The Lions tour is special for so many reasons, but one of the biggest and best is there are invariably one or two players who seem to come from no-where and make a name for themselves. Having read Will Greenwood’s article this morning in which he discussed this phenomenon with perhaps the player who typifies it best – Ryan Jones – it got me thinking: who else has come out of no-where to feature in the test matches in recent years?
2001 Tour to Australia
Andy Nicol loves to tell the story of how he had been following the Lions on a supporters tour – not an entirely sober affair, I’m told – when he got the call to come and join the squad, duly finding himself on the bench for the last test. He never got on, thankfully for the Lions. Perhaps the most surprising member of the test squads for this tour was Martin Corry, who had been called up for the perennially unlucky Simon Taylor, a man who suffered horrible form with injuries. Corry had always been a club stalwart who had never quite translated his form onto the international stage, and had perhaps suffered from being too versatile, able as he was to play lock, blindside and no.8. Nevertheless, once called up he played in three warm-up games and impressed Graham Henry sufficiently to be called into the starting line-up for the first test – that historic win at the Gabba. He perhaps didn’t endear himself to the coach with a yellow card, and was subsequently benched for the second test before returning to the starting line-up for the series decider. Whatever happened, few would have had him featuring in all three tests before the tour started.
2005 Tour to New Zealand
This was the tour that heralded the emergence of one Ryan Jones, at the time a scrappy back-rower who had only made his Wales debut the previous November. He is perhaps the best example of a player who came in and excelled when no-one really expected him to. Who was the man unlucky enough to be replaced? Simon Taylor, yet again. Off the books at Bath now after a few seasons in the West Country, it is tempting to wonder just how good he could have been if injuries had not taken their toll. Anyway, Jones got his shot and took it with some aplomb. He joined the tour quite late on, and was thrust into the starting line-up against Otago, a game in which he scored a try. This was enough to get him onto the bench for the first test, and after impressing from there he started both the second and third tests. It wasn’t a successful tour by any means, but Jones’ emergence was undoubtedly one of the positives.
On a side note, Ollie Smith (remember him?) was also capped on that tour, in the game against Argentina – a match which was decided to be worthy of a cap some time later. He played no further part on the tour (in terms of game time, anyway), but surely has to go down as one of the most random tourists ever.
2009 Tour to South Africa
There were a few surprise inclusions in this squad (Keith Earls springs to mind – an experiment it’s fair to say backfired somewhat), but none that really jump off the page. Perhaps the man who seized his opportunity best was Tom Croft – a player many suspect will play a role in the tests again this tour – who was only called up as a replacement for the banned Alan Quinlan. He was far from experienced at this point, having only made his international debut the previous year, but this perhaps worked in his favour with his pace and strong support lines catching the South Africans unawares, and leading to him scoring two tries in the opening test.
Lee Mears is another man you easily forget once played for the Lions – he started that first test, but was subsequently dropped after the South African front row dominated. And then of course there is Ricky Flutey, of Kiwi decent, who had only recently made his bow for England and became the only man to have played both for and against the Lions, having lined up for the Maori on their previous tour of New Zealand.
2013 Tour to Australia
Who knows? The beauty of it is only Gatland knows who is in his plans and who isn’t. Popular standby options at the moment seem to include Chris Robshaw, Jonny Wilkinson and Tom Wood, with the second man on that list particularly likely to feature at some point. It would be quite a story if Jonny were to return Down Under and thwart the Aussies on their turf once again. Injuries are part and parcel of the game and there are invariably a few people who will be desperately unlucky and have to fly home at some point. Of course, there are players already on the tour who have the chance to propel themselves to stardom having only recently become internationals as well – Sean Maitland and Mako Vunipola spring to mind.
So, who will be this tour’s Ryan Jones (apart from, potentially, Ryan Jones himself)? Is there anyone you are backing to come out of no-where and make a name for themselves?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43