Phillips has not seen a great deal of action so far – the majority of the opening game against the Barbarians and a cameo appearance off the bench – which has lead most people to believe he is one of the players Gatland is shielding from injury/overexertion before the first test. With the Kiwi as coach it was always going to be a case of the others having to work hard to displace Phillips, and thus far it hasn’t really happened. A man-of-the-match outing in Hong Kong showcased all of Phillips’ key attributes – abrasiveness, physicality and decent game management – while also laying down a marker for Youngs and Murray to live up to. Question marks remain over the accuracy and speed of his service – particularly when up against the lightening-quick Will Genia – but if it hasn’t been an issue for Gatland until now, it is unlikely to be so for the Lions.
Verdict: probable test starter
One of the biggest disappointments so far has been the lack of playing time Youngs and Sexton have had together. The England scrum-half has started just one game, against the Reds, when he partnered Owen Farrell. His game could combine perfectly with Sexton who, like his club and international mate Flood, likes to stand flat and run at the opposition. Allied with Youngs’ arcing runs it is an exciting prospect. It is likely that the plan is to bring Ben Youngs off the bench to torment tired Australian legs, but there is a sense in many parts that up against Will Genia – the best scrum half in the world – Gatland is missing a trick in leaving Youngs on the bench. He is the only scrum-half on tour that even comes close to Genia’s attacking threat around the fringes, while his service is just as snappy and his box-kicking has become as reliable as anyone’s this season. Of the two guys, if you asked the Australians who they would prefer not to face, I suspect the majority would say Youngs.
Verdict: likely to be on the bench
Murray is the third choice scrum-half, but in all fairness he has played pretty well so far. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to offer anything that Mike Phillips doesn’t, and what he does do well, Phillips seems to do that little bit better. He has been branded a ‘poor man’s Mike Phillips’ in some parts, which is probably a bit unfair but understandable all the same. He has the same physical attributes as Phillips, meaning he is more of a stand and deliver scrum-half and doesn’t have the pace of Youngs. If Phillips starts, Murray cannot be the bench option because he is too similar.
Verdict: not in the test squad
Your turn now – vote for your favoured test scrum-half in the poll below, and explain your choice in the comments section.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43