Monday, April 29, 2013

Lions Selector: Backrow

Many believe that the back row is where the Lions strength lies. There are more canditates for the three positions than seats on the plane, nevermind kits in the bag. The Number 8 position, however, isn't as strong as many would have you believe.
Toby Faletau is the in form Number 8 at the moment. The Tongan born Welshman has been impressive for country and region. Strong, fast and defensively sound, Faletau has rarely put a foot wrong either among Wales' successful players or as an ace amid the Dragons faultering pack.

Elsewhere, quality out and out "eights" are few and far between, Jamie Heaslip is Faletau's closest rival for a starting place. Heaslip's form was inconsistent to say the least and some predicting it may have been enough to see the Leinsterman fall away from test contention, but a well timed braced of tries and a man of the match performance against Biarritz has put him firmly back in contention.
England's Ben Morgan may be in with a chance but injury has damaged his chances. There is no doubting Morgan's talent or his ability to gain yards, but any chance to show form has been limited. Johnnie Beattie has suffered similarly, but shone in the Six Nations, maybe even enough to set foot on the plane.

There are a few versatile back rowers who will be putting their hands up. Tom Wood, Tom Croft, Ryan Jones and the Australian based Gareth Delve all care more about the numbers on the board than the ones on their backs. All four will push their bodies to the edge to run that extra yard, make that extra tackle, play that extra minute. In such an arduous tour, versatility can be a priceless attribute.

However, the options on the flanks are bulging. Two international captains available for selection at openside in Warburton and Robshaw and it seemed like a straight wrestle between the pair for who would be the most magnificent 7 come test time, until Justin Tipuric threw his scrum cap into ring when he proved he was more than capable of making the step up to international level in some style. In the process he all bar ended Kelly Brown's chances of travelling.
Peter O'Mahoney's athletism or Sean O'Brien's bullocking runs will put them into contention, but where will Dan Lydiate stand? Along time on the sidelines with a broken ankle and with little time to prove his quality, but Gatland knows "Chopper" well enough and with the squad likely to be built on defence there are few better than a fully fit Lydiate. Can Gatland justify his selection?

Another man not to be ruled out is Steffon Armitage; over looked by Stuart Lancaster but continuing to go from strength-to-strength in the Top 14, fans of French rugby would know this wouldn't a decision for too far left field.

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