Lions Stock Check: Week 1

h'penny
GOING UP

Mike Phillips
It was an interesting performance from Phillips on Saturday in Hong Kong – I was initially frustrated by the mandatory pick-and-go from nearly every ruck, but it ultimately paid dividends. You’d think this is exactly how Warren Gatland would like him to play, and his brace of tries should put him in pole position for the Test jersey.

Justin Tipuric
With Sam Warburton sidelined through injury, Tipuric took his chance in the 7 jersey against the Barbarians. A typically omnipresent performance, he popped up in support of the backs on several occasions, whilst still being a nuisance in defence at the breakdown. It was certainly enough to give Gatland a serious selection headache, even this early on in the tour.

Sean O’Brien
Some immense ball-carrying from SOB will only intensify that selection headache in the back row, and Warburton has a lot to do to prove he’s not the 3rd choice openside. SOB could potentially switch to the blindside, given that he’ll be difficult to leave out on the evidence so far.

Jamie Heaslip
A performance that marked him out as a ‘Test match animal’ from Heaslip, with marauding runs in the loose and several deft offloads. May just have edged ahead of Toby Faletau in the competition for the Number 8 jersey, despite some questionable form coming into the tour.

Leigh Halfpenny
Halfpenny was the first name on the team sheet for many people before the tour, and a flawless display of kicking only enhances his credentials. He slotted several touchline conversions with Neil Jenkins looking on, and was typically solid at the back.

GOING DOWN

Cian Healy
Healy left the field on a stretcher with a potentially tour-ending injury to his ankle. There were mixed reports from the touchline in terms of the severity, but the injury doesn’t look great for the Irish loosehead. Also facing a disciplinary hearing after claims of biting, and now Corbisiero has been flown out his chances of featuring in the tests seem slim.

Owen Farrell
With so few chances to impress in a Lions jersey, Farrell will be disappointed with his efforts against the Barbarians. Schalk Brits exposed his fiery temper, and then he made several errors that can’t really be tolerated at this level, even considering the difficult handling conditions. He took his try well after coming on against the Force, but it looks as though he’ll spend more time on the bench during the Test series.

Sean Maitland
Maitland looked hungry for work and showed his pace once or twice, but he made a couple of errors that cost near-certain tries. It is perhaps harsh to include him here, but with chances few and far between for each Lions candidate, has he missed his already?

Rory Best
Best’s line out throwing was pretty poor, which won’t be tolerated in Gatland’s plan to dominate the set piece. Question marks remain over Youngs’ throwing as well, but the Tigers man offers more in the loose than Best.

By @Hutch_James

13 thoughts on “Lions Stock Check: Week 1

  1. Very harsh on Maitland. He went looking for work in Hong Kong because of the ineptitude of the 10 meant that the backs got starved of clean ball.

    Felt it was a bit unfair that he didn’t get more time against the Force.

  2. Damn disappointed for Rory Best. I was shocked when he wasn’t called up, but he has lived up to the excuse of his throwing. Hopefully he’ll get another chance and throw better.

    Speaking of Halfpenny, the way he dealt with the kick over the top, wrapping and bringing down his man – brilliant. Goal kicking was a pleasure to watch too.

    I worry about Phillips’ pick and go. worked fine against Baa-baas, but I’m not so sure a decent Aussie outfit will go for it. I feel Ben Youngs is just a bit more sly about it, though Phillips does have the strength to break the tackles.

    Farrell was always an interesting choice, especially with only 2 fly-halves. His ability to attack is limited, especially compared to Sexton and the main thing that stands up for Farrell is his goal kicking – which he’s not likely to do a lot of with 1/2penny. I still think Flood may have been a better option to attack the gainline and let 1/2penny make up for the fact that he’s not as great a kicker. Will be interesting to see if Farrell gets a test because the Aussies will target him and will wind him up and he’ll either make mistakes or be in the bin.

    1. best seems to have carried on his poor throwing. i think Hibbard has become more of a clear cut test starter (his throwing in HK was exceptional, and then you add in the conditions and you realise just how great it was)

      part of the reason that i think Phillips (and i am giving him the benefit of the doubt here) picked and went so much was because of the conditions. he threw a few poor passes out to Farrell, and after that he seemed to decided that route 1 was the better option. i would like to think that in a test in Aus he would pass a bit more, especially with sexton as the 10. if not, then youngs has the be the test 9.

      i think that Farrell’s goal kicking is more important than you are making it out to be. after all, the way things are, he is the midweek 10. with 1/2p set to be the test fullback, they will need a kicker in the midweek team. that is why Farrell’s kicking is important. also, he is something different to Sexton, which is what you want. there is no point in picking a squad of all similar style players, because you have no point of difference. Flood would just be a poor man’s sexton. personally, it think that laidlaw should have been the midweek 9 (instead of murray) as he tends to run the game from 9 (very french) which would have taken some of the pressure off of Farrell at 10. that being said, Murray has looked pretty good so far. i would still have him as the midweek starter though, because he is a poor man’s phillips and young’s and phillips provide a point of difference to each other.

      the lions team want a bench that is different to those that start. if plan A doesnt work, then plan B needs to be something different. that is why Phillips/Youngs would be sub 9, Farrell (or wilko if he gets a call) sub 10, and Hogg a sub outside back – he doesnt bring the solidity and bulk of some of the other backs, but he has a flair and creativity that they do not.

  3. Really harsh on Maitland. Who didn’t knock the ball on at least once in those horrific conditions? Hopefully he’ll get another run out in the next few games to make an impression.

  4. I did say it was harsh on Maitland! He didn’t have a bad game particularly, but the point is that you don’t get many chances to force your way into the Test side – he had a couple of try-scoring opportunities and he let them slip.

  5. Not sure why everyone is getting so upset about Maitland. Bowe, North & Cuthbert are better players anyway so as Hutch was saying, he has to nail every game 100% or he’s midweek…

  6. I heard this morning that Wilkinson has had an operation on his groin. So that puts that whole matter to bed I think.

    1. Like! I don’t dislike JW, but I was getting sick of his name being mentioned every time a breeze wafted over one of the Lions players.

  7. In contrast to Hutch’s comments above I think that O’Brien will be easy to leave out.

    Pre-tour, there was some discussion about him playing at 8, because the form of both Heaslip and Faletau had not been great, but they both appear to have found their mojo again.

    So it comes down to the balance of 6 and 7. The two Welsh 7’s appear to be like for like, and the two other 6’s, Croft and Lydiate are anything but. O’Brien is different again.

    I question what O’Brien brings to the party that is not already covered?
    Lydiate has the defence nailed, Croft brings a lineout benefit and his extraordinary running in wider spaces. Warburic bring their speed and work on the ground.

    O’Brien brings a little bit of all of this (lineout excepted) and a heavy carry. The problem is that the Lions have a lot of heavy carriers, both in the forwards and backs.

    Ultimately it all comes down to the balance, and I struggle to see a good fit for him. Irrespective of his performance thus far.

    1. Completely agree Blub. The backrow balance is important and I can’t see him fitting into Gatlands test plans. If Heaslip plays (and I’d play him), he is the main back row ball carrier. Warburic (I like this so I’m using it!), will be the natural 7 on the field, then it will depend on the game they want to play around either Croft or Lydiate. I can’t see what O’Brien brings in addition to this.

      Not just in the back row, but also around the pack there are likely to be strong ball carries in either Vunipola, Youngs, Gray or someone along those lines.

      1. I do see problems:

        1. Lydiate has yet to prove he has his form back. His fitness might be there, but I saw nothing in the Baa-Baas game that made him stand out. And you really shouldn’t play people solely for the defence they bring – witness Worsley and Barritt

        2. Croft weakens the defence and the rucks. He hasn’t got the work-rate of Lydiate or O’Brien. I think this showed in the Force game where their tries were scored round the fringes, in areas that should be covered by the blind-side. Croft really didn’t stand out in a game that he should have relished

        O’Brien brings both a good defence and a very strong carrying option. You can never have too many ball carriers in a side and he had an excellent game against the Force. And he is a better blind-side than he is an open-side.

        If Lydiate can’t prove his form, I’d go for:

        6. Warburic
        7. O’Brien
        8. Heaslip (tough on Faletau, but Heaslip was excellent the other day)

        1. See if I had O’Brien at 6, then I would play Falatau over Heaslip. Falatau does a lot of work on the floor and is less of a ball carries that O’Brien so that balance could work between those two. I don’t actually think O’Brien is particularly impressive at ruck time, so I thin the balance works better if we was to play with Lydiate.

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