Lions Stock Check: Week 5


Jamie Roberts
Having missed the first two Tests through injury, Roberts returned to full training this week and is expected (or hoped!) to be fit for the deciding game on Saturday. There’s a danger that the Lions’ hopes will be pinned on the giant centre, but he’ll be expected to crash over the gainline to create space for the strike runners around him – that sort of focus in midfield has been missing so far. Moreover, the return of Roberts could have a psychological benefit, since the Wallabies certainly don’t want to see him playing in Sydney.

Alun Wyn Jones
With Paul O’Connell missing, AWJ seemed to step up again in Melbourne, and is a candidate to captain the Lions in Sydney. His work rate and commitment is unquestionable, and how he’d love to get one over (legally) on James Horwill after the infamous stamping incident.

Conor Murray
Warren Gatland’s selection of Ben Youngs for the 2nd Test raised a few eyebrows, but it was the impact from the bench of the Irishman that really caught the eye. He immediately enforced a turnover, was agressive in defence and provided snappy service. Gatland now has a huge decision on his hands, especially if Phillips is fit as well. Has Murray done enough to start? That would be a huge call, but his partnership with Heaslip and Sexton could provide the Lions with some much-needed fluency in that most vital of channels.


Sam Warburton
The Lions captain emphatically answered the questions over his selection as the first-choice openside with two impressive Test performances. His efforts in Melbourne were nothing short of heroic, and the Lions arguably would have won if he had stayed on the field in the last ten minutes. A hamstring injury has robbed him of a shot a glory in the 3rd Test, and his workrate, leadership and referee management will be desperately missed.

Mako Vunipola
The young English loosehead had a difficult time in the scrum on Saturday, and although there are various interpretations of which side was scrummaging legally, Vunipola doesn’t instil much confidence and many people are hoping that Alex Corbisiero is passed fit to start the final test. The early loss of Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy is being felt as the tour reaches its climax.

Geoff Parling
It is slightly harsh on Parling to include him here, but the lineout was a shambles in the 2nd Test and it can’t all be down to the non-selection of Tom Croft. Not many people could fill O’Connell’s boots, but his position for the final test could well be taken by Richie Gray or Ian Evans who would bring more power to the engine room.

Dan Lydiate
I’m a huge fan of Lydiate, but there have been question marks over his contribution in the 2nd Test. He makes a lot of tackles and should be credited for defensive efforts, but when the consensus is that you can’t win such a tight game by defending for 80 minutes, there needs to be other aspects to his game. Gatland has been very loyal to Lydiate, but you’d expect Croft or Sean O’Brien to start in Sydney.

By James Hutchison
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James

40 thoughts on “Lions Stock Check: Week 5

  1. Some surprising names here. How has Warburton’s stock gone down after an excellent performance?

    I can see the others. It’s harsh on Parling as you said, but I agree with you points.

    In my opinion Lydiate came off worse than anyone on Saturday, I really hope we see Croft or even SOB at 6 on Saturday.

    Wouldn’t play Murray either. As good as he was on Saturday, he was very poor in the other matches this tour – even the Rebels game he wasn’t great, and everyone looked good. It would be too much of a risk to play him. Youngs did a good job and will stay.

    1. Warburton’s stock has fallen because he’s out of the tour! This column relates to how people are pushing for selection (or not), rather than how we view them as players.

      1. Ok that makes more sense. I read it was Stock fallen as in opinion of them going up or down. As you were…

  2. Youngs (B), Sexton, Davies, BOD & Bowe all a little lucky to escape the falling stock this week. Think it’s pretty harsh to single out forwards alone when the backs created less than the square root of zero.

    I’ll be delighted to have Corbs back, but for Vunipola to bounce back from the early, highly debatable pens, and finish as joint top tackler, top carrier, joint top number of defenders beaten and win the same number of turnovers as Warburton is some contribution for a prop. Don’t think his stock has fallen.

    Roberts seems to becoming a much better player whilst he’s injured! He had a good game 5 weeks ago, but the other performances have been average at best. If we look at the performances in Australia he’s been the 4th best centre. We are all hoping that, him being the only 12 and a big game player, he comes in and demolishes them, but think it’s a little early to raise the stock!

    1. Think it’s harsh to include Youngs and Bowe on your list. Bowe did a job, defended well and chased kicks – didn’t the opportunity for much else. And I thought Youngs did an ok job – just kept passing. If he had done a Phillips and forced things around the fringes when it wasn’t on, then by all means that is poor – but nothing was, the Aussies defended the fringes really well and there were no opportunities in that area.

      Agree on the rest of the list, especially Davies – he was really poor.

      I also think it’s funny how Roberts is being demanded back, and don’t get me wrong, he is a good player – I just can’t see him being a useful with a few weeks out, so I’d go Tuilagi.

      1. Included Bowe as I actually think Cuthbert had a much better game the week before, think we missed Cuthbert coming in, looking for work and making a dent. Bowe made 3 meters all game, for all the talk of his great running lines off Sexton nothing materialised.

        Youngs was a step up from Philips in that he provided a reasonable service, the one thing I was really hoping for was to see him generate some tempo, and he just didn’t injects any as I hoped. Can accept it’s a bit harsh (I would still keep him this week) but think Lydiate, Parling & Vunipola are less deserving of the accolade.

        1. I’m not sure on Bowe vs Cuthbert. I actually thought Cuthbert was very poor (try aside) in the first test. He dropped a clanger of a high ball and always looks lost in defence in my opinion. Bowe didn’t much chance as the Lions just didn’t have the ball, and certainly not go forward ball that he could run onto.

          Take your point on Youngs, but I would certainly keep him in.

          Lydiate I think is fair on this list, Vunipola and Parling harsh, with Davies very lucky to escape it.

        2. You need the ball to make metres! Think Bowe was better than Cuthbert was last week though.

          1. Cuthbert’s work was all done trucking it up in the middle last week, not a lot worked it’s way out to his wing. Think Cuthbert did a better job of looking for work. Think it’s harsh that Cuthbert gets slated for making yards, beating defenders and scoring a try and Bowe gets applauded for doing a lot less!

            I’m sure Bowe will be better for the game, he is world class. Selectors take note however: even world class players may struggle to produce a big test performance straight after injury, by all means take a risk on JR, but you have to stick MT on the bench at least!

    2. A little harsh on Bowe perhaps. He did everything asked of him in defence and took a few high balls. Not much he can do with the little ball he got

      Agree with you on Vunipola – if it hadn’t been for the early, slightly dodgy penalties, we’d have been talking about his amazing performance

  3. I find it all very interesting, can someone let me know when a Welsh, Irish or English team actually won in Australia…
    This is obvious Vunipola should never have been selected, simply not good enough… Healy, Jenkins & Grant should always have been the 3 selected props.
    As for 2nd row, this was always going to be between; O’Connell, AWJ and Richie Grey, again Parling as good as he is in a Leicester shirt is simply not good enough for Lions duty..
    The team that actually finished 3rd in the 6 nations, won in Australia are not getting the credit they deserve; Kelly Brown (most turnovers and tackles in the Heineken & 6 Nations), yet he picks Tupric who has hardly played all season… Ross Ford, seasoned winner, experienced leader (led in Oz when the Scots won) not selected, not exactly light weight either!!
    Nathan Hines outstanding all season, if you want a world class lock there’s your man…
    I could go on, by now you will realise my national pride.. don’t get me wrong I recognise quality and talent; Bowe, North, BoD, Roberts, Heaslip, Healy, O’Connell, SoB….. yes SoB, clearly the best openside there, lessen we forget even the Taffs dropped Warburton recently including Captaincy… Gatland your steaming drunk….

    1. Right then,

      Hines chose to represent Clermont in the finals of the Top 14 and therefore ruled himself out of selection.

      Brown is a back row player, the most competitive area on tour, your could go from a non-lion to a test match starter and the quality would be similar, it is so tight, he was unlucky.

      Grant was behind even Corbisero, and rightly so in many opinions. Vunipola was top tackler on Saturday, as well as having as many turnovers at Warburton – so how is he not good enough? And Parling got the nod because of his line out ability, which is better than Gray by a mile.

      Also, winning against Australia is not completely relevant. Scotland played an almost second string Aussie side when they won. I;m not knocking it, they still won, but it carries less weight.

      Yes Scotland come third in the 6N, and yes they have good players – but I don’t think many can be considered particularly unlucky, except maybe Brown. Certainly Ford was nowhere near (who is he a seasoned winner with!?). When you consider Gray went having had a terrible season, it balances out on representation.

      1. Really?

        Of your complaints, perhaps Brown was most unlucky

        Gray had a rubbish season and was lucky to be chosen. Has shown nothing on tour so far to force his way into the team

        Hines ruled himself out

        Ross Ford, like Gray, has been badly out of form and looks half the player he was a couple of years ago.

        Grant was pretty woeful the chance he got on tour.

        Vunipola played his way into the team with a series of excellent performances

        BTW – in answer to your question, England have beaten Aus in 2 of their last 3 matches, including the last time they played Aus in Aus

    2. neilthedeal, why then do Scotland get routinely drubbed by everyone else in the world if they’re so amazing and would be shoo-ins to win against Aus if they dominated the selection? Can they only play against Aus or something?

  4. It has been written about widely but worth repeating. It seems that the first two penalties awarded against Vunipola were actualy “spotted” by Pollock from the touchline. He couldn’t possibly have seen the very smart but illegal tactic of the Aussie front row of driving across as a unit so that all the pressure went on Vunipola. I would suggest that Warbs should have had a quiet word with Adam Jones to ask him to work his opposite number harder to stop him sliding across. Fine player though he is Jones did little to combat this clever Aussie tactic. Had the Lions adequately supported Vunipola I think you might have marked him as “rising stock”

    1. Roy, are you seriously suggesting that Vuni’s penalties were the combined fault of the Aussies, Adam Jones and Warbs and nothing at all to do with himself? That’s a bit of a stretch?

      1. I think you are taking Roys point slightly too far there Brighty. I think what he is trying to say is that he could have been helped by the more senior players around him. And as he said, the rest of his game was fantastic, and he did turn the scrums around.

        1. Actually thought Warburton did help, I could see him chatting with the front row unit, followed by a conversation with the ref.

          The first pen was a collective effort to dive at the shins of the lions front row, nothing anyone could have done about that. If the ref wanted a closer gap he should have reset them before the engagement.

        2. Jacob, I was mightily impressed by Vuni’s fortitude on Saturday. A player knows when he’s the focus like that, knows people in the stands are thinking he is letting the team down. His response, to get better, faster and I swear bigger, was excellent to see. I’ve seen many players crumble when their first ten minutes is like that.

  5. The Aussie team that Scotland beat 6:9
    Including the following who would surely have been playing against the Lions if fit; Dennis, Higginbotham oh and POCOCK!!!!!!! hardly a 2nd string Ozzie outfit!!

    Australia: Morahan, Tomane, A. Faingaa, Harris, Ioane, Barnes, Genia, Slipper, Moore, Palmer, Timani, Sharpe, Dennis, Pocock, Higginbotham. Replacements: Alexander for Palmer (70), Simmons for Timani (55), Hooper for Dennis (65). Not Used: S. Faingaa, Phipps, McCabe, Ashley-Cooper.

    Vunipola, was humped by the Saints front row just recently if I recall..
    You can’t take midgets in positions against quality opponents when you need the big lads, especially those who can smash through holes; Gray (not Parling not heavy enough), Grant (Vunipola 1 dimension and found out), Ford (hole smasher and no midget), Hines and Visser… nuff said…

    1. I would argue more than half of that Aussie side isn’t first choice. I can count six starters in that line up that are first choice – hardly the team the Welsh were losing to.

      How is Vunipola one dimensional? What one dimension are you counting? His tackling, carrying, turnovers or good hands in the loose? And in regards to the Saints scrum, it was Tonga’uiha and Mujati, so I think we can forgive. No-one argued that Vunipola is an excellent scrummarger, but he offers something different, and has more than justified his place on tour.

      Geoff Parling is 6ft6 and 114kg, is that a midget? If it is then I’d love to know what I am…

      I can’t believe you are still mentioning Ford, he hasn’t played well since 2011, and I’ve already pointed out why Hines wasn’t selected. Visser, he is good but who would you have him over? Maitland? Can’t see how he would get in the squad – the other wingers are just better.

      1. It’s also the same Saints scrum that smashed Glasgow in the first round of the HC. Being pulverised by the Mooj is a common experience Vuni and Grant can chat about on tour.

    2. But could you guarantee rain neil? All of Scotland’s wins over top 3 teams in the past few years have been when it was sh*tting it down. However I do think Scotland are woefully under represented given their 6n performances.

      1. Again. Really?

        Who from the touring party would you have replaced with a Scots player then?

        I’d have taken Visser over Maitland if I really had to pick a Scot in that position but probably wouldn’t have picked either

        the only Scots player I would have taken who isn’t there is Laidlaw

        1. Same here, Laidlaw providing the emergency 10 cover was my preference. But to be fair to Murray he’s come good in the last couple of weeks, so no evidence to suggest that we were right and Gatland was wrong!

        2. I wouldn’t have taken Hartley Heaslip Lydiate Cuthbert Stevens or Murray from the original party. Not saying I would have replaced them all with Scots but Laidlaw Brown and Ford might be in with a shout.

          1. Benjot, you wouldn’t have taken Cuthbert? 6Ns leading try scorer? I’m not saying you’re wrong, I think wing was very competitive and agree with others about aspects of his game that need work but surely he merits a place in the tour given his current i.e. last ten games scoring record? He’s also carried on during the tour, scoring half of our test match tries so far? (paltry return of only 2 tries admittedly, but he wasn’t playing in the 0 try game).

      2. Not sure I agree with that. They lost to the two best represented nations on tour and somehow beat Ireland with a possession stat of 20%…… Hang on now I’ve said it… that’s what we could’ve done with on Saturday! Fly the Scottish boys out!! :)

    3. Scotland have lost to Tonga more recently than they have beaten Australia, you can’t airbrush that out of the history books.

      I wish Hines had been available, especially with losing POC. A genuine lineout guy, a massive unit and good hands. But as has been pointed out he wasn’t available. We can’t complain about the non-selection of someone who wasn’t available.

      Grant hasn’t done anything on tour to suggest he should have been selected ahead of any of the other props, 2 poor games and 1 good one. He and Corbs arrived at the same time, played the same opposition on the Tues, Corbs dominated them, Grant came on and didn’t make a dent. He should have come on for the last 10 as Vunipola was gassed, but there’s no evidence that the selection was wrong.

      Gray has been sh*t for most of the season, and was lucky to make the tour. No one can credibly claim he was better than Joe Launchbury in the 6N. He was picked on his prior heights, he’s done OK, but nothing like his form of last year. A year ago he looked a slam dunk test starter, now he’s a good bench option at best.

      Visser, thought he may have got the nod ahead of Maitland, but he’s too similar to Cuthbert (who is in better form) and Maitland offers some versatility.

      Brown, excellent player. Robshaw, Wood, Ryan Jones, Ben Morgan (plus a few Irish) you can fill a squad of excellent back rowers who didn’t make it. Tom Wood, who produced the 2 best performances by a B&I 6 in the last 12 months (NZ and Scotland), is particularly unlucky.

      Can’t comment on Ross Ford, he wasn’t part of the team I watched getting stuffed by the mighty Samoa!

      Matt Scott is another that has been championed, unfortunately the call up decision was made after the Samoa game where he played 80 mins, made ZERO tackles and missed 1. You can hardly complain about a decision to go for Barritt the human wall after that.

  6. I’m getting some criticism for my non-selection and handling of the Scottish players, so wanted to explain myself to the knowledgeable readers of this excellent blog.

    Modern Scottish rugby has been about mediocrity and gallant defeats, interrupted by the occasional brilliant performance. This gave me a problem. If I picked a Scottish player in the first test and he played a blinder it’s almost certain he would be rubbish next week. Most likely, he would have just been rubbish as I hadn’t yet created the conditions for Scottish success. Either way I couldn’t take the risk.

    I’ve been working on a plan to get the best out of my Scottish players for the 3rd test. Good Scottish performances come when no one expects them to win, they’re written off and they feel the whole world is against them. I have therefore set about creating the negative environment in which they thrive by: playing them out of position; making them watch entire test matches from the bench; selecting skinny flankers to cover their position from the bench. This has worked a treat, they are all really disgruntled and believe I have an anti-Scottish bias. The message boards, blogs and social media are jammed full with talk of Scottish injustice, fanning the flames just as I hoped.

    So fingers crossed the Machiavellian plan comes to fruition this weekend. When Richie Gray comes off the bench he will play like a man possessed. He will be driven by the adversity he and his compatriots have faced. He will crash over for the winning try. I will get slated for not picking him from the start, but I don’t mind, my job as a coach is to create an environment for players to succeed and I don’t think I could have done a better job.

    Disclaimer: May not represent the views of the Lions Head Coach

    1. Ha ha, excellent.

      Perhaps a Plan B, something you’re constantly criticised for not having Warren, would be to use some sort of VR goggles so that in the eyes of the Welsh players those Qantas Wallaby jerseys are replaced with pristine white shirts with red roses, every one with the head of Chris Aston above it. We’d win by fifty.

      PS. Well done for ruining all of those mazy running, exciting, intelligent new England backs. Nobody suspects a thing.

      1. As long as the VR goggles have an All Blacks option for the English, (if youre allowing other’s to wallow in the glow of their one off, unlikely to be repeated amazing victories)

          1. I believe is was right before that world cup that you Welsh won’t stop going on about… (sorry had to bite)

    2. Don’t like to kick a man when he’s down…but Warren you look a complete tw*t in that Sky advert. The Carry on films had more convincing mutton chops than that. Embarrassing.

  7. Wow. So much for the spirit of the Lions. You’ve not even lost yet and you’re at each other’s throats.

    Its all in jest I’m sure and no disrespect meant to any of the slighted nations.

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