Before the Chiefs ……….Lions Tour 19 June 2017

My thoughts ahead of tomorrow morning’s clash v The Chiefs

Lions team : L Williams (Wales); J Nowell (England), J Payne (Ireland), R Henshaw (Ireland), E Daly (England); D Biggar (Wales), G Laidlaw (Scotland); J Marler (England), R Best (Ireland), D Cole (England), I Henderson (Ireland), C Lawes (England), J Haskell (England), J Tipuric (Wales), C Stander (Ireland).

K Dacey (Wales), A Dell (Scotland), T Francis (Wales), C Hill (Wales), AW Jones (Wales), G Davies (Wales), F Russell (Scotland), T Seymour (Scotland).

Some interesting selections but not altogether unsurprising. Gatland has said that he intends to rest his test team so is this where the touring party splits and there becomes a midweek and a test side ?

I think not, as some of this team certainly have a chance of being on the bench on Saturday in the First Test, and arguably one or two could still make the test team. Even if they don’t make the First Test, there is still a chance that some still force themselves into reckoning for the Second and Third Tests.  So who might ?

LIam Williams has been picked at FB after a disappointing tour thus far. Some have suggested that he might have been selected in the test team ahead of either Watson or North on the wing, but this looks a little unlikely now, especially as he has been selected at FB here. A good opportunity nevertheless to shown what he can do and hopefully regain some confidence that has clearly been lacking in recent performances after his yellow card, which seemed to hit him hard. 

On the other hand, Daly’s selection on the left wing does make sense as there is still a very outside chance that he could replace North, due to his indifferent form, but this is probably extremely unlikely at this very late stage, allied also to North’s experience of big Lions’ matches on the wing. Many are suggesting that Daly might be worthy of a place on the bench in the test team due to his versatility in covering the centre plus all back three positions. 

However, it is interesting that Joseph is nowhere to be seen for a second successive match and maybe Gatland has him lined up for a place on the bench in the test team to add some dancing feet and elusive running if required, albeit he has been lacking opportunities to show his full skill set so far on this tour. 

Nowell, Payne and Henshaw haven’t really shown up at all so far and are a long way from the test team at the moment so this has a distinctly ‘midweek’ team feel about it, as do the half backs of Biggar and Laidlaw. It will be interesting to see if the new boys Finn Russell and Gareth Davies get a run out for they both have some spark in their play. I would argue that their, and only their, late selections hold any sort of logic, albeit Danny Care and George Ford particularly, who performed heroically for England in Argentina over the past 2 weekends, might beg to differ.  

As to the forwards, still a tough and uncompromising bunch, albeit as things stand they are a little down the pecking order.  Marler has shown up well as has Lawes particularly, and he can consider himself a little unlucky as he is playing in a position where competition is arguably at it’s highest with Kruis, Itoje and AW Jones probably just above him in Gatland’s thinking at the moment. 

The same could be sad for Tupuric who has been immense whenever he has played and is a classic 7, arguably more so than Captain Sam, but it would appear as though Sean O.Brien is arguably in the box seat for the number 7 jersey right now. 

CJ Stander has fallen away slightly especially after a very impressive opening match but he showed unusual lapses in his play in his subsequent match and it would appear that his compatriot O’Mahony has overtaken him for the number 6 shirt, which no-one could possibly have envisaged prior to the Tour commencing, and Fatetau is nailed on for number 8.

As for the bench, AWJ may get some game time to ensure he has at least played in the last week and a half but as for the other 4 forward replacements, probably the least said the better, as Hartley and Launchbury particularly, will be viewing through gritted teeth knowing that the red shirt should really be theirs, all things being equal. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world.

I take the Lions to win against a weakened Chiefs team and provided the weather isn’t too wet, this might be where some of the unheralded players might just put the hands up and show us what they can really do and make a case for inclusion in the test squad further down the line.

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