Round Two is over. The break week is upon us. What are we to do? In the meantime, here’s how the weekend’s events have affected people’s Lions chances.
Oh how I love this scurrying Cornishman. Several important defensive interventions highlighted Nowell’s game in Cardiff, but they needn’t have. His willingness to look for work made him joint third in carries (behind Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes on 18 and 22 respectively). He was second only to Hughes in metres made with 62, and this willingness to run and ability to make the gain line takes pressure off an English pack missing several big ball carriers. Whilst he’s not the fastest international wing, he is solid in defence and under the high ball, as well as having been in a try scoring purple patch of late. If Gatland is after a big, strong ball carrying winger (and this is the man who started Cuthbert both for Wales and the Lions) then Nowell is one man to look at.
Stander’s hat trick against an admittedly awful Italy side highlights his form of late. Whilst the stats are probably misleading because of the nature of the opposition, as the old adage goes ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’. Play he did; Stander made 73 metres, two clean breaks and beat 11 defenders. Yep, 11. To put that into context, the whole of the Italy team only beat 10 defenders. A few weeks ago I wrote that I thought Itoje would be the Lions starting 6, and like a lot of people I thought the back row experiment would go better than it has. I am ready to recant. If I was Gatland, Stander should be wearing the Lions red on Saturdays this summer.
In what some have been calling one of the best Six Nations games ever, Dan Biggar stood up, once again, to be counted. After a lacklustre performance last week against Italy, Biggar played out of his skin. He made two clean breaks, and 14 tackles, (to be candid, he also missed four. But I think he still had a good game), and probably his most memorable moment was an interception to stop a certain try under the posts. Whilst I can’t see him making the test team, he could be a midweek player. This performance alone won’t be enough, but a few more games like this might be enough to see him onto the Lions plane, and may also keep Sam Davies from snapping so closely at his heels.
Despite my previously noted lack of any knowledge whatsoever with regards to front rows, I can tell you with a reasonable amount of certainty that the Scottish front row is not very good at scrummaging. For two weeks in a row, they have been going all directions but forwards. Whilst there have been some brighter spots (the scrum holding up in big spots during the Ireland game) they have struggled against both the Irish and especially against the French. Without WP Nel this is perhaps not a surprise, but it seems to me unlikely that any of the Scotland props will be making the trip to New Zealand. The only scenario in which I can see one of them going is if Gatland values Fagerson’s ability to play a full 80 on his mid-week team. This would be an interesting and bold selection (Fagerson is only 21), but unless it is Fagerson I cannot see the Scottish props attracting Gatland’s interest in any meaningful way until Nel returns from his neck injury.
Will Laidlaw’s injury in the 23rd minute keep him out of contention for the Lions tour? Probably not. He’s got the best part of two weeks to return for Scotlands next game, but as of yet, nobody seems sure of the full extent of his injury. During and after the game the moon boot and crutches definitely didn’t make it look good. What might hurt his chances more than the injury is the performance of the Championships other nines. Rhys Webb had a great game for Wales (despite the irritating habit of back-chatting), Connor Murray did nothing in the Italy game to change our view of him and Ali Price played well in a big game for a second cap (despite one moment of madness). Whilst he probably wasn’t going to be the test starter, if picked I could see Laidlaw playing a similar role on the 2017 Lions to Dawson’s role on the 2001 Lions, a goal kicking scrum-half and leader of the midweek team (although probably minus the boat rocking newspaper column).
Who caught your eye at the weekend?
By Angus Williams