Oh well, I wasn’t that far out then with my predictions.
The main surprises for me are;
1. Robshaw not going
2. Matt Stevens going
3. Only 2 fly-halves in the squad and no real utility players as back up for that position.
(Is Jonny catching a later flight then – I hope so because if Sexton isn’t really fit or gets injured, Farrell won’t cope – just look how easily he was rattled in the last 6 nations game)
Every time historically, there is a large contingency of in-form Welsh players in the squad, the Lions do well. This time there will be a large Welsh contingency in the test team purely based on in-form ability. Simply put, the Welsh players in the squad are player for player the best in their positions, I’m just sorry that the Scots props weren’t included to exploit a perceived Australian weakness.
That weakness, (scrummaging), is however overstated in my opinion. Last October I was in Queensland watching Australia hold the World champs to an 18:18 draw in Brisbane. The Aussie scrummage didn’t have too many problems that night, believe me.
Nonetheless the Welsh front row is capable of taking the Aussies to town up front without too many problems, giving the very mobile back row players in the squad a freer reign to roam and disrupt any Aussie ball that may be won from 1st phase ball.
Pocock and his comrades are very effective at 2nd phase and the likes of Warburton/Tipuric will have their hands full here, though I am sure they are up to the task.
I think the combination of Mike Phillips starting and then the option of Ben youngs on the bench gives the Lions the contrast of the aggressive, physical presence of Phillips with the quicker, sniping style of Youngs.
At fly half it has to be Sexton due to his durability. His kicking is spot on both from the hand and placed – he is not afraid to take the odd chance at a half break if it appears.
The only option for the bench is then Farrell. He is a class act in the making – I just don’t believe that he is ready for this yet. I really welcome being proven wrong on this but I just don’t think he yet has the mental fortitude for this intensity of rugby.
Centre spots are really up for grabs, I suppose. The outstanding combination of the 6 nations was the Welsh duo of Roberts and Davies, though of course the skill, ability and penchant for big-game performances of B O’D cannot be ignored. I don’t understand why Tuilagi is there. There are far better centres available in the likes of Barritt, Hape, or even Luke Marshall of Ireland.
Wingers are likely to include one of the Welsh giants and the smoking Tommy Bowe – ’nuff said. Sean Maitland can cover both wings from the bench. Stuart Hogg can cover both wings and full back more than adequately.
The full back is going to be Leigh Halfpenny – no arguments. This guy was on fire throughout the 6 nations and was even an inspiration during the poor Welsh performances during last Autumn. As already stated above, Stuart Hogg is versatile and skilled enough to cover wings and full back from the bench if need be. Rob Kearney would probably be 2nd choice full back but does not have the versatility of Hogg, so is likely to be the midweek full back.
So, there you are then, my predicted test team. Now lets see what happens.