T’was the night before Gatmas,
and all through the house:
Twitter was salty
Because their favourites lost out.
I’m somewhat glad I waited until now before posting my #LIONSWATCH squad (genuinely amazed that #squadgoals hasn’t been misappropriated by the Lions’ social media team, do they not hire millenials or something?), because some of the rumours about Gatland’s squad tomorrow are delicious, and by that I mean I’m struggling not to get full on triggered by them.
Let’s quickly run through the list (in no particular order or grouping):
- George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw & Jonathan Joseph to miss out
- Ben Te’o and Jamie Roberts are in
- Dylan Hartley is 50/50
- Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler are in
- Donncha Ryan and George Kruis are in
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen a huge amount of the Premiership players in action this season, I’ll mostly be going off what I’ve seen of them in the champions cup and 6 nations. Screw you BT Sport.
ENGLAND STARS MISS OUT #OUTRAGE
To be fair to Gatland, I can understand a lot of these calls. Ford is very much a confidence player, and hasn’t seemed to function well without Owen Farrell this season (bear in mind I haven’t paid a huge amount of attention to Bath but if they’re looking to swap him for Freddie Burns he can’t be going that well can he?)
Chris Robshaw I think is sadly destined to be the guy who led England out of their home world cup. He’s been rehabilitated fabulously under Eddie Jones at international level, but being out injured for the 6 Nations hasn’t given him the opportunity to show form.
Not taking Joe Launchbury is an interesting call, and where I think things get a little more nuanced in terms of the squad. The expectation is that Ulster’s resident llama/NWJMB (h/t @whiffofcordite), Iain Henderson is set to make the plane, along with another shock inclusion from Ireland’s second row stocks (more on that later). Henderson has spent a lot of time at both second row and blindside flanker (the former for Ireland, the latter for Ulster) this season, and that versatility seems to give him the nod.
The one call I don’t hugely agree with is Jonathan Joseph. I think he’s pretty solid defensively, and one of the best attacking threats at 13 the Lions could call upon. By the sounds of things Elliot Daly seems to have gotten in ahead of him, and they’re very similar players, but the Wasps man has howitzer-range goal kicking and versatility in his favour. In my ideal world, I’d take the pair of them, but…
WARRENBALL IS BACK, BABY
Oooooh boy. Jamie Roberts and Ben Te’o. If ever there were an encyclopedia on what epitomised what type of centre Gatland wants for his daring, not-five-years-too-old-at-all-shut-up-gameplan Warrenball, these two lads would be on the front page. I think the biggest gripe people have is that neither is starting for their country currently, which kinda falls flat when you consider how many people are clamouring for Jamie George over Dylan Hartley.
Look, I probably wouldn’t take either, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and with Gatland in charge with Howley dealing with the backs, what else would you expect? Jamie Roberts knows their systems inside out, and while his impact when their team is trailing (again, haven’t seen a huge amount of Quins or Worcester) is questionable, Roberts did push Wales ahead against Ireland. And Big Ben is practically Irish anyway. Of the two, I think Te’o will be much more likely to make the Test squad, and that depends on whether there’s two playmakers at 10/12.
Coin Toss for Hartley
If it’s taking this long, Hartley won’t make it. If Gatland’s job is to make sure players buy in to each other, Hartley won’t be able to do that for the Irish, Scottish or Welsh players. Even if he had the form, there’d be a bunch of players potentially in the squad that he’s gotten bans for going in on. As much as rugby is about respect and putting things behind you, that’s a lot of baggage (over a year’s worth!) to bring along straight up without the reason/excuse of an injury.
Let that Sinck in
Ok that pun didn’t really work let’s move on. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t have a clue what TH props to take other than Tadgh Furlong except for maybe John Ryan, but Kyle Sinckler seems as good an option as any? Joe Marler seems to be going as well, which might be harsh on Cian Healy, but the man who four years ago was probably the best loosehead in the world hasn’t really hit anywhere near those heights since his injury woes of the last couple of seasons.
Donncha wish your locks Kruised very slow like him?
The man who probably savoured Ireland’s win over the All Blacks in Chicago the most seems to be getting the nod after a renaissance season. Donncha Ryan looks to make the plane, along with George Kruis, further squeezing out Joe Launchbury. Ryan is an absolute mongrel, and has probably always been the Tipperary flavoured Paul O’Connell, sort of like Fanta to Coke? I dunno, it’s a great shout!
Overall, as EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE AND WRONG #OUTRAGE-OUS as these rumours can seem to rugby fans of various home nations, you can see the logic behind them. There are a couple of different calls I’d have made though:
Mongrel’s Lions Squad
(with director’s commentary)
- LH Props: Jack McGrath, Mako Vunipola, Rob Evans
McGrath and Vunipola have been vying for the starting loosehead jersey since the first day of the season, and haven’t let up. They’re streets ahead of anyone else, but Rob Evans has gone pretty well for Wales and the Scarlets this season so I’d take him as backup.
- TH Props: Tadgh Furlong, Dan Cole, Kyle Sinckler
My only regret is that we can’t just clone Tadgh Furlong a couple of times. Keep the rosary beads handy to ensure he doesn’t get injured.
- Hookers: Rory Best, Jamie George, Ken Owens
Look, I just don’t like Hartley, ok?
- Locks: Maro Itoje, Alun-Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson, Donncha Ryan, Devin Toner, Joe Launchbury
Itoje could still be a great shout for captain. Himself and Llama will be tried out at 6 as well as in the engine room, with the latter probably making the bench. Toner is in because why would you not take a beanpole like him?
- Back Row: Billy Vunipola, CJ Stander, Sam Warburton, Peter O’Mahony, Hamish Watson, Ross Moriarty
Moriarty and Watson are pipe dreams, I know, but for me Sean O’Brien hasn’t shown enough consistent form. He was pretty good against Wasps but in the 6N and latter autumn internationals he seemed off the boil.
- Scrum Halves: Conor Murray (ideally with a new bionic shoulder/arm please), Rhys Webb, Danny Care
I’m still fuming that Conor Murray was allowed to play for fifteen minutes when it was obvious his arm was about to fall off. He’s the biggest doubt of the tour for me right now. Danny Care goes in ahead of Ben Youngs because I think he’s the better impact player.
- Fly Halves: Owen Farrell, Jonathan Sexton, Finn Russell
Owen Farrell is my starting 10, believe it or not. I think he’s the form out half in Europe right now and will be able to get more out of an unfamiliar backline than Sexton can. Russell goes ahead of Kamikaze Dan for his all-round game management, and because the Osprey’s are in a race to the bottom with Ulster to make the Pro12 playoffs right now.
- Centres: Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Elliot Daly, Luke Marshall, Scott Williams
Yeah, I said it. Luke By God Marshall. Deal with it. As good as Robbie Henshaw has been at 12, I think he’ll be more effective at 13, and with Farrell at 10 I think Marshall or Scott Williams would work best as a second playmaker.
- Back Three: Stuart Hogg, George North, Liam Williams, Jack Nowell, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Anthony Watson
It’ll take something serious to make Gatland not select Hogg at 15. Munster’s Simon Zebo and Keith Earls were criminally under-rated in the 6 Nations, even outside of Munster, and if at least one of them doesn’t go I’ll be surprised. Zebo might not make it since Watson and Williams can already cover both wing and full-back, but LET ME DREAM DAMNIT.
So there. Just 12 hours to go until we can all froth at the mouth before smiling through gritted teeth that we’ll give it a lash whilst muttering curses at our targets of outrage under our breath. I can’t bloody wait.