Lions Test Squad Predictor: Centres

Now we come to the first real area of controversy. Who starts in the centre will be one of the most difficult and intriguing calls that Gatland has to make. Will he stick with the tried and tested 2009 combo of Roberts and O’Driscoll, or will he twist and plump for Tuilagi’s brute physicality?

Jamie Roberts

Player of the tour in 2009, Roberts has fine Lions pedigree and has become known for raising his game for the big games. Hopefully, that is the reason why he was fairly anonymous against a second rate Combined Country XV this week. Much was made of seeing Roberts and O’Driscoll play together again, but while the Irish great played another blinder Roberts was kept quiet, and actually looked a little off form. Whether he will get another chance to prove his form is unsure, but for now he must be hoping that his relationship with Gatland and his heroics in 2009 are enough to beat off the challenge of Tuilagi for the 12 spot.

Verdict: probable test starter

Manu Tuilagi

A stinger to the shoulder deprived us of seeing Tuilagi let loose against the Reds, after we saw glimpses of his talent against the Force last week. A typically brutish break through the middle preceded a glorious inside pass to O’Driscoll in what was one of the moments of the match, and pointed to the huge potential this partnership could have. Tuilagi’s physical attributes do mean he is capable of things on a rugby pitch no other player in the world is, and when one of the best players of the last decade (Dan Carter) endorses you as the one he wouldn’t want to face, you must be doing something right. From a personal point of view, I firmly believe Gatland would be missing a trick in leaving Tuilagi out, especially as there is unlikely to be a space on the bench for a centre. To leave a man of his capabilities out of the 23 all together seems absurd – for this reason he should start.

Verdict: possible test starter

Brian O’Driscoll

Past his best? Unable to cope with the demands of a gruelling tour? Nonsense. O’Driscoll has proved his ability and fitness this tour, with 160 minutes of rugby already under his belt. There may not be the pace of old but there is still that innate rugby intelligence that cannot be taught. This has been in evidence on several occasions already – the timing of his run to latch onto Tuilagi’s pass against the Force, or the beautiful swerve and well-weighted grubber to send Jon Davies in against the Combined Country XV. He is now likely to be wrapped in cotton wool by the coaches, ready to be rolled out for the first test. It is no longer a question of if he will start, but of who will partner him.

Verdict: nailed on test starter

Jonathan Davies

Davies was always likely to be the ‘fourth’ centre, in that he came into the tour behind the other three in the pecking order. He has played the most rugby of any of the midfield men, and despite showing some nice touches and generally playing quite well, he has not done enough to suggest he will challenge for the test squad. A handy back-up option to have, however. Expect to see him in the remaining couple of midweek fixtures, against the Brumbies and the Rebels.

Verdict: not in the test squad

Your turn now – cast your vote in the poll below and explain your decisions in the comments section.

Who should start in the centres for the first test?

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By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

26 thoughts on “Lions Test Squad Predictor: Centres

  1. As it stands, I’d start Dr. Roberts and BOD, with Manu on the bench to run at a tired defence after an hour.

      1. I suppose Hogg (if he’s not starting), to cover 10 and 15. Farrell can cover the play-making centre role (which I think is 13 for Gats) and 10, as well, so that’s another option.

  2. Roberts and BOD for me – get the best thing about 2009 paired up again with Sexton inside them, very, very exciting. Add in Phillips to suck in the Aussie back row and, really, how can we lose?

  3. I go for BOD and Tuilagi based on form, with Roberts on the bench and play all three at some stage. Start Tuilagi and get him to go for the coal face with BOd playing off him and do the same when Tuilagi lags with Roberts, it keeps the team in balance

  4. BOD and Roberts for me. BOD will unlock the Aussies with vision and Roberts ‘the train’ smashing through. Definitely Tuilagi on the bench to bring on for more punishment. Unlucky for Davies but great future ahead of him for the Lions.

    Needs SH on bench (Philips starting, Murray bench) and would say Farrell on the bench as more experienced cover for Sexton at 10 than Hogg. Back three can cover themselves with Tuilagi who’s played wing a few times before.

    I only hope that the confidence the Lions are showing and the shambles that the Aussies have been in up to now carry over when the whistle blows and everything doesn’t go to sh*t!


    1. Surely Phillips starting, Youngs bench?

      Murray is just the poundland version of Phillips. Youngs can at least add something different

  5. I really can’t see how a bench spot can be a center. Assuming there are only three backs on the bench, it’l be a 9 (either Phillips or Youngs), Farrell (to cover 10,12,13) and then a back three option (probably Hogg or Maitland). Hogg can’t cover 10 for the tests because if Sexton got injured the first ten minutes (and I pray he doesn’t), then Hogg can run a Lions test match for an hour, he just isn’t up to that. So 9 and 10 cover is a must. Leaving one spot, that can’t be Roberts or Tuilagi because the back three aren’t covered at all.

    1. I thought the same about having a centre on the bench but I don’t think you could leave Tuilagi out of the squad for what he can do. And BOD and Roberts have been great. Tuilagi has played wing before. Farrell could cover 15 or one of the wingers covering that spot.

      1. The idea of Tuilagi on the wing in a test match worries me a little. He is not a winger, Ioane would just skip round him in space and that wouldn’t be his fault. He also hasn’t got any sort of kicking game to play on the wing, and I can’t ever remember him taking a high ball, so he would get targeted with some bombs.

        I agree with you that you can’t leave Tuilagi out, and for the reason Roberts doesn’t make the 23 for me. Tough decision but some will have to be made.

  6. Really can’t decide between Roberts and Tuilagi for the 12 shirt.

    BOD is my 13 without a doubt.

    Can’t see a centre being on the bench though, with Farrell able to cover 12, Hogg can cover 13, wing and 15. Also, North could move to centre if needs be.

    I don’t see them letting Hogg have the reigns at 10 (unless he can reproduce the magic from 10 against the Tahs – might be an idea to let him have a go against a better competition). So would expect Farrell to cover. Hogg brings an X-factor off the bench, probably more than one of the centres (they bring bulk).

    I would also expect Youngs to bench 9. If plan A doesn’t work with Phillips, then there is no point in going for plan A.2 with Murray, you need something different, and Youngs is that.

    1. Agree on Youngs. Besides anything, Murray hasn’t been particularly good so far, so Youngs will need to put down his marker the next time he plays.

  7. Bod has been incredible so far, why he wasn’t made tour captain is mind boggling! He’s a nailed on starter and is leading from the front, the guy is such a talisman. I don’t think we’ve seen enough from tuilagi or Roberts to know anything bar that Davies is fourth choice. The try Manu set up for bod was magical but Roberts looked to be enjoying himself in his first start as well. It’s all to play for but is say roberts is ahead a the moment on credit from 2009 and gats knows and trusts him.

    1. Totally agree.

      I then we need to see Manu and Roberts in the Tahs game. It will mean whichever one gets the test 12 shirt will have a whole week to recover.

      BOD will bring a fair amount of leadership to the backs too, with Kearney yet to feature, and Bowe injured there are very few experienced lions in the backs.

  8. “Who starts in the centre will be one of the most difficult and intriguing calls that Gatland has to make …” but will look as easy as beating the Western Force was when he then moves to picking the backrow.

      1. So true. Whatever combo Gatland goes for he’ll get lambasted

        (unless we win and they play a blinder. Then we’ll all hail him as a visionary genius)

  9. Won’t be a centre on the bench. Farrell and North will be the cover. Therefore straight shootout between Roberts and Tuilagi. I would go for Tuilagi as Roberts just hasn’t been consistent for 12 months or so. Has had good games but also poor ones. Wouldn’t want to risk it in a test. However think Gats will pick Roberts, as he knows him and his style of play. If he does that I think the Aussies will breathe a sigh of relief.

    1. Agree with you about the Aussies breathing a sigh of relief if Gatland went with Roberts. Nothing against Roberts, but the Aussies would much rather play him than Tuilagi, and for me, that is one of the main reasons I’d sway towards Manu over Roberts.

  10. Personally I would go with Tuilagi and BOD. We’ve seen more of Robert so far, and he hasn’t overly impressed. Tuilagi has had little time, but with a good game on Saturday against the Waratah’s I think he will cement his spot. Will be interesting to see who he’s paired with for Saturday’s game.

  11. Jonathan Davies has been the best performing centre on tour – and yet he is 4th with the armchair brigade…

    1. Ah, the armchair brigade! How witty.

      I presume you are at the sharp end then Saul and not writing this from a comfy seat in front of your computer?

      Perhaps you should explain how everyone is wrong and how we’ve all missed the fact that JD is the best centre on tour, rather than just stating your opinion as if it is fact.

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