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
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
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
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
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
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)