Who will be the Lions’ bolter this time?

The tradition of selecting a ‘bolter’ for the Lions tour is a well established one. It is the policy of picking an uncapped player – or one with little experience – and thrusting them straight into the Lions limelight. These are players who have captured the imagination of the coaches but who, for whatever reason, have been overlooked so far by their national coach.

This policy is an ancient one, and in more recent times it has had a pretty good success rate. In 1971 Derek Quinnell, father of Scott, Craig and Gavin, was selected to tour New Zealand and ended up starting the third test that saw them to the brink of victory on the tour. They did win, and to this day they are the only Lions team to have won in Kiwi territory.

In 1989, a fairly unknown Bath centre by the name of Jeremy Guscott was flown out to New Zealand to replace countryman Will Carling. He had experienced just one or two tests for England at the time, but ended up playing a key role in the final two tests that took them to victory.

It is not just younger, lesser known players that can make a name for themselves as bolters, however. There are stories of older players, out in the international wilderness, who have come in and done a job for the Lions. In 1997 John Bentley, who had won the last of his two England caps nine years previously, was called upon by Sir Ian McGeechan despite having spent the last few years playing League. He played the final two tests of that tour, including the tour-winning second test.

And then, of course, there is Jason Robinson, the man who toured Australia in 2001 after only having switched to the 15-man code seven months previously. He lit up the tour with his sparkling feet and electric pace, scoring tries in the first and final tests.

Ryan Jones built his career on some barnstorming performances in New Zealand in 2005, while on the 2009 tour Tom Croft was one of the standout players despite only having a handful of England caps to his name.

So who are the contenders to tour Australia this time as bolters? It is Robinson’s prowess in 2001 that has led many to call for Christian Wade’s involvement, and he seems to be the frontrunner in the uncapped category. His startling likeness to Robinson in terms of style of play mean he could well get a phone call from Gatland. He has shown time and again this season that he can score tries when he has absolutely no right to – there are very few players in world rugby who possess that ability.

Staying with England but moving along the backline, Kyle Eastmond and Joel Tomkins are two league converts who could provide something different to the other centre options, who have a rather one dimensional look about them. Eastmond’s ability to cover all positions from 12-15 is another bonus. It would be pretty harsh on whoever is dropped, however, if either of these two were selected, but they could be considered as reserves. Billy Twelvetrees, with just four caps for England (and only one start) is perhaps a more viable option.

It is worth noting that the likely high number of Welshmen in the squad following their Six Nations win means an uncapped player touring from their ranks is unlikely. Eli Walker would have been in contention had he not suffered a serious injury prior to the Six Nations.

Steffon Armitage has been in fine form for the past couple of years for Toulon, but the fierce competition in the back-row means he is unlikely to make the cut, and indeed he is not playing so much better than the other contenders to force Gatland’s hand.

In terms of old stagers, it is tempting to look across the Channel once again. Jonny Wilkinson will be firmly in Gatland’s thoughts, but with a record such as his would he really count as a bolter? Perhaps not. The same can be said of Nathan Hines, the grizzled Scottish warrior who was such a success in 2009. Nick Easter is another who has had an excellent domestic campaign. He has been overlooked by England because, at 34, he is too old for their squad looking to build towards the World Cup in 2015, but he could certainly provide valuable experience on a one-off tour such as the Lions. The back-row may be an area of strength, but no.8 is probably the weakest of the three positions. In that sense, the uncapped Billy Vunipola could also be in with a shout, although he has gone off the boil slightly since agreeing a move to Saracens. He will be livid that an injury deprived him of his chance to show what he could do in the Six Nations.

The beauty of a bolter is that it could be anyone, and as a result there are far too many players to mention here. Who would you like to see going though? Do you think this squad needs a bolter, or are there too many well-established options to include one?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

36 thoughts on “Who will be the Lions’ bolter this time?

  1. Rupert Harden, Gloucesters finest and first choice tighthead, should be a bolter. He’s already world class, miles ahead of Adam Jones and Dan Cole.

  2. General consensus in the ‘media’ is that Wade won’t be picked (not sure what it’s based on, but someone usually gets a tip-off).

    You’d think it would be in the back three, given the relative strength elsewhere – Sean Maitland or Craig Gilroy could fit the bill perhaps.

    Bound to be a few surprise selections – like Alan Quinlan and Keith Earls in ’09.

    Can’t wait.

    1. Personally I think all the medias comments are just a matter of opinion, especially as Gatland seems to have gone to lengths to keep everything a secret! He seems to want to keep things water-tight so no leaks can come out the day before. The fact Gatland name checked Wade in an interview a few weeks ago and also saying he is never afraid to pick guys with no experience at test level meant that he is being seriously considered. Personally I hope he goes.

    2. This made me laugh.

      I read one thing towards the end of last week saying Robshaw expected to be captain, and more English players than people think. Stating that it was good info.

      The following morning the Telegraph, Neil Fissler and a few others reporting that Warburton is Captain and there will be a large English snub!

    3. Sean Maitland had a sterling campaign and as such i wouldn’t consider him a bolter as much as a strong possibility, despite his inexperience. Back three is as strong as anywhere else (second only to back row, imo). My pick for a bolter would be Freddie Burns, given the relative weakness of the 10 shirt.

  3. Matthew Morgan from the Ospreys. Exciting young fly half. Dazzling in attack. Needs a little work in defence. Often outshines Biggar coming off the bench.

  4. surprised Madigan didnt get a mention in this article… he is probably the standout bolter from an Irish perspective. his ability to play 10, 12 and 15 would be pretty useful on the tour too.

    i think the main options for me are
    Wade, Twelvetrees, Madigan, B. Vunipola, Eastmond, Tomkins.

    the injury problems had by both Ireland and Wales during the 6Ns meant that a few faces have begin to put their hands up too. guys like Gilroy and Zebo, O’Mahony, Coombs, Biggar. Wales would have also had a tough choice with their flankers had Lydiate and Jones both been fit for the whole tournament, these injuries meant that Warburton and Tipuric both got a chance to show themselves.

    Although i think that Wade would be great, i do think that he may be seen as a defensive weakness, and so may not get the nod. Twelvetrees and Madigan would be pretty good options in my mind. both offer something different to all the other centres, as well as being able to cover 10 if needs be. they are also pretty useful goal kickers, which is always helpful, incase someone is having an off day.

    i am pretty sure that Jonny would do a good job, but doubt that he will make himself available, as he wont want to upset toulon! similar could probably be said for sheridan. having said that, are there two Northern hemisphere players who have scared the aussies more in recent years?

    1. I’d certainly second you on Madigan. I’ve been really impressed by him. I personally think he looks a lot more useful than Sexton even.

  5. I’m not sure there’s much space for bolters. A lot of the positions are so fiercely competitive with such quality that there’s not much need for uncapped/older players.

    I’ll be interested to see whether Gatland sticks to his guns over Top XIV players. Armitage and Wilko have obviously been brilliant and Sheridan looks as solid as ever.

    I’d personally like to see Matt Tait. Blistering form for Leicester and a good utility. He looks set to miss out on England too as I doubt Goode and Brown will go to Aus. Maybe worth a shot on the wing.

  6. I too, think that Madigan may be closer to selection that some might think.

    I do think that there is room for Wade. If he shows up as a defensive liability in training/warm-ups etc, then don’t play him. They will have talented options anyway.

    Mat Tait is an interesting choice but of course FB is a position of strength already.

    Nick Easter on the other hand…. That would not be a complete shock

    1. agree with both you and wookie that tait is an interesting one.

      i am a big fan of his. his ability to play 13 and wing as well as 15 would be useful too. and in a tigers game recently (when flood was binned) he stepped up to do the kicking and playmaking at first receiver. i am not suggesting he could play 10! but he did show that he has the extra dimensions of passing and kicking, which is a good thing for us to have. most of the centres, wings and even 15’s do not have that in abundance.

      maitland does seem to have a level of creativity that the wingers lack, so i would be inclined to have him as a wing option.

  7. Mako Vunipola? Only a few caps for England and his form round the field looked pretty good vs Toulon

    1. mako has been spoken about quite a bit. i think he falls into the category of “genuine contender” rather than “bolter”. Launchbury is a similar one. both have about 9 caps and could easily fall in the “bolter” category in most other lions years.

    2. You’re right about his ability in the loose. His work rate with ball in hand is fantastic, and his tackling stats are usually pretty good to. He’s not always the best in the scrum, but he’s come on leaps and bounds this season.

  8. I think Wade is the most obvious choice, but he will be going in a position where there are plenty of other options. If I was picking a bolter it would be in one of the weaker positions i.e. No 8 or centres.

    BOD aside, most of the other centres are very similar in style of play. Eastmond and Tomkins both offer very different skills, and could benefit the FH and centre partner.

    Faletau is the obvious choice for 8, but he’s not the most dynamic. Morgan is a great ball carrier with good pace, and is difficult to stop once he’s moving. Vunipola is similar, but I think his offloading game is marginally better.

    The other position under scrutiny is FH. Assuming Wilko is unavailable, Sexton must go, but who else. Farrell is playing well, but I’m not sure he’s quite ready for a Lions Tour yet. Flood……..again I’m just not sure he’s right up there in terms of ability, and the same could be said for Priestland and Biggar? So that leaves a few uncapped fly halves hardly anyones heard of with bags of potential, or could he possibly turn is attention to the one guy no-one has even mentioned as a potential Lion…………Charlie Hodgson? He’s worked massively on his defence, still has some of the best hands in the business, and doesn’t have to worry about taking the penalties, because Leigh Halfpenny will be playing. If there’s one guy who could get the back line moving and scoring tries for fun, surely he’s the man!

    Thoughts please?

    1. i think you could have a point. a few of the sky pundits said his name near the start of the season.

      i doubt the “halfpenny can kick” argument will be a help, because a) charlie is a good kicker, and b) halfpenny will be in the test team.

      i dont think that charlie would offer much of a threat in terms of making the test team. farrell and sexton are test match players, much like wilko. i dont know if charlie is of the same breed. but he could be a good option to play 10 in the midweek.

      overall i dont think that it is going to happen, as gatland is looking to take 2 10’s, he will want options who can offer a threat in the test team, especially if a the test 10 gets injured.

  9. Id like to see Jonny May given a chance. The hard grounds and frantic pace of SH games could really suit him.

    1. this is a pretty good shout. his ability to to play 13, wing and 15 could also be pretty helpful.

  10. madigan or wade for me. madigan is one of the finest natural kickers ive seen. great technique and accuracy. but wade might be more useful given that sexton looks as great as ever after injury and wilkinson is as reliable and crucial as ever.

  11. Does anybody know why for Wilkinson, the issue of being unavailable for the start of the tour as he plays in France is always flagged up. Yet for Gethin Jenkins it appears not to be a problem? Does he have some form of agreement to leave early/miss the final if Toulon make it?

      1. So you just think Gethin will pass on a polite ‘screw you’ if selected? Or that he has agreed to terminate his contract ahead of the play offs?

        1. IRB regulation 9.6b says that players selected for the lions your are to be released. Therefore Toulon would have to release players selected. However, players can “opt out” of touring with the lions.

          To miss the top 14 final after all of the hard work getting there would be biting the hand that feeds you. But Jenkins is leaving at the end of the season, so it will be no skin off his nose. Plus he will only be sitting on the bench for Sheridan anyway. So basically, gethin will opt to go with the lions, were as others will opt to play for Toulon and maybe hang their hats on potentially being considered as injury replacements.

          1. The release clause only covers release for tests within a test window. The Top XIV final is not in the test window and the Barbarians game is not a test. French clubs have no legal obligation to release those players.

            Gatland however has insisted (and gone back and forth on the issue) that players that he sees as likely to be unavailable to travel to Hong Kong for the Baa-baas game will be considered unavailable for tour. This poses several issues, the main one being that the squad announcement is tomorrow and there’s no way of knowing which teams will be in the French final. It would be interesting to see if Gatland picks France based players with a backup plan for each or if he just caves and calls them up anyway.

          2. Wookie, there is nothing in the irb regulation stating anything to do with tests. if that was the case then technically clubs wouldnt have to release players for the warm up and midweek games…

            “(b) Combined Teams Designated Release Events:
            (i) The quadrennial British and Irish Lions Tour is a
            Designated Event and all Players selected to participate
            shall be released. The Release Period shall ordinarily1
            commence on 1 June and ordinarily conclude on the 2nd
            weekend of July in the relevant year.”

            that is the IRB regulation. pasted from the irb.com note no mention of tests or anything. the lions has its own section in the regulations, it does not fall under normal test release clauses.

  12. Well if the media have it right it looks like Warburton will be captain

    if so, that’s one big mistake from Gatland

    If he now picks either Lydiate or Croft, I will be truly disappointed

    I am really hoping the reporters have it wrong

    1. Have to agree on both points there pablito.

      Warburton seemed to struggle more recently with the captaincy, and his reluctancy to take it for the England game is a bad sign (I could understand of Ryan jones was still fit, as he would have carried on). To have to go for a 3rd captain in 5 games seemed a bit weak from warbs.

      Also if lydiate and croft get in then you have to feel Tom Wood will be feeling a little aggrieved. He and robshaw were consistently excellent for England throughout the autumn and the 6Ns (even if he was not playing like a typical 8). After all, England did put themselves in a position to go for a grand slam, and wood was surely part of that positive play.

      Croft and Lydiate will be making it in a) because of past form and b) because of pre-existing relationships with gatland.

      I just hope that he and the other coaches have entered the selection with open minds, and each player is chosen on merit, not because of the relationships that they have with those coaching.

    2. Fair enough Simo, the rules used to include specific windows under which tests were played and it certainly applies specifically to non-Lions tests which has seen problems in the past for teams getting players outside of those windows, notably the Barbarians when Regan played in 2007 when “resting” for his club.

  13. Greenwood in 97? Can’t believe he doesn’t get a mention, was the springboard to his international carrer

  14. I would love to see Billy Vunipola running riot in a red lions shirt, suprised more hasnt been spoken of him

  15. The Times this morning suggesting that Twelvetrees could benefit from Barritt’s injury, and that Robshaw and Farrell will miss out. Possibly for Priestland (Farrell that is – not Robshaw).

  16. Feel sorry for Tom Wood, consistently excellent for England since the autumn (outplayed McCaw ffs), forced to play out of position as an 8 for a large chunk of the Six Nations, still in good form for Northampton. But apparently Lydiate has played well in four games so must tour instead.

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