Our Comments on The 2017 British & Irish Lions Player Selection // What Do You Think?
The oracle has spoken!
Who is the oracle? His name is Lee Whitmore and hath a rugby mind like no other. He also has excellent hand skills (ahem) and plenty of time available to analyse the game of rugby.
He currently plays for his local rugby team and has been doing so from an early age. He has also been drinking from an early age and has been known to complete a Cheeky’s ‘meal deal’.
This is his first contribution to testosteronejunkie.com and once Gatland has got hold of his ass, probably his last!
The British and Irish Lions take on the mighty yet humble All Blacks in the summer of 2017.
Some people call soccer the beautiful game, however here at Testosterone Junkie we have seen the light, there’s no room in our lives for rolling around on the floor at the slightest touch and feigning injury to get the opposition player sent off!
We are men, bearded, testosterone exuding men and as such we play the ultimate sport, gods own sport… Rugby Union.
Now this year is a very special year for rugby as it is a Lions year, every four years the British Isles assemble their very own team of avengers to take on the finest the southern hemisphere has to offer, this year is especially poignant as 2017 sees the lions take on the fabled all blacks.
A band of warriors so fierce and highly skilled, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America would think fuck it and head back to Asgard rather than take on these Goliaths from New Zealand.
So who and what are the British and Irish Lions?
Basically, every four years, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales band together to create a representative side to take on either South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.
The only criteria to be in contention for selection is that you qualify to play for one of the said nations.
This year, as well as the previous victorious tour of Australia, the job of picking the lions has been bestowed upon honorary Welshman and native kiwi Warren Gatland and in this article, well take a look at his selections, pose an alternative and decide whether Gatland has made the correct decision.
I’ll also have a crack at picking the 23-man squad to play the first test at Eden Park, Auckland on June 24th.
Let’s take a closer look at Gatlands team selection…
Where else could you start but the most important players on the pitch, not only there for the rugged good looks and charm they possess but are the cornerstone of all set piece, lifters in the line-out, the powerhouses of the scrum and general workhorses around the park.
So let’s take a look at who Mr Gatland has selected in such a pivotal position.
Selected; Jack McGrath- touted by many as the favourite for the starting berth at loosehead for the Lions, one of Europes top scrummagers with a good solid all round game, McGrath is a great starting player, not spectacular but rarely puts a foot wrong. Certainly my pick for the test team.
Alternative; Cian Healy- unlucky in 2013 not to make the test team through injury, a fantastic ball carry and destructive in defense. Criticised by many for not being a world class scrummager but for me could have made a telling contribution from the bench.
Verdict– I think Gatland is spot on, for me McGrath is in the top three looseheads in the world.
Selected; Mako Vunipola- what can we say about the 26 year old Saracen, in my opinion, the best ball playing all action prop in the world right now and at the relatively tender age for a prop will only get better with the dark arts of scrummaging.
That’s not to say his scrummage is by any means bad, an absolute class all rounder. Will play the test games but from the bench to make that all important impact.
Alternative; Rob Evans- I was quite surprised to see Evans not make the tour, not only because of Gatlands penchant for the welsh boys but is a solid all rounder that can be very useful on a long tour.
Verdict– correct again Warren, unlucky for Evans but I’d pick Mako above most looseheads to be fair.
Selected; Joe Marler- somewhat of an enigma in the rugby world, as often vilified for his loutish behavior or extreme haircut as praised for his stellar work at the coalface.
One thing people cannot fault is his ability, this is a hotly contested position, not only for the Lions but for England, Marler always has competition but always seems to rise above, dark horse for the test team.
Alternative; Gethin Jenkins-a true Lions and Wales legend, the 5 cap British Lion has a wealth of experience with a skill set and burst of speed a man half his age would be proud of. Gethin is a bit of a hero of mine but at 36 he has seen his best days and maybe 2017 is a tour too far for the Welsh warrior.
Verdict– another correct decision, 10 years ago Jenkins would have won this battle hands down but at 36 he is unlikely to last the rigors of such a demanding tour.
Selected; Tadgh Furlong- a bit of a Youtube sensation after his heroics in Chicago throwing kiwis around like rag dolls, an absolute bull of a man with ball in hand and a solid presence at scum time. Many peoples choice as a test starter but will face stiff competition from Dan Cole for that spot.
Alternative; WP Nel- I know he’s injured so not in contention but I felt I had to mention the man from Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape of South Africa. An absolute revelation since joining the Scotland squad, solid scrummager, hard hitter and a ball carrier that defies his rotund physique. Very unlucky indeed not be on the plane.
Verdict– bit of a non starter as Nel is injured but I believe they both would have made the squad if fit.
Selected; Dan Cole- the 30 year Leicester legend brings great stability to the scrum as well as an almost freakish ability to turn over opposition ball at ruck time for such a big man, will certainly add bite to any front row which will be much needed in the ferocity of the test arena. Up there with Furlong for a starting berth.
Alternative; Samson Lee- the chunky Scarlets tighthead is renowned for his scrummaging but doesn’t bring the same all action loose game a lot of the other props bring to the table.
Verdict– another correct call, scrummage wise there isn’t a lot separating the two but Cole’s defensive effort and workrate separates the two.
Selected; Kyle Sinckler- a huge surprise to many, including myself, after only 8 England caps all from the bench Gatland and his staff obviously see something in the 24 year old from Wandsworth and I think I know what.
I don’t think Sinckler will ever be in line for a starting berth but his bullish ball carrying and ferocious defensive work could well be utilized off the bench as a huge impact.
Cole and Furlong are very similar, Sinckler brings another dimension.
Alternative; Zander Fagerson- very unlucky not to be going to New Zealand, the 21 year old Perth lad has been nothing short of a phenom.
At such a young age it is absolutely unheard of to prop for your country, a huge future ahead of this young man.
Verdict– in my opinion Warren Gatland has got this one wrong, I see where he’s coming from wanting the impact of Sinckler but the more rounded game of Fagerson would tip the scales for me.
The position to complete the front row, often not quite as big as their propping counterparts but just as aggressive, some people say it has become the third flanker, with the added pressure of throwing in to the lineout.
Selected; Rory best- solid, dependable, hard working, just some of the words that could describe the Ulsterman.
A very rounded player and loved by his fellow Irishmen. I have one problem with best, a lot of people seem to have forgotten 2013, when the pressure came on Rory couldn’t hit a cows backside with a banjo in the lineout, can we afford to risk this happening again?
Alternative; Fraser Brown- snuck into contention a little under the radar, decent in the lineout, good in the loose but scrummaging needs work.
The lions can’t have any area of weakness if they stand a chance of winning this series and I think it’s a little early for Brown.
Verdict– I think Best was a nailed on selection, yes he had a poor tour in 2013 but generally one of the most dependable and well rounded hookers going.
Selected; Ken Owens- a little fire cracker of a player, never seems too far away from the action, solid if not spectacular at set piece. Does his loose play make up for his set piece? We’ll see.
Alternative; Dylan Hartley- captain of England that guided them to 18 games unbeaten, possibly the best set piece hooker in the world and never takes a backwards step, a leader of men.
Now, that’s the good side, the bad side is equally as long, unstable, lout, thug are a few of the cleaner names he’s been called, definitely the sort of player you love playing with and hate playing against.
Verdict– I think old Gats has got this one wrong, as much as Hartley is a bit of a wrong’un at times he has the quality leadership ability to make the difference.
Selected; Jamie George- another surprise inclusion from that sneaky old kiwi, unlucky not to be a starter for England, many people (me) think he is the best hooker in England but is unfortunate to play in the same position as the captain.
Being Dane Coles the best ball playing hooker in the world.
Alternative; Sean Cronin; very similar in terms of game play, very quick, very strong but not the best thrower of a ball.
Verdict– definitely right, George could be a dark horse a test team start.
The giraffes of the rugby Serengeti, no good if their under 6’5”, the masters of the air, being thrown up in the line-out they must still have the bulk to be the engine room of the scrum.
Selected; Alun Wyn Jones- many called for the giant Ospreys man to be tour captain having ended the 2013 in the position.
A tireless worker with a real desire to win jones has an aura about him that marks him out as a true leader in the mold of the great ginger Paul O’Connell.
Alternative; Richie Gray- an absolute colossus of a man, standing at 6’10” and 280lb with bleach blonde hair, you’d never lose Gray in a crowd.
Although he looks like a gangly Justin Beiber I wouldn’t fancy telling him to his face, I imagine he hits a bit harder.
Verdict– although I’m a fan of Richie Gray, Jones has this one nailed down. His leadership and competitive edge put him head and shoulders above his competition.
Selected; Maro Itoje- what can you say about this guy, the ultimate athlete, big, strong, fast and skillful this young lad has been an absolute beast since he entered the international scene.
I can see the ex Harrow boy being a future Lions captain.
Alternative; Jonny Gray- another superb athlete, known for his ridiculous work rate, often makes double the tackles of many of his team mates.
Verdict– compare Gray to any other second row and he’d seem a super athlete but he happens to be against Itoje, ‘nuff said, Gatlands got this one bang on.
Selected; Courtney Lawes- this guy looks like a baby giraffe on ice skates but hits like a rhino, if you don’t what big Lawes is capable of I implore you to look up hi hits on YouTube.
Alternative; Devin Toner; getting on 7 foot the big Leinsterman sure does look the part, massively upping his game in recent years he really does push for the Lions squad now.
Verdict– as much as toner has improved he still seems cumbersome and capable of tripping up over his own feet at any time. Lawes could well be the impact off the bench Gatlands’ team is looking for.
Selected; Iain Henderson- I see where adopted Welshman is going with this selection, as much at home on the back row as the second row, very much the modern player. The problem is Henderson is probably type cast as a jack of all trades and the master of none.
Alternative; Donnacha Ryan- a real old fashioned hardman, the type of bloke that would make Tyson Fury shit his massive pants. Brings a lot of grunt to the engine room, type of guy you want when your backs are against the wall.
Verdict; in my opinion another mistake, in the white hot atmosphere of the test arena I think the lions would be better served with the hardman over the ball player.
Selected; George Kruis- a true lineout master, seems to have taken over at Saracens where Steve Borthwick left.
A good all round athlete and created a formidable partnership with Maro Itoje for Sarries and England. BUT he’s barely played this season, as much as the lad is a class player he is the biggest surprise in this lions squad.
Alternative; Joe Launchbury- WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU SMOKING GATS?? By far the unluckiest not to make the squad, probably the best second row if not the world on current form, never stop grafting.
He has surprise turn of pace and given his appointment as captain of Wasps he would bring welcome leadership qualities.
Verdict– Gatland literally couldn’t have got this one more wrong, its angering me typing this.
The link between forwards and backs, often quicker than the tight five but no less imposing.
Selected; Peter O’Mahony- the hard as nails Munsterman is a bit of a bolt out of the blue, if he gets the chance he wont let anyone down and will never take a backwards step.
Alternative; Chris Robshaw- the ex England captain literally never stops grafting, he makes tackle after tackle and has improved as a player since Eddie Jones has taken the England reigns.
Verdict– I think Robshaw pips this one, although O’Mahony is the man you’d want on your side in a scrap down town I think Robshaw would make more of an impact.
Selected; Ross Moriarty- the Gloucester back row has made a great impact on the international scene since taking over from Faletau.
More of a blunt instrument than anything but put in the right squad that’s a very handy tool to have.
Alternative; Jamie Heaslip- polar opposites here, Heaslip is more of a top two inches player with great skills and a wealth of experience.
Verdict; this is very tight but I think Moriarty is just the right call. I think the physicality of the big Welshman could come in very useful on this tour.
Selected; Sean O’Brien- the Tullow tank is an absolute machine, looks more like a brick wall running at you than a man, not much subtlety to his game but like Moriarty his physical game could pay dividends.
Alternative; Josh Strauss- the bearded South African is a cult hero north of the border, his all action game is the sort of thing that warms fans to him. The type of guy you’d put toe to toe with anyone.
Verdict– I think O’Brien brings slightly more in terms of ball carrying and this is what edges him above Strauss for me.
Selected; Justin Tipuric- the seven that plays more like a thirteen, fast skilled, good at the breakdown but is often left on the welsh bench. Great player in a fast paced game but can be bullied in the more physical parts.
Alternative; Hamish Watson- in my opinion the Scotsman was brilliant in the six nations, an absolute animal at the breakdown and never stops tackling.
Verdict– although Tipuric is a class player id take Watson. His competitive edge and breakdown work could and in my opinion should be utilized in New Zealand.
Selected; Sam Warburton- the tour captain, the talisman, the leader, on his day big Sam is as good as anyone in the world, the only problem is since the last tour he seems to have had too many off days.
This last year he seems to have retained some consistency and his form, lets hope this keeps up because on top form he’s truly world class.
Alternative; john hardie- much like his compatriot Watson, Hardie is at home at the breakdown, a real turnover specialist. The New Zealand born hardies local knowledge could have been invaluable.
Verdict– it’s a non contest, I’m a Hardie fan but you can’t take the captains spot can you.
Selected; CJ Stander- was told by the junior Springboks he was too small to play international rugby, Stander moved to Ireland and has since flourished.
Probably the best ball carrier in the Northern Hemisphere CJ would definitely be in any lions squad I picked.
Alternative; Nathan Hughes- a very similar animal, both ball carrying monsters from the base of the scrum the Fiji born back row stepped in for big Billy V well in the six nations.
Verdict– Nathan Hughes has a big international future but CJ’s got this one hands down.
Selected; Taulupe Faletau- one of Gatlands favorites, some may class this as a surprise as he’s been injured for much of the year but having hit some late season form with bath the big Welshman was always going to make the squad.
Alternative; Josh Van Der Flier- a quick modern day forward, the young Leinster flanker is maybe a couple of years too early, watch for him in 2021.
Verdict– Gatland was never going to leave out Faletau, a big favourite of his and always seems to perform on the big stage.
Selected; James Haskell- just as at home in front of the camera as on the pitch the extrovert wasps man certainly has the X factor. Hard working and powerful he won’t look out of place in the starting 15.
Alternative; Billy Vunipola- obviously originally selected the giant number 8 was a nailed on start for the test games, absolutely gutted for the big man.
Verdict– in a perfect world Billy would be on that plane but unfortunately it isn’t so we wish Haskell all the best.
So that’s my opinions on the Lions squad of forwards, on the whole I think Gatland has it right but there’s room for improvement.
I’d like to see a true hard-man, Martin Johnson type, in the second row and a breakdown expert on the back row.
However, for some shitty reason the Lions executives keep ignoring my C.V so I’ll stick to writing about it!