Lions test squad predictor: Tighthead prop

No-one on tour so far has disgraced themselves in any position but some of the starting berths are a bit more clear cut than others. The question of who will play tight-head prop and anchor the scrum is one of them.

Adam Jones

The frizzy-haired Welshman has only made one start this tour, being subbed on against the Barbarians and subbed on against the Reds before playing at the weekend against the Waratahs. But Warren Gatland knows and trusts Jones more than the challengers and has the advantage of showing up well in Lions test matches when he replaced Phil Vickery against South Africa in 2009. Jones has established himself as one of the world’s best props and has been solid on tour so far. One gets the feeling he is being kept as fresh as possible for a starting berth come June 22nd.

Verdict: nailed on test starter

Dan Cole

Matt Stevens has the ability to play either side of the scrum, and if there was only one prop on the bench then Stevens would make the cut here. But Cole gets my spot on the bench due to his superior all-round game. Again, the Englishman has shown up well when called upon so far despite the lack of really testing opposition. If the Lions dominate the Aussies in the scrum as many people expect then a fresh Cole coming off the bench will not be welcomed by the men in gold. He will also be keen to banish the memory of a disappointing scrummaging performance against the Australians for England at Twickenham in November last year.

Verdict: on the bench for the first test

Matt Stevens

He was picked as the utility prop with his ability to play loose-head and tight-head but the problem with that label is while you are an asset over the length of a tour, you are unlikely to be in pole position for a Test shirt. Stevens has not done much wrong, but a few mistakes here and there go noticed when the rest of the squad seem to be firing. A couple of dropped balls (he is not the only one) and a bit of trouble keeping up with the speed of play means Stevens will be the midweek man.

Verdict: not in the test squad

Over to you now – who would you start at tighthead in the first test?

Who should start at tighthead in the first test?

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By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)

28 thoughts on “Lions test squad predictor: Tighthead prop

  1. Yep, Adam nailed on. Not rightfully so in some people’s opinion but for me definitely. The best tighthead in the scrum and excellent around the park.

    1. I think “excellent” is pushing it – he’s not as good around the park as Cole, but he’s definitely the test starter.

    2. Slam dunk test certainty, the best in the scrum (by some distance), but did seem to struggle with the pace of the game on Saturday. There was plenty of inter-ruck waddling going on.

      I hope he’s sent out with the instructions to empty the tank in the first 50-55. Give it everything rather than pace himself for 70 mins. Bring Cole on when he’s gassed.

  2. I’d take Corbs and Cole instead of Mako and Jones personally. And no, Jones isn’t anywhere near as good as Cole around the park.

    1. The idea that Jones is “nowhere near as good” around the park as Cole is not a universally shared opinion, which is my point. Yes, I know a lot of people think it but I also know a lot of people who do not.

      Once you entertain the idea that Cole isn’t like an extra flanker while Jones is just a spare part (to take the “nowhere near as good”) then it becomes clearer who the test tight is.

      For a lot of us Jones is the best scrummager and competes well around the park, not badly enough for Cole to be considered miles ahead, much better or whatever comparative phrase you want to use.

      And no, you telling me that X people agree with you does not make it a fact that Cole is a streak of lightning around the park while Jones is like an Easter Island statue. It’s an opinion so cannot be argued against based on volume of sharers or lack of.

      I know I’m banging on about this but it is infuriating to hear “Cole is much better in the loose” stated like a “water is wet” fact when it is not a fact, it is an opinion that not everyone shares.

      1. Cole is a fit ripped athlete (have you seen his 6 pack with his shirt off?). He’s far more mobile, gets to rucks much faster, and can jackal. I don’t think Jones is appalling outside of the scrum, he tackles well, holds players up well, disrupts the maul and can generate turnovers from other routes than the breakdown. But I watched him really struggling to get from ruck to ruck on Sat, nowhere near as fit as Cole.

        The only (and correct) reason to select Jones over Cole is the scrum. But it’s like selecting Croft and then suggesting we won’t miss Lydiate’s tackling, Cole clearly has focussed on getting himself superbly conditioned to maximise what he can do out of the scrum.

        Of course it’s all unquantified opinion, last week Lydiate was the best 6 in an opinion and 91% of the voters thought otherwise. The which prop is best around the park vote would probably be similarly one sided.

        1. Saying Cole is better around the park than Jones I can get my head around. Perhaps not agree, but get my head around. Saying Jones is “nowhere near as good”, saying Jones is not excellent, etc. is when, for me, it descends into hyperbole.

          1. I was astonished as well, but caught a glimpse of it on one of the galleries on the lions site. There’s also a shot of him in the pool where there’s some incredible muscularity in his back. Considering he was a bit of a fat lump in his very early days he’s clearly taken his conditioning and nutrition really seriously.

        2. Could reply to the appropriate comment, however, I wasn’t questioning the validity of your statement about Cole’s six pack rather questioning how it could apply to anything. I have one but I can’t scrummage for shiitake mushrooms

          1. LOL, just an observation that he’s now a superbly conditioned athlete. If you strapped 10Kg of lard on him it would however impact his ability to get to so many breakdowns, and no way could he get there fast enough to demonstrate his jackal skills.

        3. I wonder how much his slimming down (of which has been noticeable over the past 2 years) has actually affected his scrummaging, it was before he was a model of fitness that he was a dominating scrummager.

          1. agree with Fraze that the scrummaging has definitely throttled back.

            another point i would bring up, is that I havent noticed a huge amount of Coles jackalling recently. its fair to say he is great in the breakdown, because i know the skill you are referring to, and have seen him do it countless times (hence his likening to backrowers) but this is another skill which seems to have diminished. i dont think its for want of trying, i just think that such an issue was made of it, that he has been targeted at rucks.

            Personally i would have Cole on the bench. Adam is a better scrummager, and i think Cole would provide more of an impact off the bench. similarly, if he is not in the starting team, then hopefully he will be less targeted when he does come on, and we can actually see him being better in the loose. because in recent months, his loose impact has not been as much as it was when he was receiving so much praise.

  3. A lot of people blogging here need to watch Jones last game. He did not miss a 1st up tackle, defend the ruck and maul and was instrumental in preventing quick ball, without getting ‘pinged’. Aided and abetted the backrow in the turnovers won, and oh he out scrummage is opponent to boot. Cole on the bench is fine, but not 1st name on the team sheet.

    1. A 4 way tie with 1/2p, Sexton and North for first names on the team sheet, but do not agree Saturday was some incredible contribution outside of the scrum.
      – The lowest number of tackles completed by a forward (tied with Croft!)
      – Tops the penalties conceded stat
      – Touched the ball twice (2 passes, no runs) – lacked the fitness to offer himself as a carrier. (Next up on this list is Youngs 9, Warburton and Croft 10)

      He makes a useful contribution, but I don’t see the evidence he is some super fit athletic prop who is tearing it up in the loose. That said I don’t care if he doesn’t touch the ball once and doesn’t make a single tackle if he smashes it in the scrum and we see the Wallabies pinged into the sin bin!

  4. wouldn’t say jones is bad around the park despite his performance on saturday, decent i’d say, definitely test starter but to say he’s as good around the park as Cole is pushing it to far.

  5. For me Jones is the 2nd best tighthead currently playing in the Northern Hemisphere behind Afoa.

      1. back in his day he was by far the best around, but I don’t think he’s near that level now, maybe it’s a bit harsh but I wouldn’t rate him as better than Afoa or Jones to be honest

  6. I say start Jones as he is our best scrummager and that is where we all want to get on top. But if when Cole comes on we start to/continue to/ further dominate their scrum then I would play Cole in the second test.

    1. i doubt we will see Cole dominate. he seems to have trouble with Ben Robinson (possibly because Robinson is shorter – Cole has similar issues with Domingo). Jones is a bit shorter than Cole, and will therefore find it easier to get dominance.

      I personally feel that any dominance on that side of the scrum while Cole is on will likely come because of an overwhelming power behind Cole.

      Dont get me wrong, i am a big fan of Cole, but recently his scrummaging hasnt been as good, and he does struggle against smaller props.
      having said this, the scrum did look good when he and Corbs came on, but i think that that was more of an entire pack dominance, not just Cole.

  7. Adam Jones definitely. Make sure we have that platform up front and all else will follow (hopefully!). Jones is fine at defending narrow, but wouldn’t say that he is excellent round the park. Rate Cole better in that department as does pretty much everyone else here, but that as most of us recognise is secondary.

    Would like to see how Cole does with exactly the same pack as Jones as I would like to know whether he is struggling slightly with the scrum or whether ultimately he has been hampered by a lighter weight tight five. Don’t know if any of the scrimmaging experts can answer that?

      1. Far be it from me to propagate the man love from you matt but it was his back you were talking about earlier i have also seen that photo on the website hahaha

  8. I used to say Cole, as with Healy and Hibbard, scrum dominance would be nearly certain anyway. With those 2, Jones’ scrummaging isn’t needed nearly as much. But with Healy gone and Hibbard’s lineout going to mush, my choice 1 and 2 are now Vunipola and Youngs. With that in mind, to retake the dominance in the scrum; Jones is my choice 3. Making a front row of Vunipola, Youngs and Jones.
    And I don’t think Cole has trouble against Robinson because he’s shorter, because Woodcock is the same height as Robinson and Cole had no problem walking him back last December. I find that Cole scrummages best when Corbisiero is outside him. Looking back at the AIs, it’s amazing how much Cole’s scrummaging improved between the Aus and SA game.
    England’s best scrummaging games from 2012 were Ireland, SA (Autumn) and NZ, all three of those efforts were whilst Cole had the luxury of Corbisiero to his left. Similarly; Corbisiero got yellow carded for collapsing against the CONSUR XV, immediately after; Marler held it up no problem.
    It’s almost like Corbisiero and Cole rely on each other’s presence to do well.

  9. I’m a fan of Adam Jones and his career trajectory has gone up at a time where I anticipated it to go down. I have been really impressed with his effort the last couple of years.

    That said, I’m personally more impressed by Cole in the loose and in the pack. In the first couple of matches Jones played for the Lions I was calling penalties against Jones at pretty much every scrum, it was that blatant and while he gets away with it it’s fine, I’m just not convinced it’ll work in the tests.

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