This week we mostly concern ourselves with injury curses, Test thoughts and predictions.
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with injury curses, Test thoughts and Test predictions…
When you look at the names on a sheet of paper, it just looks like replacements. Cian Healy is a fine player, Gethin Jenkins is a fine player, but Alex Corbisiero is also a fine player and there is still Mako Vunipola, who surely now is nailed on to be the Lions' starting loosehead. Ryan Grant is no slouch either.
The losses of Healy and Jenkins would not be so keenly felt were this a bog standard tour. But then of course, this is the Lions. This is a special tour, one which is defined not only by playing talent, but also by character.
So while on this subject, we can introduce Tommy Bowe as well. Bowe out, Simon Zebo in. No problem on paper. Many might argue that had Zebo not suffered a mistimed injury, he would have been there anyway.
But when a tour is defined by character as well, the losses of the three could cause massive damage. Bowe is, or was, famed for being among the most…'ahem'… socially active players in South Africa (he and Mike Phillips racked up even more scores off the pitch than on it). At most squad functions he was contributing in some way, be that entertaining or practical experience. Gethin Jenkins has done the same in Wales for years, his input as musical leader of this tour is going to be missed. And in the words of Adam Jones, Cian Healy: “is (not) a massive rugby head – he doesn't want to sit down and talk about rugby all the time. He is a bit off the wall, an interesting character and a good bloke. Everyone is gutted for him. He's been a brilliant tourist.”
Those are the characters you need on a tour to make it successful. This is not to say that any of the three flying out will be less good, who knows. But when a dynamic has built up and then is broken by an accident, when the bonding process must be gone through all over again and under the pressure of ever-nearing Test matches, when less experienced heads feel the strain of the most intense Test selection competition a player would ever feel, you know you have some serious work ahead to keep it all together.
The trio who have left this weekend will leave a huge hole off the pitch as well as on it. In the context of a Lions tour, we are not sure which is more important right now, but managing that change is going to be paramount to any form of success.
Test season is upon us elsewhere of course, so as ever, LP is here to give a few choice words and sentences on those teams we have been fortunate enough to witness in action…
France: Significant improvement on the Six Nations. If only that pass to Picamoles had gone higher than the knees…
New Zealand: Surprisingly rusty outside and not quite as focussed inside. Saved by the scrum, but we might know in a couple of weeks if the All Blacks are in a transitional phase. That's how they looked.
South Africa: As belligerent and effective as ever, but somehow there still seems to be potential for more.
Italy: Desperately disappointing. Looked frozen at times and not all that happy.
Scotland: Considering they are missing a few, they were not bad at all.
Samoa: Have dropped off their World Cup and November pace, with one or two glaring exceptions.
England: The next generation has real potential.
Argentina: The lack of a professional league for their domestic players now has the Pumas in a potential hiatus when it comes to strength in depth. But at some point they will get it right and it could be brilliant.
USA: Tighter and tighter. What they might not give for a couple more NFL reject behemoths with pace.
Japan: Spirited but not fit enough for professional players.
Yes, it's Lions Test XV time!
15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Jonny Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Rory Best, 1 Mako Vunipola…
Let the cat-calling begin…
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson