Planet Rugby

Letter of the Week

05th March 2013 07:22

Share:

Planet Rugby mail

Tough calls: Lions back-row

Planet Rugby readers are never short of a voice and our mailbox is seldom empty. This week, one follower talks about possible Lions back-rowers.

Got an opinion? We'd like to hear it, so why not send us an email HERE.

The back-row battle
By Tom Kelly

The halfway point of the 2013 Six Nations has now been and gone and whilst the progress of England and Scotland has pleased, surprised and intrigued all who have stood by, it has also made attempts to decipher a Lions squad all the more tricky.

With endless discussion and debate that only shows signs of augmenting, it is difficult to remember what general fans of rugby actually talk about when a Lions tour is not right around the corner. At the centre of much of the debate is the remarkable plethora of talent that is to be found in the back-row, where potential captains and proven top class performers are plentiful.

Only six months ago, the likes of Stephen Ferris, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip were nailed on tourists and potentially key leaders for Warren Gatland's party. However, the brutal nature of rugby has since disrupted this assumption quite drastically. Ferris' chances of being fit for the flight are now looking as close to zero as one can get, and if Lydiate does still make the cut for the touring party, it will have to be down to his previous accomplishments over any meaningful contributions in 2013 as he too battles with injury. Warburton and Heaslip meanwhile, have seen their stocks fall drastically over the opening three weekends of the Six Nations as form seems to have waved the captains of Wales and Ireland firmly goodbye.

Yet hope remains, the ever increasing admiration of England captain Chris Robshaw has surely now - providing he stays injury free - secured his place on the plane to Australia. The Scottish revival under Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan has also shortened the odds on Kelly Brown and Johnnie Beattie making the trip. Brown has always been a tremendous defensive unit, but has recently added a superb leadership quality built around his commitment and desire to improve, whilst Beattie's revival at Montpellier has reminded those who had forgotten, what a threat the man from Glasgow can be with ball in hand.

Throw in to the pot the likes of Sean O'Brien of Ireland, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau of Wales and Tom Wood and Ben Morgan from England, and the selection dilemmas around the three available positions become all the more visible. Wood's versatility and O'Brien's gain-line success rate make both men likely tourists, the other few places available are far more debateable.

Of course, a Lions tour would not be right without the odd wildcard selection and the remarkable form of Toulon's (and formerly England's) Steffon Armitage puts the former London Irish man firmly in the frame, particularly if Gatland wishes to go for a traditional ball-pinching seven.

There is little doubting that part of the reason so much debate surrounds the picking of loose forwards is a reaction to David Pocock, the possible Australian captain and turnover-titan of world rugby. Although his young protégé Michael Hooper may have stolen the limelight at times during the end-of-year internationals, the Brumbies' openside is one of the key men for the Lions squad to marshal come June.

As a reaction to Pocock's brilliance at the breakdown, there have been calls for an 'out and out seven' to combat his prowess. If Gatland is to go in this direction and look to secure a poacher at openside and fight fire with fire at the breakdown, it is unlikely that this will extinguish Pocock's threat.

It is important to remember that an openside's job is not to stop his opposite number, if the Lions are to succeed in stopping Pocock's disruptive nature, the fight will have to be won by the whole eight. Hooper's remarkable performance at Twickenham in November stemmed from an Australian front five which, despite all of the doubters (and there were many), more than held their own against the men in purple.

Despite England's struggles that day, it was their performance two weeks later when defeating the All Blacks which should demonstrate how to remove the Pocock threat. At the breakdown England were inspired, and as good a game as Robshaw had, it was not the England captain that kept opposite number and openside Richie McCaw as quiet as I have ever seen him, but the likes of Tom Youngs, Joe Launchbury and Wood who smashed every ruck with exceptional intensity.

It is therefore not a matter of trying to match the Wallaby threat. The Lions back-row will have remarkable depth regardless of who boards the plane. Therefore selection should and, knowing Gatland, will be based predominantly on form and temperament above all else. It will not be an easy decision to make.

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 28
Bath vs Harlequins19:45
Saturday , November 29
Leicester Tigers vs Wasps15:00
Exeter vs Saracens16:30
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
International Match
Saturday , November 29
Wales vs South Africa14:30
England vs Australia14:30
More International Match fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 28
Munster vs Ulster19:35
Cardiff Blues vs Treviso19:35
Saturday , November 29
Zebre vs Edinburgh15:00
Leinster vs Ospreys17:15
Connacht vs Scarlets19:30
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , November 29
Oyonnax vs Bordeaux-Begles18:00
Lyon vs Montpellier18:00
La Rochelle vs Bayonne18:00
Castres vs Racing Metro Paris18:00
Toulon vs Clermont Auvergne18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 23
Saracens 24 - 31 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Welsh 5 - 26 Leicester TigersLondon Welsh vs Leicester Tigers Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Georgia 35 - 24 JapanGeorgia vs Japan Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Treviso 24 - 24 LeinsterTreviso vs Leinster Report
Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 22
London Irish 23 - 33 BathLondon Irish vs Bath Report
Exeter 31 - 15 WaspsExeter vs Wasps Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Italy 6 - 22 South AfricaItaly vs South Africa Report
Wales 16 - 34 New ZealandWales vs New Zealand Report
France 13 - 18 ArgentinaFrance vs Argentina Report
England 28 - 9 SamoaEngland vs Samoa Report
Romania 18 - 9 CanadaRomania vs Canada Report
Scotland 37 - 12 TongaScotland vs Tonga Report
Ireland 26 - 23 AustraliaIreland vs Australia Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 21
Harlequins 12 - 16 Sale SharksHarlequins vs Sale Sharks Report
Newcastle Falcons 20 - 10 GloucesterNewcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Fiji 20 - 14 USAFiji vs USA Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Dragons 12 - 38 MunsterDragons vs Munster Report
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow WarriorsScarlets vs Glasgow Warriors Report
Connacht 43 - 3 ZebreConnacht vs Zebre Report
Ulster 25 - 16 OspreysUlster vs Ospreys Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 16
Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 SaracensLeicester Tigers vs Saracens Report
Wasps 71 - 7 London WelshWasps vs London Welsh Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Ireland 49 - 7 GeorgiaIreland vs Georgia Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 15
Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London IrishSale Sharks vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton830
2Exeter828
3Bath828
4Saracens825
5Leicester Tigers821