Talking points from the Lions announcement

Date published: April 19 2017

Just two Scotland players, some surprise picks in Ross Moriaty and Jared Payne and more from Wednesday’s big reveal.

Two Scots

Even with Scotland’s successful Six Nations, by their standards with home wins over Ireland and Wales, just two Scots will be on the plane to New Zealand in Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour.

Early reports had suggested that Seymour would miss out, with Keith Earls allegedly in the mix, but the Scotland flyer has been in outstanding form and it would have been unjust had he missed out.

Even then there were arguments for a number of Scots, chief among them Jonny Gray, who was in such good touch at the start of the year that a Test starting role seemed likely.

Finn Russell, Hamish Watson, Zander Fagerson and Alex Dunbar too all had viable claims, yet have not made the group of 41, and while Scottish supporters will recognise that winning away from Murrayfield is necessary for the side to be selected, having just one more player named in the original party four years later will sting.

Jonathan Joseph

In the end there was no exclusion for the Bath and England centre, and on the flip side no inclusion for Jamie Roberts despite speculation late on Wednesday.

Joseph to those who don’t watch England closely might view him as lightweight and one-trick pony, but that could not be further from the truth.

Watch the tape back of England’s win over Argentina last November and he times his defensive drifts and blitzes, with England down to 14 men after an early red card, with outstanding discipline and execution.

Whether Joseph cracks the Test side is another matter, but up against some of Super Rugby’s best attacking threats he will not come up short. A genuine gasp when his name was read out was one of pleasant surprise.

Three number tens

All of our Lions Watch editions expected Gatland to follow the 2013 model, with two fly-halves and cover being provided from Hogg at number ten.

The selection of Dan Biggar, over Finn Russell and George Ford, makes much more sense practically and allows the coaching staff to not worry about pushing Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell or Hogg – who could all start – coming through tricky midweek matches.

Of that trio in waiting Biggar is the best option, with Ford not enjoying his best campaign from a consistency perspective and Russell also blowing hot and cold in the Six Nations. When firing, Russell has proven to be outstanding. Biggar however is a safer pair of hands.

Ross Moriarty and Jared Payne

Pre-announcement rumours of a selection or two that would raise eyebrows pointed towards Roberts. Instead after the selection of Joseph, the somewhat mystery back turned out to be Jared Payne.

Versatility of course matters more than ever on Lions tours, partly explaining Payne’s inclusion, with the Ulsterman offering cover at full-back and outside centre, not to mention potentially on the wing. A¬†commanding display at 15 against England will have done his cause plenty of help too.

Moriarty on the the other hand was outstanding particularly in the Six Nations clash against England, keeping Taulupe Faletau on the bench for most of the tournament.

His aggression on both sides of the ball rightly won plenty of praise, topping carry and tackle counts, and that energy he can bring could play a pivotal role in midweek.

The Youngest Lion

Four years ago that honour went to Stuart Hogg, charged with taking care of BIL (the cuddly mascot), and while the Scotland star is now an almost certain Test start barring injury, Maro Itoje’s rise to the top is likely to be far swifter.

The 22-year-old’s consistency hasn’t dipped throughout this season, even if the number of Man of the Match awards has dropped, and the Saracen remains on track to start in the Tests in a combination with Alun Wyn Jones.

Should that happen then he would be a younger Lions Test starter than Martin Johnson, when the former England captain was called up to replace Wade Dooley in New Zealand back in 1993.

Given how Itoje has handled his rapid rise to the top of the sport there are few concerns about how he will handle the occasion. In his case, age really does feel like just a number.

by Ben Coles

COMMENTS