Lions Test Squad Predictor: Locks

Lions teams have always boasted formidable second rows, and the position has a long history of being vital to any winning Lions tour, with names like Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson performing such heroics that have led to them being forever entwined with the Lions legend. This year’s crop might not enjoy the same prestigious reputations as the locks of some of the past tours, but there is certainly quality in depth, and Warren Gatland will have the unenviable task of picking between them.

Ian Evans

The Welshman was a surprise selection for many when his name was initially announced, but has acquitted himself admirably so far on the tour. His performances have been exactly as you would expect, workmanlike and industrious, and none could criticise the effort he has played with. That being said, he has failed to contribute significantly as a ball carrier or as a viable option at the lineout (some of which can be attributed to the poor lineout throwing of Rory Best and Richard Hibbard in the Western Force and Combined Country games respectively) and will likely miss out on a place in the test team.

Verdict: not in the test squad

Richie Gray

Another surprising selection given that the lock was injured for much of the build-up to the tour, and that his form in the Six Nations prior to his injury was also highly questionable, Gray was almost certainly selected on the back of his performances in 2012, as opposed to 2013. Similarly to Evans, Gray has failed to shine at lineout time due to the accuracy issues the Lions have endured up until now, but has shown glimpses of his ability with ball in hand, albeit against lesser opponents. Some pundits have Gray optimistically pencilled in alongside Paul O’Connell in the test XV, but this seems like a stretch, particularly with the Lions continuing to struggle at the lineout, and potentially pushing him below both Alun Wyn Jones and Geoff Parling in the pecking order to partner O’Connell.

Verdict: possibly in the test squad

Alun Wyn Jones

With some initial concerns over O’Connell’s ability to last all three tests, Jones was suggested by many to be one of the first names on Gatland’s team sheet, but with the Irishman impressing so far, it now seems as if Jones is truly in a battle to partner the veteran in the Lions’ engine room. The Osprey has been in good form so far on the tour, and is arguably the best all-round second row available to Gatland, being more than competent at the lineout, breakdown, and with ball in hand. Jones is probably in pole position to partner O’Connell as things currently stand, but could be challenged by the more athletic Gray, or the lineout maestro that is Parling, especially if both Hibbard and Best continue to struggle with their throwing accuracy.

Verdict: probable test starter

Paul O’Connell

Gatland could yet regret not naming the Irishman his captain, as current captain Sam Warburton struggled to regain his form in his first game on the tour, whilst O’Connell has transitioned into Lions duty seamlessly, picking up exactly where he left off in South Africa four years ago. Concerns over his age and/or durability have been unfounded so far, and barring an injury between now and the first test, he is almost certain to feature in the Lions’ second row. In addition to his considerable ability as a player, O’Connell also brings a wealth of leadership experience, and offers an alternative to Gatland if the coach decides to either not start tour captain Warburton, or replace him in the back row during the game.

Verdict: nailed-on test starter

Geoff Parling

Whilst Parling is a good ball carrier and tackler, there is no denying that his speciality, and therefore key to potentially pushing for a place in the test XV, is his ability at the lineout. Perhaps the most gifted lineout forward in the Lions squad, narrowly edging out club colleague Tom Croft, Parling could be the salvation to Gatland’s lineout nightmares. The Englishman has impressed in his opportunities thus far, and with Tom Youngs emerging as a surprise contender to be the starting hooker, Gatland could be eager to pair Parling and Youngs, and exploit the wealth of chemistry the two players have, given they play together week in week out at both national and club level. Parling will most likely start the first test on the bench, but could be promoted to the test XV if the Lions are given a torrid time at the lineout in the first test.

Verdict: probably in the test squad

Over to you now – who would you pick in the engine room for the first test?

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by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

14 thoughts on “Lions Test Squad Predictor: Locks

  1. Parling and POC. Parling has shown a slightly spooky knack of pinching the oppo ball. I still have nightmares from 2001 featuring Austin the mouth and that crucial, crucial lineout steal in the 3rd test. If we can replicate one or two of those, and keep steady on our own ball, it will be one of those small margins that will make the difference.

    Around the field I think AWJ edges it but Parling seems happy in rucks and popping passes as well.

  2. POC and Parling for me. I think the line out will be really important so with Croft and Parling we should really dominate that area with two of the best line out operators around.

    AWJ or Gray for the bench. AWJ is the better player but Gray carries more impact. Either is fine with me to be honest.

  3. I’m with Brighty. There is not much between AWJ and Parling but even if AWJ just edges it one critical pinched ball by Parling could change the game

  4. Keep changing my mind here!

    Definitely POC, without doubt.

    Brighty has made me see the light a bit with Parling. and as Jacob said, Parling and Croft with POC would be a pretty unstoppable lineout.

    I do like Gray and what he brings to the party. I think that Evans is in a similar mould to Richie, but it may be a Phillips/Murray situation there – i couldnt see Evans edging out Gray.

    AWJ is a top class rugby player, but there have been doubts raised over the impact he brings (or doesnt for that matter) when it comes to scrum time. we need as much power coming through the engine room as possible if we are to get dominance here.

    the lineout is somewhere that the wallabies have been good at for a while, the scrum the the area that we should see the weakness to attack. any dominance at the lineout will be a bonus. we have to think about who brings the biggest impact in the tight and the loose.

    If Gray doesnt start, then i think a bench spot could be good for him. He brings the biggest impact with ball in hand, and bringing on a 6ft10 20st lock at 60ish mins will only make the aussies shake in their boots.

    i would go for a trio of POC, Gray and Parling. I am struggling to decide which way round the latter go though.

  5. PoC and A.N.Other.

    Have gone round and round in circles between Gray, AWJ and Parling. My only concern with Parling is the lack of bulk in the scrum which got shown up horribly in Cardiff. Set piece is crucial and if he goes for the lighter Youngs in the front row are we starting to give ground at the scrum. Have ruled Evans out, but even he hasn’t been bad. I think that second spot is still there to be won. Could be a chance tomorrow for AWJ or Parling to stake their claim.

    1. Exactly the same here, can’t decide so will have to continue getting splinters on the fence until tomorrow’s game. If Croft delivers a lineout master class and doesn’t suffer too much from ruckaphobia then I’m edging towards POC + Gray. If Croft’s has one of his none-games then POC + AWJ (if he betters Parling’s performance from last week).

      Think they will have a lineout calling forward on the bench, and with just the one game under his belt I guess he’s looking at Parling for that.

  6. This is a bit like Phillips and Youngs for me. AWJ and Parling are definitely both quality players, but on form/gameplan I’d go for Parling, but wouldn’t be disappointed to see AWJ in the squad instead.

    O’Connell however has just been fantastic. For Munster in the H Cup and for the Lions on tour he’s looked every bit the passionate leader that any team would love to have and his effort in every game is just up there. Needs to be on the pitch

  7. After that first half I want to change my vote. AWJ is having a brilliant game. Small margins but he has stepped up today so now pips Parling for me.

    In fact change a few for next week (Vuni, Maitland) and I’d find it hard to argue with that test XV. JD playing so well it almost makes the unthinkable possible ie BOD not starting. JD pushing hard for that bench spot now.

    1. I think excitement though has got the better of me – Parling still needed for the line out – so AWJ now wins the bench spot. If only we could play all three of em.

  8. Crofts own words just now “these guys (AWJ) tend to truck it up the middle, I tend to hang around on the wing a bit…” Straight from the horses mouth. :-)

  9. POC and Parling, lineout expertise is vital. The set piece in general is vital. Can’t decide on AWJ or Gray on the bench. I’m inclined to say Gray, as with Youngs and Vunipola on the bench, we get three brutal carriers ready to smash tired Aussies with 20 minutes left. But AWJ would probably be the safe bet.

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