Backline Dilemma for Gatland in the British Lions Team

Discussion in '2017 British & Irish Lions Tour' started by Ali AK9, Dec 11, 2016.

  1. Ali AK9

    Ali AK9 Member

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    Looking into the Lions series against New Zealand, and looking at the performances of the NH teams, one would be blind to argue that Gatland clearly has a selection dilemma ahead of him.
    Generally, that's a good thing, it gives the coach depth to work with and can use different players for different game plans and tactics, Example: South Africa starting with Pat Lambie, a tactically astute fly half is is able to slow the game down, bringing on Elton Jantjies, a fly half who loves taking the ball flat to the line, creating lots of opportunities from his outside backs, in the last 20 minutes where the game is a lot looser.
    However, when looking at the players Gatland has, he is seriously scratching his head. The forward pack is probably already forming shape, with guys like Best, Stander, Itoje, the Vunipola's and Toner all looking like definites. Should they be fully fit, it would be unthinkable to not include them in the pack, but with the backs, I believe it's a lot more complicated. Every player you choose in that position almost makes an impact on the entire selections of the backline in my opinion.
    The easiest set position for me is scrumhalf, but for meeting. Connor Murray has been the best halfback in 2016, and should be the starter. The next best 9 has been Ben Youngs, his ability to snipe at the ruck is crucial, and his dummies passes have fooled nearly all defences. He is the type of player that I believe, could bring a little flair to the last 20 minutes of the game, but both him and Murray will be under pressure. Laidlaw has been a consistent performer for Scotland, and with his added fantastic goal-kicking record, is arguably deserving of a Lions call up. Both Rhys Webb and Gareth Davies too look to make an impression in the coming Six Nations, and both could add valuable contributions to the Lions setup.
    Now, for me the hardest position, affects the number 12 and 15 positions. Johnny Sexton's huge contributions to the Lion's in 2013, his consistency over the past 3 years, and his fantastic performances in recent encounters against New Zealand makes him arguably the best option at 10 for the Lions. His only weakness is his goal-kicking. He is a terrific goal-kicker, but one could argue that the likes of Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny and Greig Laidlaw all are slightly better. With that said, he is under tremendous pressure from Owen Farrell and George Ford.
    While Owen Farrell is arguably looking to inherit the Lions 12 jersey, those gunning for that jersey are Jamie Roberts, Robbie Henshaw abd Manu Tuilagi, with even Garry Ringrose putting his hand up in his couple recent performances for Ireland. One would argue that George Ford arguably provides the best attacking option at 10, but his below average goal-kicking could prove to be the reason he doesn't don the jersey. More so, it would be considered wiser to play a 9-10 tested combination as in Murray-Sexton, Youngs-Farrell, and not try to mix 2 contrasting styles of halfbacks. Owen Farrell has looked comfortable in a 12 jersey, but those names mentioned beforehand all provide an element of physicality and power that is usually associated with a big 12, and that is something which the Lions might want when playing New Zealand. One would want Farrell in the team, being currently the best international goal-kicker in the world, but playing him at 12 could mean sacrificing power in the 12 jersey, and thus moving him to 10 could oust Johnny Sexton, which is not a wise move.
    The 13 jersey is also one that a couple of months ago, wouldn't be considered a headache, but now, it is. Jonathan Joseph and Jonathan Davies would have been considered the best options with even Robbie Henshaw being able to play comfortably in the 13 jerssy, but now, the rising of young guns Elliot Daly and Huw Jones, those men are under serious fire. Elliot Daly too provides a long distance goal-kicking option, but one could argue he could be better suited at wing. Huw Jones too popped out of nowhere, and proved a be a talent for the future, and has shown to be deadly on attack and solid on defence. Jonathan Joseph is probably one of the better defenders of the men mentioned above, and possesses an interception prowess that has not been seen since the glory days of Jean De Villiers.
    The back three is probably the second hardest to decide. With the return of Leigh Halfpenny, who once again, provides a reliable goal-kicking option, and the performances of Rob Kearney, Liam Williams, and Stuart Hogg, the fullback is very hard to decide. Kearney and Halfpenny bring experience, while Williams and Hogg and live-wires who could provide serious attacking edge. Regardless of whether Farrell is starting, one would still need an extra long-kicking option.
    Yes Farrell has distance, but if a 55-60 meter kick is needed, one would want Halfpenny to take that shot, or alternative drifting Daly into 15. If Halfpenny is chosen at 15, what happens to the attacking prowess of Williams and Hogg? They would probably be placed on the wing. The other wing is arguably up for grabs by George North (who would like to make a comeback to the Lions setup), Jonny May, Daly, Zebo, Trimble, Watson and even Marland Yarde who is a hard-grafter. In all honesty, this is a big plus for Gatland, having so much depth, yet so much choices to make.
    If I had to pick a Lions Team this would be it:
    1. Mako Vunipola
    2. Rory Best (c)
    3. Tadgh Furlong
    4. Maro Itoje
    5. Devin Toner
    6. CJ Stander
    7. James Haskell
    8. Billy Vunipola
    9. Connor Murray
    10. Johnny Sexton
    11. Andrew Trimble
    12. Owen Farrell (GK)
    13. Robbie Henshaw
    14. Stuart Hogg
    15. Leigh Halfpenny
    With Hartley, McGrath, Nel, Kruis, Heaslip, Youngs, Ford and Huw Jones on the bench.
    With a great blend of experience and talent, this is the Lions Team I would put out to face the All Blacks.
    Of course, bear in mind, this is all before the 2017 Six Nations, which will play a crucial part in who is selected.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
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  3. LUKE12

    LUKE12 Member

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    Lots of people seem keen on a Henshaw Joseph centre partnership which could work well, as for the half backs tactical kicking is going to have a big importance in our chances of beating the ABs so I think personally I would also go with a Murray Sexton partnership
     
  4. ragerancher

    ragerancher Senior Member

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    I think another thing about JJ is he has a nose for a scavenge. Some Aussies tried to dismiss it as luck but then it was pointed out how frequently this "luck" happens. I think it's more he has a great ability to read a game and is basically creating his own luck, he is often in the right place at the right time to capitalise on mistakes. That cannot be taught and people overlook it because it's much easier to just say he keeps getting lucky.
     
  5. LUKE12

    LUKE12 Member

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    Yeah I agree, surely he has to be favourite to start at 13?
     
  6. munstermuffin

    munstermuffin Senior Member

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    Gatland will pick size over skill. He knows his style and won't change.
    A backline of
    Murray
    Sexton or Farrell
    North
    Henshaw
    Roberts
    Possibly Maitland
    Hogg

    This wouldn't suprise me
     
  7. TRF_Peat

    TRF_Peat Super Moderator

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    Gatland didn't play his traditional style down under last summer for my money and I'm thinking - or maybe hoping - he'll veer away from it next summer too.
     
  8. themole25

    themole25 Senior Member

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    if it wasn't for gatland, he'd be surefire as of right now

    but gatland may be favoring a)welshmen b)battering rams over more skilled players

    - - - Updated - - -

    and it would be spitting in the face of the rugby world
     
  9. welshglory

    welshglory Senior Member

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    Only because he's under pressure from the WRU to change his style. He doesn't have a Mcgeecan type figure to get his head out of his ass, Howley and the rest are just yes men.
     
  10. The Alpha Bro

    The Alpha Bro Senior Member

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    McGrath >>> Mako... Props have to scrum lads!
     
  11. TRF_Peat

    TRF_Peat Super Moderator

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    The appointment of Howley does have me wondering if you're right. It would be a terrible shame because there's simply not the backs available to execute Gatland's style with any particular chance of victory.
     
  12. corny

    corny Senior Member

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    I like Andrew Trimble but 9 or 10 wingers in the British Isles would have to fall ill for him to get a sniff.

    Tommy Bowe is a good shout that i haven't heard mentioned too often. He's getting on and he's injury prone these days but he was a first choice pick for Geech in 09 and Gatland in 13. He'll also walk into the Irish set up for the 6 nations if fit. Could easily play himself into contention.

    Henshaw/Joseph suits me. Wouldn't mind Farrell/Henshaw or Farrell/Joseph either. If its Roberts/Davies i won't be watching.
     
  13. j'nuh

    j'nuh Senior Member

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    I think it's a fairly lazy stereotype that Gatland prefers size over skill. I think it's just coincidental that most of Wales' best players over the last 10 years happen to be fairly big.
     
  14. Groundhog

    Groundhog Senior Member

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    Well I think he picks the best team to fit his gameplan like everyone, but that gameplan does benefit hugely from a big boy at 12 and a lot of big carries up the middle of the backline followed by quick successions of pick and goes. That was a system where a guy like Roberts thrived. The rep for picking big guys probably comes from how decidedly average some of the big fellas (Cuthbert) have been playing recently. I think Gatland is a relatively tunnel visioned coach, but he won't omit clearly better players to include guys like Roberts or Cuthbert. He has four countries to answer for, and he's not stupid.
     
  15. munstermuffin

    munstermuffin Senior Member

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    Bowe isn't as pacy and to be fair he needs a good 6 Nations to get in to Lions. Issue is there is probably 9 or 10 wingers in frontbof him for Ireland now
     
  16. TRF_Peat

    TRF_Peat Super Moderator

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    The stereotypical Gatland game plan demands size. He might have plumped for it because that's the hand he was given but that's kinda besides the point because its his game plan now and whether he can or will show flexibility on it is uncertain. Bringing Howley to the party does not fill one with faith.

    His long standing selection of Shane Williams shows he's not going to ignore someone because he's not big. But the game plan has a bias that way and how far he'll deviate remains to be seen.

    edit: The prospect of Farrell or Roberts at 12 in a Lions jersey fills me with dread. Neither are good enough defenders.
     
  17. Old Hooker

    Old Hooker Senior Member

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    Amen to that.
     
  18. MojoPin

    MojoPin Senior Member

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    I think there's definitely more of a selection dilemma than in 2013, for sure. At the moment my starting XV would be very similar to Ali AK9's - but I'd probably have an all-Irish front row. It's tough on Farrell as he's playing very well IMO, but I'd probably have a Henshaw/Joseph centre partnership. Not 100% sure about Halfpenny at the moment either - he's playing well but it probably depends who gets selected on the wing. But he's a good finisher in his own right so could potentially swap him and Hogg around in that example.
     
  19. TRF_Olyy

    TRF_Olyy English Arrogance

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    If you've got Farrell or Sexton at 10 then I can't see an argument for Halfpenny in the side.
    Williams and Hogg are both better 15s, it's only his goal kicking that sets him apart but that's only needed it you've got Ford at 10.
     
  20. ncurd

    ncurd Senior Member

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    It should be noted (as always) Ford's kicking percentage only costs you roughly 3 pts per game in comparison to Farrell. Farrell kicks because he has the higher percentage not because some has to be fit in the team to kick for Ford. He plays out of position in the team because sadly we have zero better option at inside centre.
     
  21. TRF_Olyy

    TRF_Olyy English Arrogance

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    Meh, I'd rather miss a couple over the course of a test series than every kick in a game, which is more likely with Ford.
     
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