In a mirroring of James Haskell’s international career, you thought we’d gone away, but we’re back again – whether you want us to be or not. For the next few weeks we’ll be focussing on the Lions’ tour, because for the next few weeks no-one will be giving a flying one about any other rugby, will they?
1. Kicking lions is sometimes good for them
As the only person at B&M who can genuinely claim to be neutral in all of this – British born, Irish heritage, partially-raised in NZ – it is hard to see Wednesday’s result as anything other than a positive for the Lions. On every tour in the professional era when they have done really well, they have struggled in – and usually lost at least one of – the provincial games. Warren Gatland might have been talking total bollocks when he compared Super Rugby teams to international ones, but he was spot on when he said that you learn nothing from an easy victory. Although actually…
2. Rory Best shouldn’t be on this tour
Auckland proved it. When it comes to lineout throwing, Best has a terrible case of the yips. It is a condition that we associate more with cricket or golf, but the fact is that Best’s throwing has got steadily worse over the past twelve months. We commented during the Six Nations that it was terrible and it seems that the harder he tries to solve the problem, the worse it gets. Even in the limited number of opportunities that he had on Wednesday you could see that, as soon as he went to release the ball, he had no idea where it was going to go. In the same way that you wouldn’t pick a bowler who could no longer bowl for a Test match, or a golfer who could no longer putt for the Ryder Cup, Best shouldn’t be being put through this.
3. It’s Barrett…inside to Barrett…who spins a lovely pass out to Barrett…
No, we’ve not gone crazy. This could really happen. The All Blacks have picked all three Barrett brothers in their squad for the Lions’ Tests. Fly half Beauden we all know about. Utility back Jordie gets his first call up, whilst Scott will provide cover at lock for the more established Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock. And yes, that trio of names is scary even to type.
4. Some Lions contests are closer than we thought
Ever since the tour party was announced, the perceived wisdom was that five of the Lions’ backs picked themselves. Indeed, Stuart Hogg was regarded as such a shoe-in at fullback that many wondered why a plane ticket was being wasted on Lee Halfpenny. The first two games, though, have seen Halfpenny play himself as much into contention as Hogg and Liam Williams have played themselves out of it. The same could be said for Jonny Sexton, who is now is a real battle with both Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar for the number 10 jersey. All it takes is for Conor Murray to either make a complete pig’s ear of his start against the Crusaders or to get injured and all of Gatland’s plans will be more scrambled than his defence has been in the opening games.
5. It isn’t going to get any easier
The Maori All Blacks have announced their squad for their match against the Lions a week tomorrow. It features a number of players who were regulars in the national team only a season or two ago, including Liam Messam and Nehe Milner-Skudder. It also features a few who the Lions would rather forget, such as Akira Ioane, Charlie Ngatai and, of course, Ihaia West. Worried yet, Warren?
6. Oh, go on then
We admit it. There is some other rugby this week. Ireland are giving a debut to Jacob Stockdale when they take on the USA. France have shown how much they value their tour of South Africa by making eleven changes from the last Six Nations game for the first Test, whilst the Springboks will themselves field four new caps. Argentina have a new winger in Emiliano Boffelli. Scotland have WP Nel back for their game against Italy in Singapore (nope, we don’t know, either). And England start four new caps, and have no fewer than seven uncapped players on the bench, for their game against the Pumas. Tom Curry becomes the youngest debutant for two decades; if he can be as good as the last 19 year-old to win his first cap for England, Jonny Wilkinson, we may never have to mention James Haskell again.