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Rowntree backs Saracens props

30th April 2013 13:03

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Prop Matt Stevens thanks the crowd Lions 2005

Whole package: Matt Stevens

British and Irish Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree has backed surprise selection Matt Stevens to deliver on tour in Australia.

Saracens prop Stevens was named as one of six props in the 37-man Lions squad to tour Australia, having retired from international rugby following the conclusion of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Highlighting the abilities of Stevens and his Saracens team-mate Mako Vunipola in the loose, Rowntree stated that both players would make an impact.

"We've watched Matt Stevens closely all season, as we have many other contenders," said Rowntree. "We're happy with his all-game input.

"His primary role is in the set-piece as a tighthead and he's gone well there, but he gives us more around the field and what you have to do in Australia is take the game to them. Matt as a package has played well this season.

"I've seen Mako up close all season watching him develop and you can't argue with the points of difference that he brings to the game. His dynamic work around the field, off the bench especially, got him in."

The inclusion of Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley over Ulster and Ireland's Rory Best has raised eyebrows, but Rowntree stated that Hartley's aggressive edge was key to his inclusion.

"Dylan lost his England place to Tom Youngs and Tom stayed there, but he brings an aggressive edge to the game that we need," added Rowntree.

"He oversteps the mark sometimes, but he's learnt from that. On the back of that his throwing stats are good, he's a good technicians and similar to Stevens he brings a lot in the loose.

"We all have quite a subjective view on a player but you have to go to the stats, and sometimes they don't back up what you see and sometimes they do with another. I'm happy with the hookers - they've got to be good set-piece technicians and agile, Dylan just edged it there."

Rowntree also reserved words of sympathy for England captain Chris Robshaw, who missed out on selection in favour of Justin Tipuric and Lions captain Sam Warburton.

"Robshaw was desperately, desperately unlucky," stated Rowntree.

"He's been exceptional for England and it's going to be a difficult conversation for me. I'd like to think that if we have an injury we'll go straight to Chris.

"We also spoke about Mike Ross for a long time - when he was at Harlequins I worked with him and he's really come on and was very close to selection, and may come out there at some point like Robshaw."

By Ben Coles
@bencoles_