Lions Test Squad Predictor: Wings

Tommy Bowe

An unfortunate injury has hindered Bowe’s chances of making the test XV, and the winger now faces a race against time for his hand injury to heal before the conclusion of the tour. The Ulsterman was highly impressive against both the Western Force and Queensland Reds, running elusive lines and breaking the gain line almost every time he took the ball. Perhaps considered a likely test starter when the squad was first announced, Bowe has done nothing to change those opinions, and has in fact reinforced them considerably with his performances in Australia. His slick lines have also been suggested as the perfect foil to the physicality of George North, particularly in terms of testing the Australian defence. The general consensus seems to be that Bowe will miss the first test with his injury, but could return after that.

Verdict: unlikely to make it in time for the first test; could feature thereafter

Alex Cuthbert

Cuthbert’s start to the Lions tour has been good, but not great. He was at his rampaging best against the Barbarians, running in tries and showing the power and speed we have come to know from the young man, but he failed to have a similar influence a week later against the Reds. In the first real challenge to the Lions, the Reds exposed Cuthbert defensively on a couple of occasions, and the winger then went missing from the game offensively at times, possibly raising some concerns for Warren Gatland. The winger was back to his best against Combined Country, and though it’s hard to take too much from a game against such an inferior opposition, the confidence boost will have done him no harm at all. A quick recovery from Bowe could put his spot in danger, but as long as the Irishman is injured he will be favourite to partner North.

Verdict: likely to start the first test

Sean Maitland

There was a lot of surprise when Maitland was announced in the Lions squad, but the winger/fullback has performed admirably so far on tour. He looked good against both the Barbarians and Combined Country, as well as putting in a worthy performance off the bench against Western Force. Although he hasn’t done too much wrong on the tour, it’s doubtful whether he offers the same game changing ability that the trio of Bowe, Cuthbert and North do. He has shown his versatility, playing well at both wing and fullback, but barring injury, is unlikely to feature in the test match squad.

Verdict: not in the test match squad

George North

The powerful back has been the form winger of the tour so far, narrowly edging out Bowe for the accolade. He was dominant against Western Force, but really proved his credentials against the Reds after coming off the bench. He showed his versatility by playing at outside centre initially, before moving out to his favoured wing role, but gave the Reds defence a torrid time at both positions. His performances so far in Australia (and Hong Kong) have been so impressive that he has even drawn admiring glances from Super Rugby franchises and NRL sides, both of whom would relish his physical and ball-playing ability. Gatland will now be hoping he doesn’t lose North to injury as he did with Bowe, as the Welshman is as close to a nailed on starter as the likes of Jonathan Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny.

Verdict: nailed on test match starter

Simon Zebo

Zebo is really an unknown quantity within the squad, as he is yet to play a game for the Lions following his call up as cover for the injured Bowe. He has displayed his qualities well for both Ireland and Munster, but that’s unlikely to be enough for Gatland to consider him as anything more than cover for Bowe, should Bowe’s injury not heal as expected. It would take quite a long list of injuries, or some miraculous performances from Zebo, to see him leapfrog the other contenders.

Verdict: not in the test match squad

[poll id=”246″]

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

7 thoughts on “Lions Test Squad Predictor: Wings

    1. North, Roberts, BOD, Tuilagi, Halfpenny. That wouldn’t be such a bad back line, but I suspect Gatland is looking at starting Tuilagi with BOD in the centre. Roberts wasn’t great yesterday, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Tuilagi by a long way. I expect to see him against the Waratahs on Saturday, but not sure who with?

  1. Shame that Bowe got injured. He and North could have been unstoppable. Hopefully we will see both in the latter tests.

    Personally I would plump for Zebo, or Hogg at 14 for the first test.

    I am a bit worried by the defensive frailty of Cuthbert. He is a top finisher, but a good lions winger needs more than that.

  2. If Bowe isn’t available for the first test then why make him an option in the poll? It just messes up the results. If fit I would definitely start him with North, but as it is I chose Mainland instead.

  3. North is a given. After that would go for Maitland. Cuthbert is a fine physical specimen, but I’m not convinced by his instincts or his skill set. Maitland has both and plenty of gas.

  4. Personally I would go with Zebo. Cuthbert is too unreliable in defence to stick him against the Aussies, but Zebo has the X-factor that the Aussies will not like. Searing pace, an unpredictability with ball in hand and exceptional footballing skills give him the edge in my opinion. Maitland or Hogg on the bench, but Zebo to start with North.

  5. There is some upside to having Cuthbert on the wing specifically decent finisher, high work rate and importantly the height to combat the aerial ability of Falau.

    The lack of express pace (Falau may burn him on the outside) and defensive positioning/being flat footed in defence are concerns but I think he’s ahead of Maitland on form. I would have liked to see Zebo (or Wade) in the original party to bring something different to the big straight line runners so I’m glad he’s been called up. However it’s a big ask for him to jump to the top of the queue in a week.

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