This morning at 11am the squad for the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour to Australia was announced. As always there were a number of surprises, both in terms of players included and players omitted. Below is a brief overview of the 37-man touring party.
(PROP) D Cole, C Healy, G Jenkins, A Jones, M Stevens, M Vunipola.
I think we all knew that the first 4 players named above would be going. The big question was who would join them. Mako Vunipola was a name that many were talking about, but the selection of Matt Stevens seems to have taken pretty much everybody by surprise. It’s probably fair to say that Vunipola is a prop known for his ability around the park rather than his scrummaging. He is particularly good at making an impact from the bench when the game has opened up.
(HOOKER) D Hartley, R Hibbard, T Youngs.
The big surprise was the omission of Rory Best, who many people thought would compete with Hibbard for a starting place in the test team. His name was even mentioned in discussions about possible captains! It’s true that he didn’t play well in the Six Nations, but he must feel absolutely gutted to have been overlooked. I must admit that I was a bit taken aback when I heard the names Hartley and Youngs. Hartley didn’t get much game time during the Six Nations and has a history of fighting, biting, possibly gouging and a whole host of other misdemeanours. Youngs was alright during the Six Nations, without being spectacular. Ken Owens was very impressive in the Six Nations whenever he made an appearance off the bench and must feel a bit disappointed. Looks a bit like Rowntree got his way on these selections.
(LOCK) I Evans, R Gray, A W Jones, P O’Connell, G Parling.
The inclusions of I Evans, A W Jones and P O’Connell came as no surprise. Parling has performed really well for club and country and probably just about beat Launchbury to a place in the squad. Many of us were worried that Richie Gray wouldn’t have recovered from his injury in time for the tour, but his selection certainly comes as welcome news. Gray is a phenomenal athlete who will contend seriously for a starting place in the test team.
(FLANKER) T Croft, D Lydiate, S O’Brien, J Tipuric, S Warburton.
O’Brien, Tipuric and Warburton all deserve to go and were all expected to be named. Only somebody as crazy as Stuart Barnes would say otherwise.
Many feared that Lydiate would miss out due to the fact that he missed the Six Nations through injury, but it is brilliant to see such a magnificent tackler in the squad. Croft gives us more options at the lineout and adds pace to the back row. With so many great flankers in the home nations there were always going to be a number of top quality players missing out. Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Ryan Jones, and Peter O’Mahony were all in with a chance, but didn’t make it into the 37-man squad. I feel particularly sorry for Robshaw and Ryan Jones. Ryan was immense for Wales in the Six Nations campaign and would have captained us to victory over England had he not picked up an injury. He’s been impressive for the Ospreys all season too and must feel very low after bad experiences in 2005 and 2009.
(NO.8) T Faletau, J Heaslip.
Faletau totally deserves his place, but Heaslip was very disappointing in the Six Nations as Ireland imploded and must consider himself extremely lucky. I would rather have seen Ben Morgan or Johnny Beattie join Faletau on tour.
(SCRUM-HALF) C Murray, M Phillips, B Youngs.
At the moment Mike Phillips is the clear favourite to start the first test, but Youngs and Murray will definitely push him. I thought Ben Youngs would be named and quite rightly so, but I was really unsure about who the 3rd scrum-half would be. I thought it would be between Danny Care and Conor Murray and I’m pleased that the management have gone for the more physical Murray. This is probably a good indication of the way that Gatland is hoping to play out in Australia.
(OUTSIDE-HALF) O Farrell, J Sexton.
Outside-half is probably our weakest area. Unfortunately, both Farrell and Sexton have shown that they have the potential to crumble when things aren’t going their way. We needed a 10 who is reliable under pressure and can close out tight games. We have two specialist outside-halves, but a really puzzling fact is that no utility back has been selected. We have nobody capable of covering at 10 if Sexton or Farrell get injured. If one of them badly pulls a muscle in the warm-up just before a game, then who will be on the bench as cover for the starting 10? I was expecting Hook, Twelvetrees or even Laidlaw to be on tour in case such a thing was to happen. Wilkinson outplayed Farrell in every area of the Toulon v Saracens game on Sunday and it’s such a shame that he feels his French commitments and his current physical state won’t allow him to go on tour. We badly need somebody of his calibre.
(CENTRE) J Davies, B O’Driscoll, J Roberts, M Tuilagi.
Sometimes people talk as if it’s easy to switch between 12 and 13 and players need more or less the same skill set and physical attributes. In the modern game that seems to be becoming less and less true. The roles have become more specialised and rugby now is a game of very small margins indeed. For these reasons I’m confused that the management have gone for just one 12 (Roberts) and three 13s. I’ve never liked O’Driscoll when he’s been at 12 and Jonathan Davies definitely doesn’t have the passing game to play at second receiver. Tuilagi himself has been very clear about the fact that he sees himself exclusively as a 13. Billy Twelvetrees is very lucky not to have been selected. He has the footballing ability to do something a bit different at 12. With things as they are though, I’m looking forward to seeing Roberts paired with Tuilagi.
(WING) T Bowe, A Cuthbert, S Maitland, G North.
No surprises here. I might have been tempted to take Visser instead of Maitland and Zebo instead of Bowe, but ultimately I’m pretty happy with these wingers. Is it too biased of me to say that North and Cuthbert are favourites to start at this point? The management seem to have resisted the pressure to pick Christian Wade for his elusive running, going instead for power and physicality. I guess we always have the option of moving Hogg or Halfpenny to the wing for a bit more elusiveness.
(FULLBACK) L Halpenny, S Hogg, R Kearney.
No surprises here either. The only other contender would be Alex Goode, but realistically he managed to play himself out of contention during the Six Nations. Lee Byrne might have been an option if it was for his French commitments. He has been playing extremely well in a very good Clermont Auvergne team. Halfpenny might well be the favourite to start at the moment, but Hogg will put a lot of pressure on him with his running game. With a big powerful centre partnership Gatland might well want someone with Hogg’s running ability coming into the attacking line from fullback.
So what do you make of the squad?
Who would you have included that didn’t get selected?
Who got selected that you would have omitted?
Is this squad good enough to beat the Aussies?