A mazy run from his own 22 against the Reds has put North’s name into most people’s Test XV, and by all accounts, the Australian media have singled him out as a danger man. With Tommy Bowe injured, North’s stock rises further and looks to be the number one winger in the squad.
It was only a few weeks ago that Vunipola was reportedly screaming out of the car window in north London, having heard his name read out as a member of the Lions squad. With tour-ending injuries to Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins, Vunipola is now the only loosehead remaining from Gatland’s initial selection. His stock has also been boosted by some storming performances in the loose, and on this form, he certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a Test jersey.
Gatland has clearly been experimenting with his centre combinations, but the Irish legend is staking a big claim for the starting 13 jersey in that first test. His experience and leadership further enhance the credentials of a player that seems to be finding his best form yet again.
Murray has not performed badly, but he remains behind Mike Phillips in the pecking order. His service appears to be slightly more sluggish than the Welshman, he has less impact around the park, whilst Ben Youngs would offer a different style of game from the bench in the Test squad.
It’s less of a case of Warburton’s stock falling than of his competitors’ stocks rising more quickly. Both Justin Tipuric and Sean O’Brien have enjoyed more game time and have caught the eye in the 7 jersey, albeit against lesser opposition than the Reds. Presumably Warburton will start against the Waratahs for another chance to impress, but the predictable debate over whether the captain should be omitted from the starting XV has begun.
The big Welsh lock is another player whose rivals are making more of the headlines. Paul O’Connell appears to be the leading contender for one of the second row berths, and the two ‘lineout men’ in Geoff Parling and Alun Wyn Jones look set to compete for the other spot. Evans has been accomplished so far, but hasn’t made himself impossible to overlook.