The Oracle Has His Final Word on The 2017 British & Irish Lions Player Selection
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!
Welcome to the second half of the Testosterone Junkie bumper look into the 2017 Lions squad selection.
Yesterday we looked at the piano shifters today it’s the turn of the piano players. The twinkle toed, fleet of foot, mercurial whingers (if you’ve ever played in the pack you know I’ve spelled that right).
They say the forwards decide who wins and loses the the backs decide by how much, so on that note let’s take a look at these second class citizens of the rugby world.
The number nine, often the smallest player on the pitch with a definite ‘small dog complex’, blessed with pace and an almost robotic pass from the base of the breakdown, a vital cog in any team that has aspirations of playing running rugby.
Selected; Connor Murray- very much an all rounder, delivers fantastic services, a pin point box kick and a great thinker of the game. Probably not blessed with the pace of Rhys Webb but makes up for that with physicality and a great understanding of the game.
Alternative; Danny Care- seems to be England’s forgotten man of late, has blistering speed that would trouble any team and a great pass but is often criticized for his box kicking, which would be exploited by the All Black back three.
Verdict– I think Connor has been the pre eminent number nine in the Northern hemisphere in the last few years and despite his injury problems he would be shoe in for a test spot.
Selected; Rhys Webb- has definitely got the goods to push Murray all the way, aggressive, quick, in youre face, he has all the hallmarks of a top scrum half, my only problem is he sometimes tries to do too much instead of doing the basics.
Alternative; Gareth Davies- another running nine, loves a tap and go and certainly has the ability to turn a game on its head.
Verdict– top level rugby is all about the small percentages and this call proves that, very similar players but Webbs aggression and general feistiness pushes him ahead for me.
Selected; Greig Laidlaw- for me a great squad man, can play nine or ten and is probably the best short range goal kicker in the world.
The man just oozes class, a true rugby brain and a skill set to match, his downfall? Pace, he doesn’t have any.
Alternative; Ben Youngs- originally selected for the tour but having to pull out through family reasons, would have certainly pushed for a test position.
Can we at Testosterone Junkie take a minute to wish the Youngs family all the best in an incredibly difficult and heartbreaking time.
Often described as the brains of the team, the play-maker, a good ten shepherds his team round the park with all the confidence of a pissed up teenager. With a good boot and great vision the ten is often the prettiest of the pretty boys.
Selected; Jonathan Sexton- at the peak of his powers Sexton almost seems untouchable, the lanky ten bosses the backline and kicks the forward into dangerous positions, my problem is I don’t think he’s been the same player since he came back from France.
Alternative; George Ford- classy, visionary and fleet of foot, with front foot ball looks like the best 10 in the world though have that forward dominance taken away and he seems invisible and his place kicking leaves a lot to be desired.
Verdict– I am not the superfan of Jonny Sexton everyone seems to be but I think his defensive efforts and place kicking push him above Ford in this battle.
Selected; Dan Biggar- following in the footsteps of a list of great welsh fly halves Dan has all the attributes to be world class but in my opinion lets himself down with throwing the dummy out.
Often in a game will you see Biggar moaning at the ref or bickering with his players. Needs to cut this out if he’s going to ascend to the pantheon of world class.
Alternative; Finn Russell- I’ve seen a lot of Finn Russell in the last couple of years and he never seems to disappoint, sure footed, confident and classy, his downfall being that he doesn’t always kick for goal.
Verdict– I personally would have taken a gamble on young Russell, he has that extra something that could win you a game, reminds me of a young Gregor Townsend.
Selected; Owen Farrell- a lot of the media look upon this young man as the reincarnated Johnny Wilkinson, and they’re probably not far wrong to be fair, metronomic goal kicking, hits like a train and rarely puts a foot wrong.
I believe he has a weakness though, he doesn’t have the vision of a Beauden Barrett, due to this I think he will be better served at 12.
Alternative; Paddy Jackson- brilliant for Ireland in the Six Nations the little Ulsterman really put his hand up for selection though I think his small frame could be targeted by the wily All Blacks.
Verdict– there’s only one winner here, Farrell was always going and I believe will be penciled in for a starting test spot, if not at fly half then at inside center.
The jack of all trades, needing the skills of a half back and the size and tackle of a back row forward. The modern day center often weighs up to 230lb but must combine that with speed and subtlety.
Selected; Robbie Henshaw- seems to get better every year, the young Irishman has very little flaws in his game and will be certainly pushing for that test spot.
Alternative; Huw Jones- another quality player, really made his mark in Super Rugby with the Stormers showing the world his dazzling pace and running lines.
Verdict– although I rate both players I think Henshaw’s experience on the international scene pushes his ahead.
Selected; Ben Te’o- a surprise inclusion to say the least the big native kiwi comes with 6’2” of Samoan muscle, will be used as a battering ram if and when needed, we all know Gatland likes his big boys.
Alternative; Scott Williams- although a pretty big unit himself Williams is much more of a ball player than Te’o, he can offer you the hard lines but would much rather play round you than through you.
Verdict– it’s a tight one and I actually prefer the Welshman but I see where Gatland’s going with this as we will need at least one battering ram in the back line to give options. So on this basis I think he’s made the correct call.
Selected; Jared Payne- probably the biggest shock in the whole squad, versatile and consistent, is an ideal squad man.
Alternative; Garry Ringrose- young, exciting and a game changer this lad has come from nowhere and taken the Leinster midfield by storm. Has earned the greatest praise possible by being likened to the legendary Brian O’Driscoll and if he fulfils half that promise he’s bound to be a hit.
Verdict– I don’t really get this one, I see Payne’s versatility coming in handy but Ringrose could do something special on the biggest occasion.
Selected; Jonathan Davies- the Scarlets centre is another favourite of Gatland and has proven on the biggest stage he has what it takes. Doesn’t appear to have a weakness but does he still have the spark he had four years ago?
Alternative; Alex Dunbar- one of the new breed of Scottish backs with pace, skill and power, an important part of the team that has seen a resurgence in Scottish fortunes.
Verdict– although I wouldn’t have complained if Dunbar would have been selected, the quality and big game experience of Davies gives him an easy win. Plus he’s one of Gatland’s golden boys.
Selected: Jonathan Joseph- the fleet footed England center certainly makes an impact on a game, capable of the most insane attacking play, able to step a man in a phone box his only flaw could be that he doesn’t offer the physical impact some of the others do.
Alternative; Jamie Roberts- passed his best now but the giant Harlequins man really knows how to run a line. The qualified medical doctor is a brute of a center, hitting harder than any of the centers on show, I just feel it’s a couple of years too late for the big man.
Verdict– it would have been a tight battle a few years ago but with youth on his side Joseph wins this hands down.
Selected; Elliot Daly- in my opinion one of the most talented players on show, incredible step, blistering pace and a siege gun of a boot the Wasps man is equally as comfortable at center, wing or fullback.
Alternative; Stuart McCloskey- a center similar to Roberts in stature the big Irishman can certainly be a handful for the best of defenses.
Verdict– Daly has the ability to turn any game, if not with his running with his boot, McCloskey just doesn’t bring enough to the table at the minute, needs more time.
Generally the fastest of all the players, the winger knows how to evade a tackle and finish a try, they’re often seen in the wild, pruning and shaving their legs.
Selected; Jack Nowell- the young Exeter lad has really been pulling trees up this last year or so, has the full game, good finisher, great defensively and solid under the high ball.
Alternative; Jonny May- one of the fastest players to grace a rugby pitch, absolutely rapid when given some space though unorthodox, especially if you saw his effort of packing down at flanker.
Verdict– although May can bring something special I think Nowell’s more rounded game means he deserves the spot.
Selected; George North- supreme athlete, big, strong and extremely fast just ask Israel Folau. On form pretty much walks into any team.
Alternative; Keith Earls- has the experience with the Lions and the big game temperament, also his versatility could have been useful.
Verdict– unless you’re the reincarnated Jonah Lomu you’re not getting into a Gatland squad above North and in this case I agree, North all the way.
Selected; Anthony Watson- during his stint injured a sprint coach recommended that Watson should switch to sprinting the Bath man is a real thoroughbred. Able to beat a man in the smallest of space Watson is a constant threat.
Alternative; Christian Wade- this maybe a surprise to a few of you that I’m using a man that can’t get into his international team but Wade has something special. The closest thing I’ve seen to Jason Robinson since his retirement.
Verdict– although I absolutely love Wade all these coaches can’t be wrong, there must be something lacking in his defensive play and Watsons full game has very little to criticize, so Watson takes this one.
Selected; Tommy Seymour- the second Scott on the list, the Glasgow man is a born finisher, not huge, not blisteringly quick but knows where the try line is, a man coaches love.
Alternative; Sean Maitland- another New Zealand native, made a real impact on the 2013 tour. One of the smarter back three players Maitland has a real rugby brain.
Verdict- this is close, I see merits for both players but I think Gatland has made the right call, Seymour’s finishing ability makes him a real weapon.
Like a goalkeeper in soccer the fullback is the last line of defense, has to be sharp to the cover tackle as well as being able to launch a counter attack. A big boot doesn’t go a miss either.
Selected; Leigh Halfpenny- Man of the Series in 2013, imperious with his kicking, sharp in attack and an absolute colossus under the high ball, unfortunately Halfpenny has struggled to keep that form since joining Toulon and was pretty lucky to make the tour.
Alternative; Simon Zebo- a mercurial talent that looks like a coach’s nightmare, he’s an off the cuff rugby player that everyone loves to watch and has been in great form lately during the Munster resurgence.
Verdict– I think this was a pick on previous endeavours rather than form, we all know what Halfpenny is capable of but on form I would have gone with Zebo on this occasion.
Selected; Liam Williams- looks a class act every time I see him play, incredible under the high ball, a classy boot and just seems a pain in the arse to tackle. The new Saracen’s man will only improve in the company of the European champions.
Alternative; Mike Brown- Mr Marmite himself, love him or hate him there’s no denying what a consistent performer he’s been for England and Harlequins over the years.
Verdict– Brown is a great fullback there’s no doubting that and two years ago I think brown would have edged it but now Liam Williams is one the most in demand fullbacks in the world and just pips Brown for this spot.
Selected; Stuart Hogg- last but not least Hogg in my opinion is the finest fullback in Europe, fast, smart and an absolute cannon of a boot. Would be the first back on the team sheet for me.
Alternative; Rob Kearney- at his best the best high ball taker and cover tackler in the world, unfortunately for Kearney that day has passed. Still a classy fullback but I think 2017 is a tour too far for the Leinsterman.
Verdict– bit of a walkover this one, I’m a massive Hogg fan and although Kearney has been a quality player 2017 is all about Hogg.
So they are my selections for the British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand. On the whole I think Gatland has done a decent job (apart from Joe Launchbury) and there’s definitely some great players there.
Can they beat the All Blacks in their own back yard? Only time will tell but I know for sure the lads selected won’t let us down. Let us know your opinions on these selections and whether the Lions can deliver the goods. Fingers crossed hey!