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The Lions team explained

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    Johathan Davies of the Lions tries to make a break. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

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    There’s a lot of debate around concerning the Lions first XV Test selection and how it was derived. Here’s my analysis of how the first XV came about.

    Front Row
    The Lions have lost a few from the front row ranks, definitely more so than from anywhere else. This is a bit careless, since Gatland identified this as the key area.

    Dylan Hartley, Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins may well have been the Test-starting front row. But no matter, plenty more where they came from. Here’s what they’ve come up with:

    1. Corbisiero – The consensus before the tour was that Vunipola was an impact player, best coming on later for his work in the loose. Vunipola looked great to me, but I am convinced the selection committee think that he’s not experienced enough to survive the technical challenge imposed by the experienced Wallabies front three.

    That left the race for this spot a contest between Grant and Corbisiero.

    I really rate Grant, but he’s looked pretty woeful in the loose since he showed up. That shiner he picked up against the Brumbies can’t be helping either.

    Corbisiero is a solid selection, good in the tight and handy around the park.

    2. Youngs – Frankly, he was probably the third choice for Gats, as he’s short at 5’9″ and lighter than the others. Gats likes em chunky.

    But, since Hibbard and Best continue to demonstrate to young hookers everywhere that if you can’t throw in at the line-out, then you don’t get picked for the team, he’s in. Nippy around the park, too, as an ex-centre three-quarter.

    3. Adam Jones – He’s a rock. Don’t let the shonky perm put you off. He’s got the experience, he’s got the skills and he’s got the reputation. He possesses the sort of leadership required to bind the disparate personnel of the Lions together.

    When the going gets tough, you know Adam J will be there to put himself in the firing line. The other chaps, Cole and Stevens, are alright too, but Jones is a cut above.

    Second Row
    The reason the Lions need a good thrower is because the lineout is the Lions’ main strength. This is why it was so gobsmackking to see the wheels come off against the Brumbies. Three ‘not-straights’ and five other losses weren’t what the guvnor wanted to see one game away from the first Test.

    The lineout personnel are all huge. Gray is 6’10” and still can’t get a game. Parland is an awesome line-out player and he’s not in either. That’s because 4. O’Connell and 5. Alan-Wyn Jones are great jumpers too. And they’re so aggressive it’s scary just watching them on the telly.

    Both of them have had half-a-season off, so they’re relatively fresh. You get a lot of leadership out of O’Connell and Jones is a fully switched on psycho. At least that’s according to the Welsh boys who avoid him like the plague in tackling practice.

    Back row
    There’s a preponderous amount of talent in this department for the Lions. Yes, I know you Southern Hemisphere types like to think you’re blessed with the advantage in this area, and I reckon you have the edge, too, in terms of jackalling and making pilfers.

    But the Lions have some power, threat and enterprise in there as well. The tough bit has been getting the blend right, which is what Gatland is looking for – not necessarily the best six, seven or eight.

    Tipuric’s a faster, more natural seven, while O’Brien is a rampaging ball of destruction. Faletau puts in a lot of work and has great ball-handling skills. Lydiate doesn’t quite look ready yet.

    6. Croft – An excellent lineout option, this is probably why he’s in. He’s faster than you might think too. And a decent ball-winner. Tends to hang out wide though, which is not everybody’s idea of what a blind-side flanker should be doing.

    7. Warburton – Mobile, hard and resolute, but not as mobile, hard and resolute as some of the others. But Sam isn’t in because of those traits.

    He’s in because of his chat with the referees. Always respectful, always listening to the ref, always the honest broker. A great leader.

    8. Heaslip – He’s a big strong boy who gets in a lot of carries. He always makes metres with ball in hand. He’s usually up there in the tackle stats as well.

    And if you still don’t respect those skills, then remember he was sent off against New Zealand for kneeing Richie McCaw. What more do you Aussies want?

    9. Phillips – Big and chunky, he’s looked a natural for the Lions nine shirt since the Baabaas game.

    Despite his alleged lack of passing skills, his size gets him in straight away. Leads the pack from the front, like a ninth forward. Youngs distribution looked poor versus the Brumbies, and Murray just hasn’t looked himself.

    10. Sexton – At the moment he’s playing like he owns the park. He has been bossing the boys around and using all his experience. He hasn’t had to worry about his place-kicking either, so time to concentrate on his game.

    Farrell hasn’t looked too bad to me either, but is a class below Sexton. Even if Hogg had scored 20 tries, put over every kick, passed like Quade Cooper and run like Barry John he still wouldn’t be number 10 in the Tests, due to his lack of experience.

    Back three
    Maitland’s looked good in defence, got through a power of work and is one of Gatland’s faves. Zebo’s looked keen. Bowe looked like he’d nailed on a shirt until he got hurt. Kearney always looks cool, but he’s still a bit tentative after his lay-off. Hogg’s been good cover and played pretty well. But…

    11. North – No contest. Looks awesome.

    15. Halfpenny – No contest. Looks awesome. Never misses a catch. Runs with the ball. Is a fantastic long kicker, and has a scary place-kicking record so far this tour

    14. Cuthbert Huge, fast, and plays alongside the other two in the Wales line which helps. Underrated, possibly because he’s not as glamorous as Gorgeous George. Ignore him at your peril.

    A few injuries about here, so there’s not many of them left. Tuilagi and Roberts would be contenders if they were fit. Remember that Farrell can cover here, too. Twelvetrees and Barritt didn’t look as sharp as they could versus the Brumbies.

    12. John Davies – Better than you might think. Does the lot – passes, runs, powers though tackles. Can give away the odd turnover or penalty, though.

    13. O’Driscoll – Would probably be selected if he was in a wheelchair. He must be carrying injuries. But he’s Brian O’Driscoll and if he is back to top fitness again, then who knows.

    However, I reckon the real strength of this Lions squad is the bench, who will likely make an impact when they enter the fray, especially at scrum time.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • June 22nd 2013 @ 4:43am
      James phillips said | June 22nd 2013 @ 4:43am | ! Report

      I highly doubt Hartley, Healey and Jenkins may have been the test front row considering none of them play on the tight head.

      • June 22nd 2013 @ 11:53am
        WRM said | June 22nd 2013 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        Jenkins plays both sides but I doubt he would have.

    • Roar Guru

      June 22nd 2013 @ 8:42am
      sheek said | June 22nd 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report


      Great read, much appreciated.Thank you.

      I’ve read a lot about Sam Warburton & seen a bit of him now at the world cup & on tour here last year.

      But I’m still waiting for Warburton to match the hype that is so often written about him.

      Coach Gatland didn’t NEED to pick Warburton in the top XV for his leadership.

      The Lions have ready made alternate skippers in Brian O’Driscoll & Paul O’Connell.

      • June 24th 2013 @ 2:09am
        Gavin Melville said | June 24th 2013 @ 2:09am | ! Report

        Well, it’s after the 1st Test now, so this really doesn’t belong here, but ….
        Warburton was all over the park, playing quite nicely.
        (Although, I think he might have put in a better effort to defend Folau’s tries)
        It’s not that BOD or POC aren’t leaders. Or anyone else, for that matter.
        Gatland wanted as many leaders as possible on the park – blokes to take responsibility.
        e.g. he wanted one or both of Gray/Evans to call the lineouts. Gray tried it once for his club and it really put him off his game.
        It’s leaders in key areas Gatland wants.
        POC is super-aggressive and leads the charge.
        BOD looked like he would have his work to do in the line.
        Both have leadership roles to do.
        Warburton is calm, authoritative, and speaks to the refs nicely.
        He’s seen to be a non-threatening type. Especially when dealing with the refs.
        Also, BOD & POC had both led defeated Lions tours before, so a clean break with defeat might have helped make selectors make the choice.

    • June 22nd 2013 @ 9:42am
      Malo said | June 22nd 2013 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Agree Sheek about Warburton. Great article Gavin and agree their bench is so much stronger than ours. Wallabies bench is terrible.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 22nd 2013 @ 8:38pm
      Lamby said | June 22nd 2013 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

      Yes, but WHAT IS THE POINT of the Lions?

      If Australia lose it does not mean anything as we are playing against 3 countries. If the Lions lose it does not matter as it is not the national team and it does not play together often.

      The national teams of the Lions almost never tour the Southern Hemisphere as it is. There a national English player who can go through their career without ever playing the All Blacks in NZ – which arguably is the hardest tour in world Rugby.

      • June 24th 2013 @ 1:59am
        Gavin Melville said | June 24th 2013 @ 1:59am | ! Report

        Lamby, you’re playing against 4 countries.
        What’s the point in playing against anyone?
        For the money?
        For the enjoyment of it?
        For the kudos?

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