Lions coach Warren Gatland has food for thought after Ryan Grant’s solid performance yesterday against the Melbourne Rebels– making it unclear whether Mako Vunipola will be first choice for the loosehead prop shirt.
Mako Vunipola was, for many, the natural replacement for injured Alex Corbisiero but after the Lions’ scrum dissolved just after half-time in the first Test with the replacement front-row coming on, the Lions head coach might need to rethink.
Many of the ‘second string’, including Sean O’Brien and Manu Tuilagi, laid a marker down in yesterday’s 35-0 win and in the engine room Grant stated his case for inclusion. The man from Fife scrummaged well – albeit against less testing opposition – and if Gatland is picking his second Test side for the same reasons as the first, then Grant’s performance at the set piece would merit his inclusion over Vunipola.
Grant also impressed in open play, carrying the ball five times and he crucially won two turn-overs – an area of the game which will be more competitive this weekend after Chris Pollock’s whistle-happy performance at Suncorp. The Scot, who made his international debut last summer, made seven tackles against the Rebels – more than his front-row compatriots – but the final say on his inclusion will be down to his performance in the scrum, judged by Graham Rowntree.
With the casualty list in the front row, I believe Grant’s performance should get him a place on the bench but it would not surprise if he was named to start on Saturday.
Gatland said the reason for choosing Corbisiero ahead of Vunipola for the first Test was due to the likelihood of wet weather as Corbisiero is more solid in the scrum. It is looking dry for Melbourne at the weekend, but will the disintegration of the Lions scrum in the first Test convince Gatland to go with the more reliable scrummaging of Grant?
Vunipola is devastating when unleashed with ball in hand, much more so than the bearded Scotsman, and Gatland believes that to be the New Zealand-born prop’s best asset, but mainly when coming off the bench against a tired defence.
The only concern with starting Grant would be his lack of top-drawer opposition since arriving on tour prior to being unleashed in the biggest Test match he will have played. That said, on the back of an impressive first season for Scotland and with injuries rife in the Lions camp, who says there can’t be a man from north of the border starting a Test for the first time since Tom Smith in 2001?
And Smith’s position? Loosehead prop.
By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images