Lions test squad predictor: Number 8

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.

Jamie Heaslip

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

Toby Faletau

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.

Who should start at number 8 in the first test?

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By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)

40 thoughts on “Lions test squad predictor: Number 8

  1. I went for Falatau based on the fact that I think Croft and Warburton will be at 6 and 7, with Falatau doing a bit more of the dirty work than Heaslip that should allow Croft to get his hands on the ball a bit wider.

  2. Fale because I think the unit of Lydiate/Fale/Warb will be the backrow.

    I’d love to see it but fear for the overload of “Gat’s picks his favourites” stuff that will be everywhere. So I’ll say it here first – it is possible for people to think this is the best backrow without it simply being a lazy “pick my Welsh boys” option. I suspect most will disagree though…

    Why? – I want a hard tackling six to give Sexton, Warbs and Phillips the chance to be the link men we need. Croft is good at this but I don’t see the need for him with the other backrow and out halves I’d choose. Fale over Heaslip? Again, in my opinion Fale is a better link player and a great carrier. Warbs is the best snaffler in the squad. Balanced for me.

    1. I’m not sure about that being the best back row on offer. Will any of those guys run the wider channels like Croft or Healsip would? I think that is needed to stretch a defence.

      For me it is Warburton. Then a combo of either Croft and Falatau or Heaslip and SOB. Lydiate for me looks well off the pace. But if he does play, I’d rather Heaslip be at 8 as it would a more balanced back row.

    2. Brighty, I could say I don’t support England, but it doesn’t make it true.

      Your back row selection might be justified when they are all on form, but Lydiate isn’t, Warbs isn’t the best Welsh 7 on tour and Faletau is probably not playing as well as Heaslip. Yes they might be balanced but they are not the best back row available. To demonstrate this, I could say bring back Hill, Back and Dallaglio as they were a perfectly balanced back row, but the truth of the matter is that they won’t be playing their best rugby at the moment so it would be wrong. Same comment applies to your remarkably one eyed approach to picking the back row.

      To my mind work out who your best two back row players are and then by all means pick your third to give some balance. None of the three you mention are in the top two back rowers on tour.

      1. Yeah, all one eyed. Your opinion of who has played best on the tour is more legitimate mine.

        Disapointing – disagree with the choices by all means but don’t presume you know my motivation for picking them. I’ve quickly explained why I prefer them and could go on but it would all be ignored as obviously I’m just picking the Welsh boys. This is going to be a permanent issue throughout this tour – whenever Gats or a Welsh fan picks a Welsh player over someone else’s perceived “better” player in that position then it will be viewed purely and simply as bias. So we Welsh fans can’t really convince anyone we are not being biased unless it’s unarguable (Halfpenny/North).

        Your opinion of who has been the best differs from mine. There have been people unimpressed by Tuilagi, saying Hogg should start at FB, preferring Best over Hibbard, etc. Argue with the opinions and leave out the rubbish about being one eyed. Even being in the minority doesn’t devalue an opinion to the point where you can simply dismiss it as bias. If all of this was crystal clear then we wouldn’t need debate, blogs or even selectors.

        1. If I agree that it may not be one eyed for a second can you really sit there and say you think these three have been the best back row players on tour? Or even over the past six months of rugby? Surely not?

          Falatau was the best 8 over the past 6 months, and I’d play him. I think Warburton will play because he is captain and I have no issues with that. But selecting Lydiate is the one that baffles me.

          He has been injured for a long time, but I get that if on top form he is the best 6 around (I agree with thatto be honest), but is he anywhere near that type of form? No IMO.

          1. As I said when the squad was announced I’m not going purely with form – I’m going with their top end game. I still have faith that Lydiate will, in the company of his partners, replicate that level of performance. It’s a gamble but it’s my choice and as you say it’s not as if I’m blindly picking clearly permanently inferior players. These are the best, IMO (don’t like using that as everything I say is IMO but want to make it clear now), backrow players in the B&I. Heaslip’s form has also been up and down so I’m not going to discard Fale, who has also played well, on the basis of 1 decent match and 3 dead rubbers (I mean for the Lions as a whole).

            On Tuesday Roberts was average at best but that doesn’t make me want to drop him now – similarly I’m not thinking Hogg should now play 10 based on a really good performance on Tuesday and I’m not dropping 1/2p because of that 1 defensive mistake that nearly led to a try.

            Put the best players in the best positions – I’ve not seen Lydiate do anything wrong, I have seen other players perform better against weaker opposition so on balance they have not done enough to displace who I think is the better 6. I’ve seen Heaslip perform like a mare for an entire 6Ns but that doesn’t discount him from selection.

            In short I’m probably a little like the Lions managers – not enough decent games, not enough preparation time to really have seen anything that displaces who I already thought were the best players in those positions.

          2. Lydiate’s not played an international game for almost a year. You can’t go in on reputation and faith alone when you aren’t looking as sharp as you were before an injury on that length of gap.

            Tom Wood put in a towering performance against NZ, probably the best performance by a B+I 6 in an international game in the last 12 months. Should he go in because he has shown what heights he can reach? Or not because his subsequent form didn’t match it.

            Lydiate is a fantastic player, but to keep out other fantastic players (who are playing very well) you have to prove you are back to your best, he’s not done that yet and won’t get the chance on Sat, so the first test is at least 1 week too early.

            Think it would be a very poor call and bad for the moral of the group if performances from 12 months ago hold greater value that performances from 1 week ago.

        2. Lydiate and Warbs are the perfect double act, literally smash and grab. I would love them to be flankers ….. but I don’t either have proved they are sharp enough yet. With Lydiate not getting a game this weekend I think the first test is coming a week too soon for him. Think it’s coming down to a choice between SOB’s carrying versus Croft’s lineout work and pace.

          Warburton looked a little plodding last weekend and can’t see him beating Hooper to many breakdowns on that performance. Tipuric Vs Hooper probably a much better match up on form thus far. Warburton is, in my opinion, one of the best rugby athletes on the planet so I do expect him to make a dramatic step forward on Sat.

        3. Brighty!! You had done well recently and then suddenly the one-eyed ill informed drongo of old pops up again. Come on Brighty I expect better now.

  3. I’ve gone Fale, same reason as Jacob. I think they are going to want Croft’s work at the tail of the lineout (Croft needs a big game this weekend to deserve the shirt though) and I couldn’t pick Heaslip and Croft in the same team.

    1. I think if you go 2nd row of POC and Parling then the lineout is sorted and hence no need for Croft who, for reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere, I don’t think is the right 6 for the test team.

      Been impressed with Parling having had the chance to properly watch him – big, hungry and seems to have a bit of a sixth sense at the lineout.

      1. POC + AWJ or POC + Parling will be great lineout combos. The dependence on Croft significantly reduced with either, but I think they will want a genuine 3rd option. Horwill is also an exceptional lineout exponent, not inconceivable he ends up dominating the front or middle of the lineout.

      2. Brighty I have replied to you on this post because it wouldn’t let me above, why would you play warbs over tipuric?

  4. Quite obviously I am Welsh and like Brighty feed up with this ‘Welsh’ bias bollotics. Heaslip starts the first test for me, has shone more that Fal. But he has to earn it in that first test to keep it.

  5. How annoyed can you be? Just spent 20 minutes replying to Brighty and the bloomin computer decided it didn’t like me and crashed the page. I’m not writing it all out again. Needless to say, my opinion differs from yours and that’s not anti-Welsh bias.

    1. I know you’re not anti-welsh biased. Differing opinions is expected. But I’m trying to be clear that my back row is not pro welsh bias at all.

      I’m concerned overall about our options at six. I’ve never been convinced by SOB. His “if there isn’t a gap I’ll make one” (his words) approach works well against inferior players but, as Wales showed in RWC 11, if you hit him low and hard, as Lyds can, then he doesn’t have much else to offer. My ambivalence to Croft has been well discussed. So I’m left with Lydiate – IMO the best 6 in the NH when on top of his game. So that’s why I’m going for him – not impressed with the alternatives, not seen enough decent Lions opposition overall for me to change my opinion of who should start. If Wood was on the tour then maybe it would be different but he is not.

      1. I like O’Brien’s attitude but maybe thats just because he has a great surname, however with reference to your lydiate can stop him, yes he probably can, as could Joe Worlsey but they are/were tree choppers, I’m not sure that the Aussie midfield would be quite as good at that job. If this was a national team I would look at it with regards to a world stage, but this isn’t its the australian stage, as this team is never going to have to play wales etc :)

      2. I think Ferris is the best 6 in the NH but he can never get fit. In many ways like Lydiate.

        You have to pick your Lions team on performances leading up to the first team. However, there hasnt been a stiff test of the team yet. I feel Warbuton may have a big game on sat and silence the doubters. Since he is captain and class I would go with.

        O Brien, Warbuton, Faletau. With Tipuric or heaslip on the bench.

        1. Good call B – Ferris was a big loss to the Lions (not really in the frame as never fit, but if he had got fit I’m sure he would have been).

  6. If you could see all the posts I’ve ever put on this site they would say one of three things.

    1) George North is going to be awesome (I called it 2 years ago people ;)
    2) Ryan Jones is underrated (He should be on this Lions tour)
    or 3) I’ve never rated the Irish back row.

    All that taken in to account I’m picking Ryan Jones. What do you mean he’s not on tour? Fine Faletau it is then.

  7. I’m getting worried about selection.

    I understand and agree with most of what people say here, but it seems that the games are to easy and the players are being judged mainly on previous form, if we go into this game with the entire welsh tam we will lose just like Wales have done in most of their matches.

    1. “if we go into this game with the entire welsh tam we will lose just like Wales have done in most of their matches.”

      As a Wales supporter I have decided to not rise to this particular taunt. I’m sure others will do it for me. How about Brighty? I’m sure he might.

      1. how could you? he never mentioned the welsh team, just the welsh tam,whatever that might be :) you have to see his point though, you guys haven’t beaten aus for a long time. yes you haven’t had the favourable conditions that scotland got but the point stands

  8. I just wish Morgan was on tour, both 8’s are playing well but I don’t think either has hit top form, with Faletau disappointing so far.

    For me an 8 should be a real line buster, and heasIp has done more of that on tour so far.

  9. Following this theme up, pick players who know how to beat the Ozzies – anyone interested in actually seeing the lIons win will have O’Brien and Heaslip amongst the first names on the sheets. They are both reaching top form and have clearly stood out so far this tour.

    I would pick 1/2Penny, Phillips, North, Adam Jones as welsh players who have stood out and similarly deserving of a first test place.

    ON FORM, starters for first test;

    A Jones

    That leaves 5 spots still to be fought over. Roberts and Warburton are probably in but not on basis of how well they’re playing…

  10. There has been so munch written, so I am just going to save time and write it here.

    Brighty, the issue people have – and is why they are claiming bias – is because you have selected 3 Welshmen in your backrow, who so far have been outperformed by the other backrowers.

    A selection of Hibbard, Adam Jones, Tipuric, Phillips, Roberts, North or Halfpenny would provide no calls of welsh bias at all, as these players have all performed quite well (exclude Roberts against Country).
    The problem is, you have chosen an entire unit from one nation, and based it on what they CAN do, as opposed to what they have been doing. I know you are an advocate of the “form is temporary, class is permanent” philosophy (I am too), but the lions don’t have time to hope someone will bring their top form. They have to pick someone who is genuinely performing.

    Your logic for picking your backrow is sound, they are a well balanced trio, and when all on form would be a pretty strong bet for the lions backrow. However, they have all been outplayed by another player so far. And to add to that, the other players can also provide a balanced backrow. With that in mind, you have to get the better performing backrowers on the field.

    I would have Tipuric at 7 to do the ruck work and link play. Heaslip at 8. And I cannot decide between croft and SOB for 6, but at this point in time I would probably put the other one on the bench (I might play Faletau on the bench too though – he has not been as good as heaslip, but has been decent so far)

    1. Simo, in short I’d say it’s a difference of opinion, not bias. As I’ve said – I don’t rate much of any of the 6 performances so far – the opposition was not impressive, so it has not displaced in my mind who the best 6 is. I agree with you about getting the best backrowers on the field, and can happily see other people think others are better, but any failure to change my mind about who I think is best seems to really wind people up and then all the old country based baggage comes out.

      As an example, people on here are saying Morgan is the best no. 8 and should be here – I could say that was bias (those commenters are undoubtedly all English) as to me that is clearly, clearly not true, but it’s not a worthwhile argument and really says more about me than it does about them – maybe they’re not biased but if I assumed they were then it’s me who has the issue, not them.

      Back to the rugby – notice the name that Gats leaves out of this backrow selection discussion – “The performance on Saturday is important for Sam, and Jamie [Heaslip] and Tom [Croft] as well. You look at Sean O’Brien’s carrying the other night, we know he can play seven as well, then you look at the talent and ability Tom brings and then there is the devastation defensively and tightness Dan Lydiate can bring. The two eights [Heaslip and Toby Faletau] are different types of players as well. It is going to be a long night making that final decision.”

      Unlucky for Tips then…

      1. I read the exact same article Brighty, and saw that he talked of every backrower bar Tipuric. I came to the same conclusion that he’s not going to figure.

        To counter though i didn’t hear the entire interview and the BBC could just be picking out bits of the interview.. for all i know he may have talked at length about Tips!

      2. Personally, I don’t think you were being bias with regards to this selection. I was just hoping to explain why others might, and avoid everyone getting in a national debate again – it’s rare for me to play this role ;)

        I think you have decided on Warburton and Faletau (tour captain and an 8 who has had a pretty decent tour so far – sound bets) which brings you to selecting the best 6 to go with them. Logically I totally see why you have gone for Lydiate. He balances them well, they are familiar together.

        My personally opinion (like you said, everything on here is opinion) is that they are not the best performing backrowers on the tour, therefore I would not select them for the first test.

        If they are, then that’s how it is. There is nothing we can do to change it, we just need to support them. I hope that (if they are selected) we will see a good performance for them to justify it. The last thing we want is an under performing backrow. It is such a key area, that if they are outdone, we will likely lose the first test – putting us at a real disadvantage for the rest of the tour.

        Like I said, i totally understand your backrow selection – personally I do not think you have been bias – you have gone for balance (something that I regularly bang on about on this site).

        If you started saying that that backrow should play behind AWJ and Evans (leaving out POC) THEN I think people could raise an eyebrow or two, but your logic behind the backrow is pretty sound from where I am sitting

      3. Forgot to comment on the point about the interview.

        I too read that one. It was interesting that he didn’t comment on Tips. I would hope, as Anarky said, that he either spoke of tips at some point or it was just an oversight and he forgot to mention him.

        Either way, the backrow for me is the most exciting and contentious of selection areas (not the centres!) so I wait with baited breath.

  11. “I think you have decided on Warburton and Faletau (tour captain and an 8 who has had a pretty decent tour so far – sound bets) which brings you to selecting the best 6 to go with them. Logically I totally see why you have gone for Lydiate. He balances them well, they are familiar together. ” -> spot on.

    Jumping ahead of this column but as you mentioned it my 2nd row is POC and Parling – which got me roundly slated down the pub last night. Seems the smart money is on POC and AWJ.

    And, because I just can’t stop myself, I’m going to say that my front row is Corbs/Hibbard/Jones. I suspect Corbs is the surprise there given his late call up and Vunipola is a very, very good player but I remember well the damage Corbs did for England last year. A great scrummager, sorely missed by England in this years 6Ns.

  12. Brighty, I can’t reply to your latest comment, so will have to do so here.

    I do like a combination of POC and Parling (saw you mentioned it somewhere else). Personally I would go for Gray and POC. I think they blend well, and they are going to be very physically intimidating to the Aussies (timani was a big loss for them). Gary’s footballing ability gives an added dimension as well.

    I like the look of your front row. Also noticed that Corbs was asking Walsh questions during the break of the Country game, just trying to get a good understanding of what the ref was looking for at scrum time (shows that he understands he needs to play to the ref, not against him). I am a big corbs fan, I think that he could have been the 3rd LH over mako had injury not been an issue. Mako has been superhuman so far this tour, but scrummaging is still a weakness. I would have corbs to start, mako on the bench. Tom Youngs has impressed more than Best for me, and cole is a given after jones. Probably seems a bit English heavy (4 of 6) but I really couldn’t justify going for anyone else outside if these 6 names, at this stage. Hibbard and Jones have to start for me, both have been excellent this year, and had good tours so far.

    Front row is probably one of the least contentious spots.

  13. Could Lydaite play 7? Just thinking a combination of Croft, Lydaite and Heaslip or Faletau would be interesting. We all know that Lydiate is great defensively, but from what I’ve seen doesn’t offer much going forward. Croft is famous for his pace, lineout skills, and wing walking. But he can change a game dramatically going forward. With Lydaite doing the dirty work (which he seems to love) they could be a perfect balance on the flanks.

  14. Can’t understand why Gatland would leave Tipuric out. For me, he is the best ball-snaffling 7 in the N Hemisphere and has shown his ability again on this tour

    I remember Welsh fans complaining about Howley picking Warburton over Tipuric earlier this year – and they were right. Unless Warburton shows his form is back with a stormer tomorrow, he should not be chosen

    Tipuric is also a great link man and has a good turn of speed as he showed vs England in the 6 nations

    Tipuric at 7, Lydiate at 6 to balance him with his tackling abilities (and allow Tipuric to get over the ball) and Heaslip at 8 for the big carries

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