Lions Stock Check: Week 2

GOING UP

George North
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.

Mako Vunipola
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.

Brian O’Driscoll
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.

GOING DOWN

Conor Murray
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.

Sam Warburton
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.

Ian Evans
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.

By @Hutch_James

28 thoughts on “Lions Stock Check: Week 2

  1. What about “daddy’s boy” Farrell going down? So overrated before the tournament, and now everyone is seeing the real him.

    1. Farrell was very good against the reds, so I’m not sure how his stock has gone down in the last week.

      1. have to agree with Tom here. Farrell had a much better game against the Reds. (conveniently timed with Wilko admitting the tour was unlikely for him).

        also, just picking up on you referring to this as a “tournament” might give a few of the readers an insight into your knowledge…

        1. I would say he was better rather than very good. His distribution and running lines just aren’t as good as they need to be. I personally think Stuart Hogg looked much better yesterday (admittedly against weaker opposition) in those regards. 4 missed tackles from Farrell and he got turned over 4 times. Not exactly blistering stats for a fly half who should be controlling the game in defence and attack.

        2. Say what you want about my knowledge, I’m the one whos over here watching the games. You’re probably just an English, armchair fan who’s never even been to a club game in his life. Farrel against Reds kicked far too much. They obviously saw a big hight difference between Cuthbert and his opposite winger (whos name I forgot) but it didn’t work. That part wasn’t Farrell’s fault, Cuthbert wasn’t pushing up and pressing enough. However, a decent fly half would have noticed this, and stopped trying it. However, since Farrell is just a boot, and doesn’t have a rugby brain, he couldn’t come up with another idea but to kick. The fact that he can’t even force his way into the 10 slot for Sarries, with another English fly half ahead of him, shows he’s not up to scratch. Had Shaun Edwards (rightly) been selected as defence coach, then Owen Farrell probably wouldn’t have been picked, without daddies influence. Two poor selections by Gatland there, which isn’t unfamiliar for him.

          1. James, I am English, and judging by your comments, I may be able to presume that your are welsh?

            You may have heard a number of times that pundits and coaches say “a kick is only as good as its chase”… The point on saying cuthbert wasn’t pushing up enough (your words, not mine) would suggest that it was his fault the kicks looked poor…

            And finally, with regards to your comments about me being “an armchair fan” who has never even been to a club game… You couldn’t be more wrong.

            In fact, I have been to multiple Heineken Cup finals, a fair few 6N games and many more. However I think some of my favourite games would have been the World Cup 2003 ones, especially the England vs Wales quarter final in Brisbane. (I used to live in Aus, it’s why my rugby developed most).

            Oh! And if you feel like questioning my rugby pedigree, I would be more than willing to provide a list of current international and professional players that I have played with and against (I think I can almost make an entire 23 man squad).

    2. Only questioning yours because you questioned mine. It was a mistake calling it a tournament, not a tour. I admitted that Farrell’s kicks weren’t poor, the chase by Cuthbert was poor. My point was that Farrell should have noticed that his kicks weren’t working, and changed his game plan. I’ve honestly never been a fan of Farrell, even before his England games, I never thought he was good. Just think he’s a boot. England play him so he can kick. If England wanted to play a running, passing game, they would play Burnes from Gloucester. He is a top, top class player. In regards to the Lions, you’d assume Halfpenny will be taking the kicks, rendering Farrell pretty useless. Average at best in play, will never really create anything. There being my worry. Gatland seems to look to select uncreative players, and just look to bring in the big backs. Hook has been a victim of this. Despite being Wales’ best 10 by miles, he wont play because he’s too creative. Obviously I’m supporting the Lions, so if Farrell plays, I will support him, and obviously won’t want him to fail. I’m just not totally sure he’s England standard, let alone a Lion.

      1. It seems now that we are in agreement.

        I too have never been a fan of Farrell’s, and for me Burns is definitely a more complete footballer. Unfortunately he was injured during the 6Ns, so in reality, other than the AIs when he made his debut, he and Farrell haven’t been in direct competition yet.

        Farrell is a boot, but there is more to being a boot than just goal kicking. He won’t be useless in the tests (as 1/2p is kicking) because he may still be needed to come on and close a game out, so he will have to kick for the corners.

        Personally I felt Farrell did stop doing the kick that wasn’t working, he gave Cuthbert about 3-4 goes, and none payed off. Then he seemed to change tactic and kick more centrally. (Probably shouldn’t have given him that many goes though).

        I think that Farrell suits Gatland’s style of play quite well, which is why they took him. The problem is, I think than an available wilkinson would have been taken over Farrell, and that can’t help the lad’s confidence.

        Sexton is by a mile the test starter, but we have to have cover on the bench at 10, because Sexton does get injured now-and-again, and Hogg is not ready to play 10 in a lions test (see my later comments regarding reasons, if you need to).

        Agree regarding your comments about Hook, he should have been the welsh 10, especially when priestland was injured. But Gatland likes having in on the bench in case he has to throw the kitchen sink at a team. He likes a steady 10 if he can afford it. Is why I am glad sexton is clearly the better 10, because Gatland HAS to start him. If it was marginal, I think he would avoid the maverick type player.

        On Farrell not being England quality, I see the point. He is pretty inconsistent (goal kicking aside). He was outstanding in the ABs game, but then pretty poor for the 6Ns (excluding Scotland). He has the potential to be a test match winner, but he also has the potential to be the complete opposite – a real Jekyll and Hyde type player.

      2. So you wouldn’t call Youngs, Sexton or O’Driscoll creative? And to say Farrell is just a boot is laughable. He may not be as creative in the same way Sexton or Burns is at 10, but his handling skills are right up there. He played in the Prem final at the age of just 19, and steered Saracens to their first Prem title, making Flood (his opposite number on the day) look very average. And he’s improved his game management skills significantly since then. Wilkinson has never been considered a creative 10, but still rated as one of the best fly halves ever in World rugby. Gatland selected him because he knew he could do a job for the Lions, and so far he’s done what’s been asked of him.

  2. The Sky pundits had Gray partnering O’Connell, so it will be interesting to see who Gatland goes with. Although we’ve not seen too much of the trademark carrying, I think Gray has done everything else well and is improving quickly on last season’s form.

    1. i agree with regards to Gray.

      as the sky lot said, i think the blend with he and O’Connell is very good, and the other players are bringing the best out of Gray.

      Interesting as well, POC and BOD were (slightly) controversial picks in the first place, due to injury and age. Both players have proven their lions pedigree, and i would say that the question is more of a “who partners BOD in the centre, and POC in the engine room?” than people thought.

      I wasnt hugely impressed by Roberts in this game. too many errors. i get where Greenwood is coming from about being a big game player, but was the Baa Baas really a big game? because he managed to get up for that.

      i think we need to have another look at roberts. BOD has done enough.

      i would go for Roberts and Manu as the centres against the Tahs. that way they are basically playing a shootout for the 12 shirt. if of course they are outstanding together, then clearly they have a week to rest for the test, but i would expect BOD to be partnering one.

      1. In my opinion Roberts certainly needs to be told to get out there again and prove he’s worthy of the shirt. Coasting through a game because it isn’t a ‘big game’ makes it appear you already believe you own the shirt. This may have been OK for the Cardiff Blues, but it’s not the attitude you need in a Lions squad.

        I like the idea of a shoot out with Manu, but I think the two in tandem may go better than people expect. Roberts organising the defensive line and setting the line speed at 12, Manu bringing more threat of an outside break at 13. The numbers of midfield defenders required to keep them quiet would leave space for Sexton to exploit. Leaving a load of ‘Tahs littered all over the field would also be a huge statement of the physical challenge for the Wallabies ahead of the first test.

  3. Think Gats is going to go for BOD/Manu in the tests. Roberts has done little to impress and Manu’s impact play is hard to ignore (even if it is a bit one-dimensional!)

    The major question is centre cover (for when BOD inevitably gets broken). Do you risk a bench spot for Roberts, or rely on a utility back (Maitland?)

    1. I would have Farrell and Hogg on the bench.

      Farrell covers 10/12. Hogg covers 15/wing/13.

      We have seen Farrell play 13 for Sarries also, and Hogg had a decent run at 10. However, I wouldn’t go for those positions in a test against the wallabies.

      Both are also goalkicking cover, which is very handy.

      With youngs on the bench you are pretty well sorted, as the entire backline is covered – I believe youngs made his test debut coming off the bench onto the wing.

      1. Yep, can see Youngs/Farrell/Hogg as the test bench. You’ve got cover for everywhere there, but I would say North is likely to be the man shifting into the centres over Hogg/Farrell.

        Only difference might be if Maitland/Zebo have a stormer this weekend (if they play) and force Hogg out, but that would be harsh as I think Hogg is worthy of his place in the tests.

    2. North has had a couple of runs in the centre, so I think the plan would be to chuck whoever the back three replacement is on and move North to the centres, should BOD get injured. Also, Farrell will be on the bench and has spent a fair amount of time at 12/13 for Sarries, so I don’t think we’ll see a centre replacement on the bench. That’s why I think Tuilagi has to start – he’s too good to leave out completely!

  4. Who would you pick at No. 8 Heaslip or Faletau?? I reckon that Gats will go with Faletau, but I think its pretty even, Heaslip has been good

    1. It really depends on the others in the backrow.

      He has to get a good blend.

      If Lydiate is 6, then it has to be Heaslip at 8, and either Warburton or SOB at 7. Lydiate will do the dirty work, heaslip will be running out wide and SOB/Warbs can play the tight running/link man job.

      If he goes for Croft at 6, then Faletau is the better choice at 8. Toby runs tighter to rucks, allowing croft to do the wider running. I would probably go for Tips with them, as he does the dirty work quite well.

      Alternatively you could play SOB at 6. He runs tight to the rucks, so you would want the wide running Heaslip. Then Tips would probably get the nod at 7, for his breakdown and link play, although Warburton could do a similar role.

      Personally, I think I would go for the middle combination, Croft, Toby and Tips. I think that croft will bring the extra lineout option that is stronger than the other 6’s.

      1. They may well see the quality of lineout ball that Croft can deliver as key to unleashing the back line. He does have to earn the shirt first though, just one pretty tame performance thus far.

        If they do go for Croft then I think the best balance is with Warburton & Faletau for work rate and physicality (assuming Warburton takes s step up this week)

        1. If Warburton does step up, then I agree with your pick.

          Faletau does some more for the ruck work too, more than Heaslip. This would mean that a 2nd row of Gray and O’Connell could be quite nice. Plus Faletau would free Gray up to run a bit wider too.

  5. In regards to Roberts, looking at what he’s saying and his body language on the pitch when he makes a mistake, I don’t think he’s too confident about having the test spot. I think he needs another start before the first test to prove himself, and would love to see a Roberts/Manu centre partnership. For me Hogg will definitely be on the bench for the first test as he can cover Full back, wing and as proved against Combined country, 10.

    The battle between Faletau and Heaslip for me is the most exciting as both are playing to the top of their game, massive decision for Gatland.

    1. You are never going to happy making a mistake. But what I didn’t see was the hunger and intensity that we saw from BOD. BOD gave it 110% for the full 80, chased everything, threw himself at everything (what a legend!). I just thought Roberts needed to show more of the desire that his Captain was demonstrating in abundance.

      I agree he needs another start, and may well prove he’s the best man for the job. I didn’t like the Sky pundits view that it was job done for the combination and just wrap them up for 11 days.

      1. Wholeheartedly agree.

        By no means is it job done. After all, he haven’t seen much of Manu, thanks to the stinger.

        For me it’s more of a “who partners BOD” question. We have seen both Roberts and Manu have a full game with him, now it’s time to see a straight shootout between them. If they are both outstanding, then maybe one could force their way on the bench. Although I doubt that, as I dont think that their is space for a centre.

  6. Vunipola
    Youngs
    Jones
    PoC
    Undecided, maybe Gray
    Tipuric
    SoB
    Heaslip

    Phillips/Youngs
    Sexton
    North
    Tuilagi
    BoD
    Maitland
    Halfpenny

    Cole
    Hibbard
    Corbisiero
    Parling/AWJ
    Croft

    Phillips/Youngs
    Farrell
    Hogg

    Slightly undecided at Hooker but plumped for Youngs as I think that he offers more in the loose and don’t think the Aussies will offer such a stern scrimmaging test.

    Not sure the Locks have really put their hands up apart from PoC. Think Gats may regret not bringing Launchbury now.

    Croft to be on the bench to run at tired legs, which is what he does best.

    Can’t separate Phillips and Youngs at present. Both on good form, but Gats will almost certainly pick Phillips.

    Also think he will pick Roberts, but personally, I don’t think that he has been consistent for 12 months or so.

    Maitland offers more all round skills and I would be happier with him at wing if there was an aerial bombardment, or to tackle an opposing winger.

    This is the team I would pick if the test was Saturday. I’m sure others will have opinions!

    1. I would go with exactly as you picked, but I don’t think Gatland will.

      I think he will go Cuthbert (which I really don’t want), and I think he will go with Hibbard and Roberts too. At hooker I don’t think Hibbard or Youngs are bad options so I don’t mind, but I would be really disappointed not to see Tuilagi running at the Aussies next week!

  7. I agree that it is a question of “who will partner BOD”, and if the shootout did see no clear test starter, I can see Gatland picking Roberts as he has Lions test experience. But Certainly don’t think the its job done as the Sky sports pundits said.

    I can not see Maitland starting the first test, as much as I think he is a classy player.Can see Gatland picking Hibbard over Youngs. Also, no Warburton in the squad? even of the bench?

  8. Interesting comments here and I still cannot see a definite starting 15. Gats is defiantly keeping his cards close to his chest. He also seems to be protecting certain players which for me is a concern as they, whoever they are, need to be game sharp. There are combo’s I would still like to see, but it is unlikely due to the closest of the 1st test, Davies and Tuilagi, Halfpenny at FB with Hogg on the wing, O’Brien, Heaslip and Warburton.
    From what has been seen so far I would be expecting the following line up for the 1st test, even though Warburton has had little game time.
    15. Halfpenny
    14. ????????
    13. BOD. (would prefer to see Tuilagi)
    12. Roberts. (would prefer to see Davies)
    11. North.
    10. Sexton (after yesterday Hogg on the bench not Farrell)
    9. Phillips
    1 Vunipola
    2 Hibbard
    3 Jones
    4 AW Jones (Parling on the bench)
    5 O’Connell
    6 O’Brien (his best position)
    8 Heaslip
    7 Warbuton.

    I also can see the structure of the bench having a massive effect on the outcome of all three tests.

    1. I think O’Brian will be the bench option. One, he will carry good impact on the hour mark, and two, he covers all three back row positions. I think the back row will be Falatau, Warburton and Croft.

      I also don’t think Hogg can cover 10 for a test match, so Farrell will be on the bench definitely.

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