Without Warburton, what will the Lions’ back-row be?

Sam Warburton’s injury has not only deprived the Lions of their captain, but it has also thrown a spanner into the works regarding the selection of the back-row. Finding the right balance in this area is of vital importance, and in the first two tests Warburton combined well with whoever filled the 6 and 8 shirts.

With his absence, however, what is the right combination in the back-row? Would Croft and Tipuric both starting be too lightweight? If so is Lydiate the answer, or did he not show enough last weekend to keep his spot for last week, especially given the line-out issues that Croft could go some way towards helping? Is O’Brien at openside the answer, or is the need for a specialist seven (especially against Hooper and Gill) too great to ignore Tipuric?

And then at number eight, has Heaslip played well enough to warrant selection for the third test? Or would the work-rate of Faletau be a better option? Does that decision depend on who is selected at flanker?

Certainly there are plenty of questions to be answered, but what would your back-row combination for Saturday be? Make your selection below, and leave your opinions in the comments section.

Which flankers should start in the final test?

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Who should start at no.8 in the final test?

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40 thoughts on “Without Warburton, what will the Lions’ back-row be?

  1. Early days, but I’m surprised to see so many for Tipuric. I personally think he’s the best option, but a lot, even a number of Welsh fans, don’t seem to like the idea. I think he’s slightly more open and expansive than Warburton and does steal a lot of ball. He also runs it back and is a much more useful carrier. I think him with O’Brien alongside would make a good combative backrow at the breakdown and carrying ball forward. Croft to come on at 60-65 minutes and run hard against tired bodies. I’m just not convinced that Lydiate carries enough in attack or offers a credible threat. Australia will (as they did last week) happily batter the defensive line until something opens up as is inevitable when the opposition are making so many tackles.

    Heaslip’s done a lot of hard graft so far for the Lions. However, he’s only been “good” not great. Wouldn’t mind seeing Faletau given a go because I think they’re pretty even for the most part and Faletau deserves a test shirt. My only concern would be the question of whether Faletau is a credible lineout option – I assume he is.

  2. Really difficult. For me the easiest one is 8, Heaslip will play. As well as Falatau has played, Heaslip offers leadership and experience which Falatau can not; which will be essential next week, especially with POC and Warburton missing.

    I then went Croft because our line out was so poor last week, and we need three good options – which lead me to pick SOB at 7 – just due to a bit of bulk.

    I do find it hard to not pick an fetcher but I think that is our best option in the back row.

  3. Really haven’t seen any experience or leadership from Heaslip so far. In fact, its been difficult to tell if he’s even been playing.

    Lions need to attack next week and to do so, need to correct two things that were missing from the back row last week – ball-carriers and link men

    SOB and Faletau provide the carrying in spades and Tipuric is a brilliant link man (his game against England showed what he is capable of and that he is not too light for the international breakdown)

    I want to see the Wallaby back row (and in particular Mowen) being tied up stopping charges from SOB and Faletau, leaving space for 9 and 10 and the centres, supported by Tipuric

    Would also like to see SOB running down JOC’s channel

    Last week saw a defensive mind-set and the result shows that at this level its not enough to build a narrow lead and then try to defend it. We need to go all out to win this

    1. With a back row of Falatau, SOB and Tipuric, you have literally no line out option there. Heaslip offers an attacking line out option but defensively he is no the threat Croft is. I can’t that back row coming together. I also don’t know why you’d go down JOC channel? He is a really good defender.

      Also, with Heaslips leadership, is not necessarily leading by example in excellent performances, but he is a calming influence in the dressing room and very local – that counts for quite a lot.

    2. Agree with Pablito that tips/o’brien/fale don’t give enough in the lineout. Its also the back row that completely failed as a unit against the Brumbies (although toby played well).

      I’m not sure Heaslip is that essential though I think Faletau deserves a go.

        1. And lest we forget against Ireland in the 6N 2012.

          “Owens to Tipuric at the back of the lineout, Tipuric to Phillips, Phillips to North, Oh my goodness North goes straight through McFadden, slips the ball out the back to Davies, Jonathan Davies is going to score.. TRY!!”

          Something like that anyway :)

          1. There is a big difference between being useful on your own line out, and being a good line out player like Croft and Mowen are.

            Mowen had free reign at the back in the last test, and if he has it again then the Wallabies will dominate. Someone needs to combat him and Tipuric is not that.

          2. I’d have put that down to the wobbly throwing of Youngs and Hibbard rather than to Mowen, although he is good.

            We had Croft in the first test and he wasn’t really used.

            Its not a necessity. If another jumper is needed, tipuric can be used – it may even surprise the Aussies

            What is more important is making sure the damn ball actually gets to the jumpers.

          3. Tipuric is a decent lineout option. During this tour some mad idea seems to have arisen that Croft is the only back row player in the NH who can be used in the lineout. Warbs and Tips regularly receive lineout ball for Wales. We do not need Croft especially for the lineout, we just need to use the three or four options we have better and throw to them better. We have more than 2 lineout options even without Croft.

  4. Think Heaslip will def play, for the reasons Jacob gave. Actually think Heaslip was really good 1st test. Defensively he was the most effective of the back-row. Similarly last week he was aggressive and powerful which was good, but he barely got into the game in attack.

    He’s one of the best footballing forwards in world rugby but that doesn’t seem to be being utilised. He’s not being asked to be a ball carrier off of set phase, nor to come in at first reciever and look for an offload.

    I think the gameplan this series has been pretty dull tbh, which hasn’t helped. We know we want to use the 12 to get go forward, we know Aus know that too. So why not do something a little different. In the 2 tests we’ve only made serious gainline from a lineout once. In the second when we sent JD on an outside arch rather than inside to 10/12. We haven’t brought the wingers in off of first phase, even thought about going wide, there is no variation. Too easy to read and defend.

  5. Without Warburton, what will the Lions’ back-row be?

    it will be better balanced, quicker, and we can play someone who deserves to be there instead of someone who was a poor captain choice. his lack of impact in his shirt has been excused as ‘high workrate’.

    back row of croft, tipuric and o’brien.

    theres a fetcher at 7, power from the base, excellent capability with the ball in hand and as link men.

    and an out and out finisher at 6.

    1. I thought Warburton was our best forward on saturday. Probably our best player full stop.

        1. Would have agreed with Brett before Saturday. But Warburton was fantastic and proved me, as well as many other people, very wrong.

          1. Well, that silly idea that Warbs was poor was sorted out before I even got here then. Cheers.

  6. also it gives us 4 lineout options and the choice to drop parling for abit of bulk in the row if gats thinks its needed. evans should play for me

    1. Evans is all of 2Kg heavier than Parling (114Kg). If Parling is to make way for a heavier player it could only be Richie Gray (128Kg). The other thing is, Evans has done nothing all tour to qualify him to play while Parling has been a key lineout option, a top tackler and a ball carrier. Evans was good against Rebels, but everyone looked good in that game, including the far more versatile Richie Gray.

      1. POC & Parling are about the same weight. Doesn’t mean Parling is as physical or as strong in the tight as POC. Will Corbs be as effective without POC pushing him?

        If Croft comes into the backrow then bringing Evans (or Gray) in does become a decent option to increase the physicality of the tight 5.

      2. I don’t necessarily think that weight defines a player. Evans is certainly more of a gritty player than Parling and would definitely add more in the tight. As Matt said, Parling weighs as much as POC but is nowhere near the same player in the tight.

        1. It does when people say the scrum needs more ballast. I’m not convinced Evans would add anything more in the tight and I am convinced he would offer less in the loose. Parling has been linchpin in a pretty dominant scrum for Leicester this season.

  7. Really tough call, all depend on what kind of tactic the lions choose, which non of know.

    The main problems last week were lack of effective ball carriers and the lineout, so if we are going to cure those issues which we have to, especially the lineout.

    I go with

    Tupuric on the bench

  8. Faletau and SOB are the 2 essential players to include. We have to be able to pick and go, generate some tempo, get the attacking players advancing and the defensive line retreating. Let’s earn the right to go wide. Let’s hold onto the ball. We won’t win on 1/3rd possession, we won’t win making 1/3rd of the meters, we won’t win making double the tackles.

    A good argument can be made for each of the other 3 flankers. I would start with Lydiate and have Croft on the bench logic being:
    – Lydiate, SOB and Faletau were an excellent unit against the Rebels. Both Faletau and SOB are able to effect a turnover from a Lydiate mad axeman tackle as we saw against the Rebels.
    – Croft is usually more prominent later in a game. The try against the ‘Tahs being a typical Croft moment, ~55 mins finds a bit more space and makes a massive break. It’s a similar pattern for England and Tigers, the rampaging runs and trys are often later in the game. So he’s the ideal impact sub, provided he’s instructed to come on get his hands on the ball and play to his strengths.
    – Tipuric started the tour exceptionally well, but he’s tailed off. Was very poor (not alone in that) against the Brumbies and didn’t seem to make much of an impact off the bench against the Rebels.
    – We didn’t make much from our lineout with Croft in it, we still went for safe ball. It may have been a little cleaner but in terms of attacking opportunities or points it wasn’t any better. We also didn’t steal a single Wallaby ball in the first test (didn’t even get off the ground and challenge) at least we managed to snaffle a couple in the second test. Essentially I don’t think we made the most of Croft’s strengths to make him an essential starter.

    The best reason I can think of for bringing in Croft would be to allow the selection of more physical second row unit, so if he does start I would like to have Evans (or Gray) in the second row. But my ideal bench impact remains a Croft&Gray swap for Lydiate&Parling.

  9. I’m going to throw this out there and wait to get shot down, but does anyone else think O’Brien could be worth a shot at 8, with Croft and Tipuric at 6 and 7? O’Brien looked quite comfortable at 8 when filling in, and his pace and power off the back of the scrum could be just what we need. We can’t be too conservative and just play a defensive game like last week. We need people to get the ball and carry it forwards some serious yards. Croft Tipuric and O’Brien are the three most likely to do that, so why not stick them in together?

    1. Bold – one hell of a risk! Not sure I’d pair Tipuric and Croft either, a bit lightweight. I definitely want SOB in there, but at 6 or 7, with either Croft or Tipuric in depending on where you play SOB – then Heaslip at 8 still for me.

      Potentially get that back row on the pitch for the last 20 minutes if the game was to open up?

  10. Tipuric. I wanted him in for the first test and the second, but am worried about bringing him in for the decider. I’m just not sure that he has been tested enough on this tour (and that also goes for some other players – warm up games poorly organised IMO) so that I would feel 100% confident in him. Might be very unfair on him.

    SOB, Croft and Faletau/Heaslip. We need some go forward from the backrow. We showed in the last game that we can’t defend for the whole game and win. Without Warburton, no need for Lydiate to make him look good……. for the reasons I’ve stated several times over the last couple of days, before the avalanche comes.

    Very interesting to note that there seems to be a large number of Welsh commentators and ex players suggesting that there should be an all Welsh team with the exception of Sexton and Corbisiero, although a couple have kindly mentioned Bowe and BoD in dispatches.

    I know that I moan about Welsh bias on a regular basis (mainly about Brighty! – just joking before you get the handbags out again!) but have they really been watching the same tour that I have? Or am I just paranoid about a valleys conspiracy?

    1. This Welsh conspiracy theory – I tend to agree. I’ve literally just got back from Australia after following the tour around, and it’s certainly there.

      Obviously I met many Lions fans from all four nations when I was there, and there were no Scots or Irish coming across bias, but there were definitely Welsh. I am not suggesting that they all are; I met loads of brilliant Welshmen that truly supported the Lions – but there were a few.

      I must say, the worst thing I saw, which I still almost can’t believe – was a Welshmen that had cut the England rose from his Lions shirt – really not what you want to see from a Lions fan.

      1. Chicken and egg though? You moan about Welsh antipathy to the English while in the same paragraph saying the Welsh are biased but the Scots and Irish are all lovely and completely unbiased. So which came first – the welsh disliking the English or the English moaning that the welsh are biased sods who seem to dislike the English?

        …. Before I get a storm of abuse I think that red rose thing is stupid. I do get intensely annoyed that I cannot vouch for a Welshman without being accused of bias regularly, even though we are the best team in the B&Is. I don’t dislike the English, I spend half my daily life in England with them. I want the Lions to win and want the best team on the park for that.

    2. PS. We don’t all live in the valleys…. Do you all sit around speaking in Received Pronunciation while your butler makes you tea?

      1. Well actually yes old chap………!!

        Brighty as you are probably aware, some of my comment was with tongue in cheek. I expect the largest contingent of the team to be Welsh and am happy with that, but I just started getting annoyed that a load of commentators seem to have decided that the team should be 13 welshmen with Sexton and corbs as there aren’t any Welsh players in those positions.

        Having said that, there is an argument for Cuthbert as he is a proven try scorer and Roberts is a specialist 12 but he hasn’t hit form. Phillips is a Gats favourite but not convinced, however youngs didn’t stake his claim. Tipuric, fale and lydiate – there are better players but one or two will undoubtedly play? Evans – what has he done. Hibbard – lets give away our lineouts.

        This is why I said that they must have been watching a different tour.

        The sad thing is, that you are probably right with your England shirt comment. The Welsh players really do lift their games when the English come to town, in a way that just doesn’t happen for the Scots and Irish. It obviously is that deep rooted.

        1. On Wales lifting their game for the English … I might be naive here but I genuinely don’t think it’s antipathy anymore. I’ll whisper this … in the 90s and 00s England became the 6 nations All Blacks. In my 20s (90s) I spent a decade watching England put progressively bigger and bigger hammerings on us. In my 30s I saw them lift the World Cup and continue to batter us. At the same time I saw a country, that was once one of the best in the world, continually skirt with and win the wooden spoon.

          Now my son (11) has seen us beat England more than lose to them. We’ve got 3 Slams and 4 trophies since he started paying attention to rugby. To a lot of us though England are still around the corner waiting to give us a right dicking. I think it’s that fear of returning to things like 65-3 at home that drives us that little bit harder. We want to beat the best team in the NH and that’s still, on average, England.

  11. O’Brien is an option at 8, he’s spent plenty of time there. Would still rather see a more specialist 8 on when the option is there to use one.

    All this “Parling isn’t physical” stuff I find a bit odd. Bear in mind he’s been part of the Leicester scrum which has been pretty dominant all year. He doesn’t look it, but I think he offers plenty of strength in the second row in the scrum and the loose. I’m afraid Evans and Gray offered nothing in any of their performances, except against the Rebels and that was a dire one sided affair. It would be akin to swapping George North for Christian Wade because he’s quicker.

    As for Tipuric, I thought he was one of few players to come out of the Brumbies game with credit, effecting turnovers and attacking threateningly.

  12. So the vote has it as SOB, Fale and Tipuric. Exciting. I’m happy with that. Should give the Aussies some trouble.

  13. We are going to get a lot of welshmen in this team, Gats will play safe and play the guys he knows, Tupuric will not be one of them as I don’t think Gats is a fan of his style, plus the lions don’t play that way.

    If we are going to power the AUSSies out of the game starting Gray should be an option, he is biggest @row we have, he is great in the lineout and on his day is amazing around the park, not saying he deserves it but we need to take a risk or 2.

    As for Croft, I know he is great in the lineout and we need that but he does do other things to, he carried a lot in the first game, his defense is good, especially cover tackling, he wins restarts, he’s got game.

    Power pack


    Phillips in is a joke, the guy has done nothig apart from against the barbars, and he is unfit, Youngs shut Genia down far better than Phillips. Shutting Genia down is more important than any tackle statistic.

    Hogg should be on the bench –
    1 he is the most flexible player we have.
    2 If we are losing and need a miracle he is an option.
    3 i we are winning he has the biggest boot in the team and can pin AUS back in the own 5 metre line with is kicks from hand.
    4 He has been abused on this tour and deserves a shot, at least he is young and will get another shot.

    I am not scottish.

  14. Just saw the team for the weekend.

    Can I remind people that IT WASN’T ME. I didn’t pick it. Please direct your opprobrium elsewhere.

    1. Haha brilliant brighty! I assumed you’d been in contact with WG somehow? Was that not the case?

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