Lions Stock Check: Week 4

GOING UP

Toby Faletau
The unluckiest man on tour. Looks unlikely to usurp Jamie Heaslip from the test starting line-up and with the need for cover at flanker, there probably won’t be room for him on the bench either. This is all despite putting in a series of storming performances for the ‘midweek’ side – on Tuesday again he tackled and carried like a man possessed. It seems the Irishman’s 2009 experience is invaluable in Gatland’s eyes, but it’s getting to the point where you have to ask – what more does Faletau have to do?

George North
A bit of an obvious one really. His try in the first test was a joy to behold; an instant Lions classic that will grace the highlight reels for years to come and go down in history as one of the best ever scored in the famous red shirt. North has had a brilliant tour, and his battle with Folau over the next two tests will be epic.

Tom Youngs
Youngs’ stock continues to rise, after he put in one of the performances of his life on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium. The diminutive Leicester hooker was everywhere, smashing rucks and Wallaby attackers alike, as well as getting his hands on the ball and making good metres. And on top of all that his line-out was faultless, although fans will want to see a bit more adventure in the second test.

Owen Farrell
Farrell’s performance against the Rebels was as excellent as it was surprising. Fans of the Northern Hemisphere game will know that he is not exactly revered for his adventurous style of play, and yet here he was standing flat and fizzing away passes – even taking quick tap penalties. It begs the question: why have we not seen this side of his game more often? Either way, he more than consolidated his position on the test bench.

GOING DOWN

Mike Phillips
The big Welsh scrum-half was one of the few Lions to leave Brisbane with his reputation worsened. He was ponderous at the back of rucks and mauls, and was effectively played out of the game by Aussie debutant Ben Mowen. He was at fault for allowing Genia so much room in the build up to the first Folau try, and generally looked ill at ease. Gatland probably won’t drop him, but Ben Youngs must be pushing very hard, especially after another strong showing off the bench against the Rebels.

Dan Cole
The first test seemed to bring everything to a head for Cole. Until a few months ago he was neck-and-neck with Adam Jones for the starting shirt – then Cardiff happened, and now when you add in the capitulation of the scrum at the weekend after he had come on, it seems he is streets behind the fuzzy-haired Welshman. The scrum issus are, of course, not entirely his fault, but there will be some concerned faces amongst the coaching staff.

Alex Cuthbert
A bit of a strange one this, given that he scored a well-taken try in the first test. He also, however, dropped a clanger of a high-ball and was caught out positionally a couple of times. It was by no means a bad performance, but the greatest reason why his stock is falling is the return to fitness of Tommy Bowe. The Bowe-North partnership has looked lethal in the short time it has had to gel, and if the Irishman is ready for the second test he will almost certainly play. Sadly, and a little unfairly, for Cuthbert, he could drop out of the squad all together.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

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20 comments on “Lions Stock Check: Week 4

  1. Good synopsis all round, have to agree mainly with Faletau, if he doesn’t make the bench at least, it will be a travesty.

    • I can’t see any room for him on the bench though. SOB is the obvious choice there as he can cover all 3 positions. Although, having said that, he did go for Lydiate last week, and he can only really cover 6. I also think the fact that Faletau played the full 80 on Tuesday, while O’Brien and Lydiate were subbed, shows he’s not in the test reckoning.

      It’s a shame, because for me he’s been one of the players of the tour and it would have been good to see if he could do it in the tests as well.

  2. It’s difficult to fault Cuthbert’s finishing prowess, but he’s behind Maitland in reading the game and the positional play that develops assists and keeps the defence solid. Zebo has also been playing well, so I agree Cuthbert may drop out altogether. It would indeed seem harsh though, given his try scoring record on tour.

  3. Totally agree with Dan Cole. As an England supporter, with a bit of natural bias I thought he was every bit as good as Jones six months ago. However, he seems to have lost it a little in the loose, and massively in scrums – so much so that I think England should be considering Wilson as starting tighthead!

    I read somewhere that he’s lost some weight and shaped up a bit. What are you doing, man? You’re a prop for crying out loud…

  4. For me Phillips is the key one here. Youngs is showing that at the moment, he is the better SH, and I think he should start on Saturday with Phillips on the bench. Maybe some bench time might be good for him. Heaslip and Faletau is a tricky one. Faletau has showed better control at the base of the scrum, but only against weaker opposition. Heaslip has that extra experience, and in that position it could be telling. I don’t think Heaslip was helped last week by Phillips either. A couple of times he probably could have helped out but chose not to.

  5. It’s always difficult for a prop coming off the bench. It’s even more difficult when the entire front row changes. He’s not been great for the Lions, but he’s far from a bad player.

    Cuthbert’s issues seemed fairly plain from his opening game on tour. He’s done alright, but only alright. On the end of attacking moves but rarely involved in creating one.

    Faletau has been great, don’t get me wrong on this, he really has had some good games. But so has Heaslip and when you’re torn between two players who are pretty level pegging and one of them has Lions test experience and has already had a good test on tour? Heaslip sticks. It’s less about what Faletau has to do right and more what Heaslip has to do wrong.

    I’m not convinced Farrell has done anything amazing yet. I think the positivity over his game yesterday is much more a response to the fact that he unexpectadly began playing like a fly half rather than him actually having a great game. I don’t see him pushing Sexton, but he’s definitely ahead of Hogg for the fly half berth.

    • I’d agree with your analysis of Farrell, but given that people were skeptical about him even being on the bench I think his stock has definitely risen. He is now a worthy second choice, rather than ‘the only other option’. He won’t challenge Sexton to start, but could be a good man to bring on with 10 to go if we need to close the game out.

      Re Cole, I’m baffled as to what’s going on with his scrummaging. I appreciate it’s not all his fault, but he has seemed to struggle ever since Cardiff. Hopefully he’ll get back to Tigers and Cockers will sort him out – if he has lost weight I’d expect him to be told to put it back on again pretty sharpish!

  6. Farrell should of course be ahead of Hogg as the second choice outside half as he is the specialist .

    Looks like the best chance for Faletau to get the chance he deserves in the tests is for the Lions to win on Saturday and for there to be big changes for the dead rubber game .Unfair on him probably .

    Mike Phillips has been playing like that for years give or take the odd performance and Lions fans who are not Welsh can now see what some Welsh supporters have been banging on about . However he has Gatlands confidence and I don’t see him being dropped to the bench now .

    Cuthbert is one who suffers because pre injury Bowe has looked to be in World Class form and him and North could be a lethal combination rather than anything Cuthbert’s done wrong .

  7. As an England supporter and Cole fan, I think that he struggled throughout most of the 6N. He looked shaky in previous games but everyone went, well it was Domingo, etc, etc and found excuses, myself included, so I don’t think the problem runs back to one game. Someone did suggest burnout as the problem and I reckon that’s more likely to be the case. A long Lions tour probably won’t help that problem either. Preseason training is just about to start!

  8. Agree with all the analysis. Think that it will be harsh on Faletau but Heaslip did nothing in the first test to warrant being dropped.

    Phillips was struggling to even get in the Welsh squad about a year ago and I have been saying for ages that I just don’t get why he is picked. Youngs plays a very similar game to Genia and has had the better of him on more than one occasion so think it is a mistake not to start him but sure that is what Gatland will do.

    Also despite his stock rising a little worried about having Youngs and Mako starting as both playing together will weaken the front row come scrum time!

    If Bowe is fit can see Cuthbert dropping out of the squad as assume that Manu will be on the bench to cover centres and wing.

  9. England’s player mgt has been poor. We have flogged players like Cole Robshaw and Barritt to death. That was why many of us were advocating resting players for the Italy game at least. Performances of Wilson 12t and Kvesic in the summer shows that this would have been far from disrespectful and probably would have raised performances.

    I really really hope that Eng rotate the squad more next season and make better use of our depth of resources otherwise I really do fear the consequences to players like Cole.

  10. @ Pontylad, dont agree m8 that if the Lions win the 2nd test then the 3rd will be a ‘dead rubber’ game, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Lions will want a 3-0 test victory & as such, make history. I have no doubt the Lions will want to play their best team for the last game regardless of this coming Saturdays result.

    • Hi Steve ,I don’t mean the Lions would play a weaker side just freshen things up with players who would be busting a gut to get a winning test cap like Falateau ,Tipuric ,Roberts/Tuilagi etc Based on this week they will be changing a third of the side anyway !

  11. Cole has been my biggest dissapointment. Although playing over 40 games with no break over 2 yrs is not ideal. Give him a rest.

    Phillips was pretty poor, always though he is overrated. Faletau played v well on Tues as did SOB. Loosehead a bit concerning for Sat…

    Halfpenny; Bowe; BOD; Tuilagi/Davies; North; Sexton; Youngs; Faletau; Warburton; Croft; Parling; AWJ; Jones; Youngs; Vunipola – Grant/Stevens; Cole; Hibbard; Evans; SOB; Phillips; Farrell; Davies/Tuilagi

    • 100% agree with this team. normally people taint their selections with something silly but this is exactly the team id select

      • Looks good to me, but would probably start Davies and bring Tuilagi on after about 50 mins. Just about the last person you’d want to see running at you in the last third of the game

        And Grant on the bench over Stevens

  12. Youngs, Farrell and Tuilagi have come on leaps and bounds this tour since the 6 nations. They’re starting to look like the same players that beat the All Blacks.
    Cole however is clearly just having a mediocre year. His scrummaging is a shadow of what it was against Healy, Steenkamp and Woodcock last year. It’s no coincidence that he had the benefit of Corbisiero for those three tests.

  13. Couldn’t classify Cuthbert as falling stock. Thought he did far more right than wrong last week, actually came looking for work more often than North did. I do agree with Bowe coming straight back in, but don’t think Cuthbert has anything to be ashamed of.

    There are a couple of reasons that, although Heaslip did nothing wrong last week, that Faletau should come in:
    - We are losing POC for Parling, Parling carries very well and covers every blade of grass, but we are losing dynamism round the fringes, which Faletau brings. It wouldn’t surprise me if Parling is higher up in the tackle stats than POC though.
    - Palu was a non event last week, if Smith is fully fit I expect them to pick him. The Wallaby backrow then has a significantly different balance and I think a trio of Crof, Healsip & Warburton will get outworked around the ruck.
    - We struggled to break the gainline, Faletau gives us much more go-forward. E.g. On Tues 36% of the meters made by the pack came from Faletau, on Sat 12% came from Heaslip. Even in the abomination against the Brumbies Faletau accounted from more than 50% of the total meters made by the pack, yes Faletau made more ground than the other 12 forwards that featured combined.

    I’m not suggesting that Heaslip (or Croft) never make a tackle, never hit a ruck and can only carry out wide, just that Faletau does it a lot more often and we will be needing that additional workrate.

    It will take a much better performance to win this week (regardless of who plays at 10), so if we approach it with an “if it ain’t broke” mentality rather than “what’s the very best team we can field” mentality we’ll be heading for a decider!

  14. Spot on Matt. No room for sentiment. The Lions have to deliver a series win .For me Faletau and Bowe start ,along with Ben Youngs,Grant,the rest of the team stays the same.-bench ,Evans, Vunipola, Hibbard, Tuilagi , Phillips, Farrell, SOB, Stevens.On another point ,was Greenwood hinting of a Jamie Roberts return?

  15. Haven’t read everyone’s comments yet, will do shortly.

    Agree with all the above.

    Glad to see that Phillips HAS been dropped, and out if the 23 is a big drop. They have claimed he is “struggling with a knee injury” but I think that’s a cover for his trash performance. Glad youngs gets a chance. I just wish he and Sexton had been given a go in a midweek game, it would have meant they would ease into this match quicker. Oh well, at least we see them now.

    With regards to Cole, I think that he is getting very tired. As we saw with some other players (Launchbury being a key example) they get tired when they have played lots of rugby. I think I read that Cole is the only player to have started EVERY game under Lancaster (obviously not the case now, as he was not in Argentina, but you get the point). And the lack of willingness to play Wilson (which seems a bit odd, as he was great in Argentina) means that Cole regularly plays 70-78 minutes in a test match. Do any other props play this much now-a-days?

    It’s a shame Casto has left tigers, because if I was them I would let Cole have the first month off in the coming season.