The Irish Times - Sports Weekend
Kicking and power game needed and Keenan should make the cut
Identifying a style of rugby to beat South Africa is the first i tem on the agenda and i nforms the choice of players to complete the task. A conservative approach won’t suffice as the Lions will not outmuscle the Springboks but will still require a power game, in terms of breakdown, set piece and in defence.
There are other fundamentals required for Warren Gatland’s tourists to be successful, to be secure aerially and to bring athleticism and subtlety in attack, bolstered by an intelligent kicking game. Having established some parameters, i t’s time to first l ook at the squad before trying to nail a potential Test team.
From an Irish perspective Garry Ringrose and James Ryan need to rediscover their best form over the coming weeks, Johnny Sexton currently has a concussion issue, while Jacob Stockdale is also on the fringes.
George North’s dreadfully unfortunate injury means that Jonathan Davies ( Wales), Cameron Redpath ( Scotland), Chris Harries ( Scotland) and Manu Tuilagi ( England), who will be back from injury prior to the tour, will now be part of the discussion about centres.
Versatility is a cherished attribute and in that respect Ireland’s in- form fullback/ wing Hugo Keenan gets the nod over England’s Jonny May; Gatland may prefer Welsh wing Josh Adams or Scotland’s Sean Maitland.
Owen Farrell travels primarily as a centre but could easily play outhalf. Gatland belatedly realised in 2013 ( Australia) and 2017 ( New Zealand) that Sexton is a better outhalf in terms of getting a backline moving – it’s why England look more fluent in attack when George Ford is at 10 – while Dan Biggar has been excellent for Wales and the Northampton Saints.
Outhalf, scrumhalf and hooker are positions that are wide open when it comes to the both the travelling party and the Test starter. Ronan Kelleher is a dynamic physical presence that would offer a perfect foil off the bench to either of the other two hugely experienced hookers. Andrew Porter’s ability to play both sides of the frontrow earns him a plane ticket.
Alun Wyn Jones breaks up the English and Irish monopoly of secondrows and could captain the squad but might not make the Test team where he’d hand over that responsibility to Maro Itoje. That versatility is very evident in the back five in the pack, Iain Henderson and Itoje can play blindside flanker while Tadhg Beirne is at home in the secondrow.
If Caelan Doris had played in the Six Nations he’d have been a shoo- in. Sam Underhill ( England), Sam Simmonds ( England), Josh van der Flier ( Ireland), Jack Conan ( Ireland), Josh Navidi ( Wales), Aaron Wainri g ht ( Wales), Matt Fagerson ( Scotland) and James Ritchie ( Scotland) can all make solid cases. Hami s h Wat s o n s ( right) makes the cut.
The Springboks will play three secondrows in the back five in the pack so this may offer the visitors a chance at the breakdown. The fact that there are so many 50/ 50 calls i n terms of the Test team may be both a blessing and a curse; Gatland will hope that the picture is crys- tal clear come t h e t h r e e match series against the Springboks.