November 30, 2022

Spy Gists

Fresh Updates From Around The World.

The Lions go for force and flair…. Warren Gatland picks a mix of muscle men and a few free spirits

Advertisements

The Lions know they cannot be a one-dimensional threat in South Africa, so when it came to some of the close calls announced on Thursday, the coaches went for flair as well as force, and pace as well as power.

For all the talk of fronting up to the mighty Springboks this summer, Warren Gatland and his assistants have recognised the need for variety. If they confine themselves to arm-wrestle tactics, they are doomed to failure, so there is a refreshing emphasis on certain men more known for seeking space than endless collisions. Sam Simmonds is one. Finn Russell is another.

As forecast in Sportsmail, Exeter No 8 Simmonds was included in the 37-man squad despite being out of favour with England. The turbo-charged Chief has been acclaimed at home and abroad, with leading All Blacks lauding his international credentials. His elevation to this exalted company is reward for consistent club excellence.

Finn Russell is a maverick, capable of creative brilliance and occasional glaring lapses

Finn Russell is a maverick, capable of creative brilliance and occasional glaring lapses

Finn Russell is a maverick, capable of creative brilliance and occasional glaring lapses

Sam Simmonds was included in the 37-man squad despite being out of favour with England

Sam Simmonds was included in the 37-man squad despite being out of favour with England

Sam Simmonds was included in the 37-man squad despite being out of favour with England 

While the Devonian is capable of engaging in a close-quarters driving game, he is best known for his remarkable open-field running. Gatland has been sufficiently impressed by what he has seen over recent months to choose Simmonds ahead of England’s giant incumbent No 8, Billy Vunipola. Asked why, he explained that the Lions cannot just be a route-one attacking team.

‘Against South Africa, you’ve got to have players in your forward pack who don’t just put the ball under their arm and run hard and straight,’ Gatland said. ‘They love that sort of thing. You need players with footwork and Simmonds has that — and pace, not just as a forward carrier but running as a back as well. He gives us some really good options.’

Attack coach Gregor Townsend outlined the tactical ethos that the management considered as they debated the make-up of their squad, saying: ‘We’re going to have to match the physicality (of the Boks) but we also believe we have to have a game of movement and speed and finding space. The squad selection is a reflection of that. We’ve got to make sure we have both ways of playing — both ways of winning.’

England locks Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes were surprise inclusions in the Lions squad

England locks Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes were surprise inclusions in the Lions squad

England locks Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes were surprise inclusions in the Lions squad

Asked how Simmonds fits into that mindset, Scotland’s head coach added: ‘He’s a back-rower who could really add to your attack and that you’d want on the ball as much as possible. There might be a lot more kicking at Test level than in club games, so it’s about getting him involved in the counter-attack. With his pace, he can do that as well as some of the centres or wingers in the squad.’

Another player chosen for variety is Russell, the Scotland fly-half. He is seen as a maverick playmaker, capable of creative brilliance and occasional glaring lapses, but Gatland’s message — after naming him ahead of the veteran Irish Lion, Johnny Sexton — was that the Racing 92 maestro will be trusted to deliver under extreme pressure on tour.

‘We have got differences with our 10s and I think that’s important,’ said the head coach, who has also picked Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar. ‘Finn has so much more of a balanced game now of when to run, when to turn things around, when to kick.

‘We understand there are some real quality 10s out there. I want to send a message, particularly to Finn, that we back him and have confidence in him to put pressure on the other 10s and put his hand up for the Test side. It is a really important message for me to be able to deliver to Finn: “We trust you and back you. You are important to us in a pivotal role”.’

With Townsend and Steve Tandy among the selectors, this squad features eight Scots — after several tours of minimal representation for players from north of the border. Among those named was Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson, whose inclusion along with Justin Tipuric shows that the coaches were not fixated on bulk in their back-row deliberations.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants have recognised the need for variety

Lions head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants have recognised the need for variety

Lions head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants have recognised the need for variety

‘He is Six Nations Player of the Year, so he can’t be too small to get that,’ said Gatland, when asked if the relatively lightweight Watson is big enough to cope with the ferocious physicality in South Africa. ‘A lot of players have different attributes. We know how brave he is and he can carry. He’s been a handful for players to deal with and there’s no doubt he’s been an important part of the Scottish team and the success they’ve had. He deserves his selection.’

There were several surprise inclusions, such as England locks Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes — the former because he is still a Test novice and the latter because he is recovering from injury. The unexpected midfield line-up features Elliot Daly, who has made the cut on reputation and long-range goal-kicking prowess, and Chris Harris, the Scottish centre who was mobbed by jubilant Gloucester team-mates when his name was read out.

Others such as Edinburgh prop Rory Sutherland and his fellow loosehead, Wyn Jones of the Scarlets and Wales, spoke with emotion about watching the announcement while alone in their cars. Never mind the disruption caused by Covid, this honour still means so much to the players.

The overall impression yesterday was that the Lions have armed themselves for an almighty battle. But with Simmonds and Russell in the tour party, with an electric rookie wing sensation in Louis Rees-Zammit and with Tipuric bringing his all-round repertoire, they have found room for artists and free spirits and gamblers, along with all the muscle men.

LIONS PEN PICS

BACKS

Scrum-halves

CONOR MURRAY

Ireland

Age: 32

Caps: 89 (+5 Lions)

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

Veteran of two tours and incumbent starter – best kicker, reliable and experienced.

ALI PRICE

Scotland

Age: 27

Caps: 42

Lions experience: N/A

Former flatmate of Finn Russell, he’s a live-wire born in Norfolk, but Scottish via his mum.

GARETH DAVIES

Wales

Age: 30

Caps: 62

Lions experience: 2017

A late call-up in 2017 who never played, Davies is the intercept king and rapid.

Fly-half

FINN RUSSELL

Scotland

Age: 28

Caps: 55

Lions experience: 2017

Skilful maverick game-changer who fell out with coach Gregor Townsend in 2020 but patched up differences.

DAN BIGGAR

Wales

Age: 31

Caps: 92

Lions experience: 2017

Gatland stalwart with Wales, hard-as-nails and great kick-and-chaser. Wife owns a cake business.

OWEN FARRELL

England

Age: 29

Caps: 93 (+ 4 Lions)

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

England captain out of form in the Six Nations but guaranteed pick as a leader, combative playmaker and goal-kicker.

Centre

BUNDEE AKI

Ireland

Age: 31

Caps: 31

Lions experience: N/A

New Zealand-born basher worked in a bank to provide for young family before rugby took off.

CHRIS HARRIS

Scotland

Age: 30

Caps: 28

Lions experience: N/A

Carlisle born, came through at Newcastle before moving to Gloucester. Scottish via grandmother.

ROBBIE HENSHAW

Ireland

Age: 27

Caps: 52

Lions experience: 2017

Tormented England in the Six Nations. Big and powerful but with guile, as a former Gaelic footballer from a musical family.

Back-three

LOUIS REES-ZAMMIT

Wales

Age: 20

Caps: 9

Lions experience: N/A

Welsh-Maltese, he used to date Paul Scholes’ daughter. Nicknamed Rees-Lightning for speed. Youngest Lion this time.

ANTHONY WATSON

England

Age: 27

Caps: 51 (+ 3 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

New father in storming form for Bath and England. NFL lover played all three Tests in 2017.

JOSH ADAMS

Wales

Age: 26

Caps: 32

Lions experience: N/A

Top scorer at 2019 World Cup having come through at Cinderford and Worcester before moving back to Wales.

DUHAN VAN DER MERWE

Scotland

Age: 25

Caps: 10

Lions experience: N/A

South African born, Scottish on residency, he is the brother of Springbok hooker Akker.

ELLIOT DALY

England

Age: 28

Caps: 52 (+ 3 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

Versatile and a big boot, which could be key on the Highveld. Jamie George’s best man recently.

LIAM WILLIAMS

Wales

Age: 30

Caps: 71 (+3 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

Former Port Talbot scaffolder now self-proclaimed ‘bomb-diffuser’ at the back. Agile and fearless in the air.

STUART HOGG

Scotland

Age: 28

Caps: 85

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

Two tours, no caps, the Scotland captain is related to George Best and growing into a fine leader.

FORWARDS

Props

WYN JONES

Wales

Age: 29

Caps: 35

Lions experience: N/A

Strong as an ox and from a farming background, ‘sausage’ worked his way through Welsh lower leagues to here.

RORY SUTHERLAND

Scotland

Advertisements

Age: 28

Caps: 16

Lions experience: N/A

Tattooed prop from the Borders has been unlucky with injuries – and currently isn’t fit. Good in the loose and tight.

 MAKO VUNIPOLA

England

Age: 30

Caps: 67 (+6 Lions)

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

Son of a Methodist minister and Tongan rugby player, on his third tour without brother Billy.

TADHG FURLONG

Ireland

Age: 28

Caps: 49 (+3 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

Wexford farmer self-titled ‘The Jukebox’ as the hits keep coming. Sensational starter in 2017.

ANDREW PORTER

Ireland

Age: 25

Caps: 37

Lions experience: N/A

Can play both sides of the scrum having switched to tight-head in 2017. Could squat 350kg (55st) aged just 20.

ZANDER FAGERSON

Scotland

Age: 25Caps: 38

Lions experience: N/A

Former downhill bike champion, chorister and qualified lifeguard he was sent-off in the Six Nations against Wales.

KEN OWENS

Wales

Age: 34

Caps: 82 (+ 2 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

The ‘Sherriff of Carmarthen’ – from a theatrical family – was inducted as a Druid in 2019. His hooking shirt to lose for the Tests.

JAMIE GEORGE

England

Age: 30

Caps: 59

Lions experience: 2017

Keen golfer and owns a physio business, runs entertainment with England alongside Daly in ‘Ant & Dec’ duo.

LUKE COWAN-DICKIE

England

Age: 27

Caps: 31 

Lions experience: N/A

Son of a Cornish trawlerman, he is a gamer, is missing a front tooth and is a specialist at scoring from close range.

ALUN WYN JONES

Wales

Age: 35

Caps: 157

Lions experience: 2009, 2013, 2017

Most capped of all-time, can do the splits and only second Lion to feature in three decades after Dai Young.

MARO ITOJE

England

Age: 26

Caps: 48

Lions experience: 2017

‘The Pearl’ has become a strong social activist and African art connoisseur proud of Nigerian heritage.

IAIN HENDERSON

Ireland

Age: 29

Caps: 63

Lions experience: 2017

Ulster captain can play flanker or second-row, enjoys bird-watching.

JONNY HILL

England

Age: 26

Caps: 9

Lions experience: N/A

Flunking exams he played rugby on an unexpected gap year. Nephew of rugby league’s Paul Loughlin and girlfriend played netball for Wales.

TADHG BEIRNE

Ireland

Age: 29

Caps: 22

Lions experience: N/A

Nearly retired at 24 as unwanted at Leinster, rebuilt by the Scarlets now world-class nuisance and offloader.

COURTNEY LAWES

England

Age: 32

Caps: 87 (+2 Lions)

Lions experience: 2017

Father to four children, tattooed big-hitter’s dad is of Jamaican heritage.

Back-row

JUSTIN TIPURIC

Wales

Age: 31

Caps: 65 (+1 Lions)

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

Iconic blue scrum-hat in honour of club Trebanos, quiet but incredibly talented.

TOM CURRY

England

Age: 22

Caps: 33

Lions experience: N/A

Cat lover and identical twin with Ben, was eight when Alun Wyn Jones made his debut.

HAMISH WATSON

Scotland

Age: 29

Caps: 41

Lions experience: N/A

Manchester-born and formerly of Leicester, qualifies for Scotland via grandparents. Mulleted breakdown menace.

TAULUPE FALETAU

Wales

Age: 30

Caps: 86 (+4 Lions)

Lions experience: 2013, 2017

Tongan-born he grew up with Mako Vunipola in Wales. Star No 8 dead cert for the Tests.

JACK CONAN

Ireland

Age: 29

Caps: 20

Lions experience: N/A

Epic against England in the Six Nations, overcome crippling nerves to become a star No 8.

SAM SIMMONDS

England

Age: 26

Caps: 7

Lions experience: N/A

Liverpool fan idolised Steven Gerrard, now try-scoring sensation for Exeter, snubbed by Eddie Jones.

 

<!—->

Advertisement
Advertisements

Advertisements