The back row has already thrown up selection headaches for both the All Blacks and The Lions. Injuries are making the units more complex before any whistle has been blown.
Blind Side and Number Eight
Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Liam Squire are all on the mend and should be available for test selection. There will be question marks over their match fitness though. Scott Barrett may have to be called into blind side, but he has all the right attributes for the position and will be match conditioned. Steven Luatua and Dominic Bird may also come into the equation, their kind of physical presence would be ideal against The Lions.
There are so many options available at openside. Sam Cane holds the jersey but Ardie Savea has taken his game to new levels this season. Then there is Matt Todd, who is on fire. Todd is ripe and ready for test selection, he fits the All Black seven role perfectly.
Solving the Ardie Savea conundrum
Ardie is too good a rugby player to play openside. He needs to be a beat away from the breakdown, he needs to be able to read what is in front of him and just play rugby. Blindside and Number Eight would give Savea more time on the ball in both attack and defence. His vision, pace and skill set is wasted buried at the bottom of a ruck and hounding the breakdown.
A Billy V-shaped hole
Billy Vunipola has left a big hole at the back of The Lions scrum. Gatland could have been building his whole forward pack around the English number eight. Taulupe Faletau is a wonderful footballer but as Zinzan Brooke recently said, he may lack a little bit of mongrel needed to battle the All Black back row.
Sam Warburton captains The Lions as he did in Australia. Four years ago Gatland selected Warburton for the tests but both Sean O’Brien and Justin Tipuric were in better form. Warburton paid Gatland back with the performances of a lifetime in the second test. This tour could see Warburton selected at blind side for the tests.
CJ Stander seems to be a favourite but he is playing with an injury and hasn’t been as effective with Munster of late. James Haskell has been called in to replace Vunipola and his experience playing with the Highlanders will be very useful to the tourists.
The Lions Back Row
Let’s have a look at who is touring in The Lions Back Row. The 1014 discuss in more detail in the video below.
Sam Warburton, Openside/Blindside, Wales
Lions 2013 winning captain. Effective at the breakdown, manages the referee very well. Big game player. Just back from injury, will be fit and fresh.
Taulupe Faletau, Number Eight/Blindside, Wales
Favourite for a test starter, dynamic, footballing style 8. Lions test experience from 2013. Now very experienced and disciplined.
Justin Tipuric, Openside, Wales
Many believe the best openside in the world. A lovely footballer, great link man, like a traditional New Zealand openside. Could force Warburton to the blindside.
Sean O’Brien, Openside, Blindside, Number Eight, Ireland
Hugely experienced and always performs well against New Zealand sides. A very dynamic ball carrier, low centre of gravity, forceful at the breakdown.
Peter O’Mahony, Blindside, Number Eight, Ireland
Aggressive, one of the best defensive lineout options in the world. Gatland is a big fan. Leader for Munster, old school rugby values in the professional era.
CJ Stander, Blindside, Number Eight, Ireland
An explosive ball carrier. Played very well for Ireland against All Blacks in Chicago. Wrecking ball in attack and defence.
James Haskell, Openside, Blindside, Number Eight, England
Openside for England but more a natural blindside. Playing best rugby of his career, very strong, great defence and hugely improved on the attack.
Ross Moriarty, Blindside, Number Eight, Wales
Moriarity demanded Lions selection after a fantastic 6 Nationa. He is an agressive ball carrying option and could be a dark horse for test selection.
Video Chat on The Back Row
Gareth and Steve had a great chat about all the back row options, check out the video. You can also subscribe to The 1014 youtube channel for a lot more Lions and All Black content.
Author: Gareth Dinneen
Gareth is from Limerick, Ireland and has been obsessed with the All Blacks and NZ culture since 1989. He first arrived in NZ in 2001 to tutor in New Media and has since worked with Weta Digital on movies like Avatar, King Kong, The Avengers and most recently Valerian. Gareth grew up listening to his father Len on sports radio. Len is known as ‘The Voice of Rugby’ in Munster, Ireland. The 1014 brings Gareth right back to his sports media roots.