Okay so, ahead of the final test I decided to scratch the surface a bit and have a look at the Irish contingent of this year’s British and Irish Lions touring party. Bar a couple of eyebrow raising omissions at the start, the squad shaped up as many would have expected i.e. Wales and friends with a few token Scots. Take a bow Sean Maitland. The first of a two part post, first up I look at the Irish backs that travelled. Thanks to Warren I had to rewrite this piece.
The Irish backs contingent consists of:
- Rob Kearney
- Tommy Bowe
- Brian O’Driscoll
- Jonny Sexton
- Conor Murray
- Simon Zebo
Rob Kearney: Facing an uphill task against Leigh Halfpenny who has justifiably made the 15 his own, Kearney’s involvement was always going to be peripheral. He earned his tour spot with some good provincial form but he never had a clear run due to injury and a struggle to get up to speed. Patchy form culminating in the defeat to the Brumbies, he has been overshadowed by a better player more suited to the test series. Able to break the line as a hard runner he has the ability to bring down an airliner with his boot, Halfpenny was always going to be too much for an out of sorts Kearney. 93 points and counting to date for the Welsh man says it all.
Tommy Bowe: Poor auld Tommy. The number 14 was made for him, a point that becomes all the more apparent with every touch or knock-on from Cuthbert. A professional rugby player with bricks for hands despite his 20 test points to date. Bowe is arguably one of the most complete wingers in the Northern Hemisphere with pace, ability, intelligence and guile. He looked undercooked in the second test however it was always going to take more than a magic hurling glove to cure a broken hand. With another week of recovery, his inclusion in the starting 15 is an endorsement of the faith in his ability. Sexton will be looking to unleash him on the flank, the question is will ‘Warrenball’ allow for this? If the Lions win he will be happy but with another tour potentially in him, he will be hoping for more consistency next time.
Brian O’Driscoll: After deleting everything I had written previously because of Gatland’s incredible decision to omit the greatest Irish player of all time, this section wrote itself. Regardless of whether you agree with the decision or not, BOD will view this series as one of the darkest moments of his long illustrious career. To be dropped for the first time, and on such a grand stage would break most but there is a reason he is called BOD and it isn’t just his initials. He won’t be happy with the tour and a gameplan that never looked to utilise him effectively. We will see a renewed vigour and determination from him as he enters his final season with Ireland and Leinster. On a personal note, I look forward to him coming back to haunt Gatland in the 2014 Six Nations campaign. I dare anyone to bet against him.
Johnny Sexton: From an Irish point of view it is strange to not see he him at the kicking tee however Gatland’s faith in Halfpenny is justified and isn’t a reflection on Sexton. While he has looked like he is carrying a few knocks, overall he has played well to date. Playing flat on the gain line and in a position where he has had to leather the ball too often, he will be a key player in the final test this Saturday. Based on his impact on the first test and general commentary from the Lions camp it would appear that his true value is his on-field influence. An increasingly dominant character, his managerial skills combined with his bluntness are an asset in a diverse bunch of players. Some of whom are probably a bit thick. With the omission of O’Driscoll, Sextons role has become increasingly important as a leader among the backs. The success of his Tour comes down to Saturday.
Conor Murray: Although he won’t feature in the final test, it’s been a good tour for the Irish Mike Phillips. He has clearly worked on some key areas of his game to the benefit of the Lions. He now has the ability to keep box kicks within the confines of the stadium, has sped up his distribution and generally seems to dither less. The depth of the Gatland and Phillips bromance meant that once the Welsh scrum half was anyway mobile he was going to get the nod. The coach may regret his decision when Phillips hobbles off after 15 minutes. All that aside, it’s been a good tour for the Munster man, his reputation grows.
Simon Zebo: Despite his late inclusion and being second to the human lighthouse that is George North, Zebo has probably been the most impressive Irish performer to date, apart from Paul O’Connell of course. The fact that he nearly scored with his first touch in a Lions jersey against the Tah’s and was regarded as a viable option for the final match day squad is testimony to his impact. Regardless of the final result on Saturday, with only six full Irish caps, Zebo has announced himself on the world rugby stage. The true value of his Lions experience will become apparent to Munster and Ireland next season.
Tomorrow I will feature the forwards.
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