably more competition in the back row…

    1. Hutch, lineout calling is actually pretty tough. Especially at the highest level.

      And let’s remember that the lineout is viewed as so important that POC sectetly learnt Africaans for the last lions tour, so that he could understand the calls…

      1. I totally agree that the lineout is important – a dominant lineout can give a team a real edge, almost more so than the scrum these days.

        What I’m not convinced about is the view that you’re either a lineout caller or you’re not. If I were someone like Joe Launchbury, I’d see all the plaudits for Geoff Parling and think, ‘I’ll study lineout strategies and learn to make the calls and then I’ll be indispensible.’

        1. You are right that it is possible to learn how to do it. But it is a lot like a flyhalf calling moves in the backline, so players are simply better than others at doing it.

          There is also the defensive aspect of the lineout. A guy like parling will spend hours studying the opposition lineout. He will learn their movements and try to recognise where the ball is going based on the movement, not the call. It is then his job to brief the rest of the pack.

          Lineout leaders also have to know the areas of weakness on the opposition lineout and try to attack those.

          As I said, yes it is possible to learn a lot of this, but some of it is just natural. Although launchbury is a great player, he has never really been a lineout forward, I don’t recall him calling the lines even at schoolboy level.

          1. I think you are right Simo – but I also agree with Hutch to an extent.

            Being a line out forward is important, and yes you definitely need one. I think the issue is, POC is a very good line out forward, but also offers a lot more. The point is, can Parling be indispensable just because of his line outs? Or does he have to add more to his game?

          2. Jacob, parling was regularly at the higher end of the stats for the England forwards. So I would say that being a line out guru isn’t his only strength

          3. Possibly only strength sounded harsh – and I must stress I am a Parling fan and I’d take him! But my point was that POC is a lineout forward but is far more than that. Stats can be deceiving and he does not make any obvious impact. I think Hutch’s point was that just sayin, ‘Oh Parling is great in the line out so he has to go’ is enough – which is a point I agree with.

          4. Throughout the 6Ns Parling was one of the most consistent and effective ball carriers for England. Often popping up and making good yardage to get over the gain line. To add to that he was always one of the top tackle makers on a regular basis. I would say that parling already has more to his game, and wonder in which area it is that you think he is lacking.

            Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE POC fan, and I think that he is the likely test starter, with someone else like AWJ or even launchbury (who I think would be the perfect balance to POC). But Parling will be bringing a lot more than just lineout ability if he gets the call.

  4. Cannot argue with choice of AWJ and GP and an inform PO’C, would argue a case for IE to be the forth member of the boiler house work horses. Bold statement Rucktales. :-)

    1. Richie Gray? I can’t remember the last time I saw him have a good game – and I mean Lions possible standard. It has been a long time! He certainly hasn’t performed for Sale, and was outperformed in every game by Hamilton during the 6N, so I would question his inclusion.

      1. Agreed, I’d swap Hamilton in for Gray – other than that it’s hard to disagree with your choices Rucktales. Launchbury for Evans is a potential change, but I don’t think either of them will start the tests (barring injury) anyway.

        1. I would change Gray for Launchbury on that list – then that would be the five for me – with Evans missing out if he only goes with four.

  5. He’ll definitely take 5 locks. Thought Gray was coming back into form and has a bit more show pony than the workhorses of AWJ, POC and Evans. Hamilton has been outstanding though.

    1. Gray has been injured since the Six Nations, where he was poor, so not sure how he was coming back into form. Competition between Ryan & Hamilton for the fifth lock position in addition to AWJ, POC, GP & JL.

  6. Launchbury over Evans as he has much more upside for me. If he recovers form, he would be a possible to end up starting for the Lions. I can’t in all honesty say the same about Evans, or indeed Hamilton. However it does depend on whether Gatland wants mid week players with experience or whether he takes a squad of players to push for test spots. Interesting psychology on how you pick a touring side!

  7. I agree that Gatland must take 5 locks to avoid a player having to play 3 times in a matter of only 8 days. AWJ for me is the only definite to go. He’s a work horse and is more than capable of upsetting opposition lineout ball. POC will probably be the most likely to partner him in the 2nd row after some brilliant recent performances. The other 4 places are up for debate. There is no doubt that Grey has played himself out of the Lions in form for Sale and Scotland. However his dynamic ability and running game could see him relish on the hard grounds of Aus so I think he will go. Hamilton and the young Launchbury for me will be the other two. It is a real shame that Hines is playing in France at the moment as if he was based in the UK he would for sure be a tourist.

    1. Just because Hines plays in France does not mean that he isn’t up for selection.

      The issue arises because the lions are due to play their first game on the same day as the top 14 final, which seems set to be clermont vs Toulon.

      If you read the article about the lions front row you will see the point I am about to make in more detail. But basically, IRB regulation 9 dictates that players selected for the lions must be released for the tour.

      The issues begin to arise if the French clubs can provide enough “incentive” for the players to opt out of touring. Players tend not to want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they will side with the club. However Hines actually chose the lions over playing in the top 14 final for Perpignan back in 09.

      I would take POC and AWJ. I think Parling and Launchbury to tour too. The first 3 are all line out forwards, and launchbury will work well to get round the field (but all the others will do a good job too). The final spot (I agree that we will see 5 travel) will be between Evans and Hamilton in my mind. Both bring a big physical presence. Hamilton has the odd disciplinary issue, but he will also get in the face of the Aussies, so I would probably go for him.

      Agreed that launchbury can cover 6, however with the strength in the back row, I doubt we will see that happen much. He may get a bit of time there in the warmup games when they are trying to get everyone a start.

      I completely agree with Matt’s breakdown of the squad and how many will go in each position.

      1. I think it more likely we would see Croft/Jones as 5 cover than Launchbury as 6 cover.

        Hines can also play 6, and considering that (a) he is reputably playing well in a mis-firing team, and (b) he is reputably a good Lions tourist, his chances may be better than some may suggest.

        1. Which mis-firing team are you referring too? Cleremont seem to be destroying all before them at the moment.

          Hines Vs POC this weekend will be a fascinating match up.

          1. Agree that we will likely see a backrow cover 5 instead of a lock cover 6.

            But totally agree with Matt in regards to clermont not being misfiring. They are currently top of the top 14, and they are most people’s favourites to win the HC. If that is misfiring, then I would hate to see them on form…

  8. Forgive me for being out of the loop but what ever happened to Bradley Davies? At one point (all be it a while ago) he looked a shoe in for a spot.

    I am pleased to see a lack of mentions for Courtney Lawes though. Well done. He has always been vastly overrated.

    All in all I agree with you though.

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