Link man. Ball carrier. Support runner. Forager. Tackler. The role of a number 8 is hugely varied and requires the strength of a traditional forward, enough pace to keep up with the back-line, and the ability to rampage with ball in hand. The 2013 Lions tour started with many sure of their number 8 for the Test matches, but things have changed.
He was down and out at the end of this year’s 6 Nations with some questioning his selection by Warren Gatland. And they would have had a case. Heaslip had led Ireland to their worst 6 Nations run since 2000 and had a tournament to forgot personally as well. But the Leinster man picked up where he left off in 2009 for the Lions, impressing off the bench as a replacement for Toby Faletau against the Barbarians, followed by a barnstorming display against Western Force where he bagged a try and displayed his power with ball in hand. Heaslip is purring nicely in the run up to the Test matches and is changing the minds of those who had Faletau as a nailed on starter.
Verdict: probably starting the first test
The Tongan-born Welshman has not quite kicked into high gear so far on tour. Not that he has been poor; it is simply that Heaslip has upped his game substantially. Faletau has not been as noticeable with ball in hand, which has been his trademark since bursting onto the scene for Wales. That being said, Faletau is a quality player who will be on the bench and could have a big impact player. There is still time before the first Test though, and we should not forget that Gatland will think about the back-row as a unit so the players selected at 6 and 7 could determine who is picked at the back of the scrum.
Verdict: possibly in the test squad
You know the drill by now – vote for your test starter in the pool below, then give your reasoning in the comments section.
By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)