The tight five, this is where the battle for The Lions Series will start, the engine room.
Northern hemisphere teams pride themselves on their tight five units. The British & Irish Lions love to scrum, maul and enjoy physically imposing themselves up front. However, the pick of The Lions will face the best tight five in the world in The All Blacks.
The All Black unit is established, well-oiled and used to playing together. The second-row pairing of Whitelock and Retallick is the best on the planet both individually and collectively.
The Front Row
The New Zealand front row has no weakness. Owen Franks is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. Joe Moody won’t be shouting it from the rooftops, but this tour could see him labelled the world’s best loosehead prop. Dane Coles needs no introduction as the best hooker playing rugby. If he is fit to play, his presence will have a huge impact on the series.
All Black Bench
The cover on the bench is equally formidable. There is a great balance between youth and experience. Charlie Faumuina with 46 caps and Wyatt Crockett with 58 caps have enough street smarts to trouble anyone. Throw the dynamic Cody Taylor and Scott Barrett in there to add more grit and youthful energy.
The All Black tight five can match anything the Lions throw at them, and more. The tight five is the biggest area that highlights the gulf in talent between the north and south. Not only can the All Black boys do their core technical and physical roles but, they are better rugby players around the park. Their skill set is unrivalled up north, taking, giving a pass, putting others into space and reading a defensive line. These core basics are the secret juice that separates the sides.
So can The Lions create a unit to combat the best? A successful lineout has its foundation in elite repetition and pin point accurate throws, triggered from subtle movement by pods of players. The scrum is also based on synchronicity, timing and cohesion.
Do The Lions have time to form combinations, train, play together, recover and then compete against the best in the business? In short, no they don’t. But there are shortcuts available to speed up the process.
They could build their pack around the impressive Saracens team – there are 4 available players in the tight five. This would offer a functioning lineout from scratch and a better understanding in scrum and maul. This goes against the romantic notion of selecting the best individuals from four countries. The Lions don’t have time for romance on this tour.
Let’s have a look at who is touring in The Lions tight five. The 1014 discuss in more detail in the video below.
Jack McGrath, Loosehead Prop, Ireland
A dynamic loosehead prop who likes to get his hands on the ball, is powerful at the ruck and is a very solid scrummager. He performed well against the All Blacks in Chicago and Dublin.
Mako Vunipola, Loosehead Prop, England
Toured Australia with The Lions in 2013, destructive around the park, ever present in the England team. Technically a much better prop under Eddie Jones. Test contender.
Joe Marler, Loosehead Prop, England
Not as effective in open play as other props but a fine scrummager. Needs to step up a level to break into the test side.
Tadhg Furlong, Tighthead Prop, Ireland
For many, a Test starter. The Lions selection in his first full season as a test player for Ireland. Very impressive around the park against the All Blacks in Chicago and Dublin. Joe Moody may have the upper hand in the scrum. See scrum in this article.
Dan Cole, Tighthead Prop, England
The Owen Franks of England and The Lions. Powerful scrummier, ruck hitter and mauler. Lions tourist in 2013, not flashy, doesn’t need to be. Could be a test starter.
Kyle Sinckler, Tighthead Prop, England
A surprise selection, all eight caps for England have been off the bench. Aggressive, hard hitting and running prop. Likes physical confrontation. Inexperienced.
Ben Owens, Hooker, Wales
Playing the best rugby of his career, aggressive, bit of a mongrel in him. Accurate at the lineout. Likes to get the ball in his hands. Could be a test starter.
Rory Best, Hooker, Ireland
Hugely experienced and respected Irish captain. Performed very well against the All Blacks in both tests. Very competitive at the breakdown, like an extra open side. Accurate at lineout, strong scrummager. Disciplined.
Jamie George, Hooker, England
All of his 17 caps have been off the bench. Dynamic hooker. His biggest asset is that he plays club rugby with Itoje and Kruis so will understand their lineout play.
Maro Itoje, Lock/Blindside, England
Hugely athletic, the whole pack could be built around him. Massively physical and loves confrontation. This guy is the real deal. Respect him.
Alun Wyn Jones, Lock, Wales
Lions tourist in 2009 and 2013, hugely respected and experienced. Gets through a lot of work, big engine and leader. Test start may be just out of reach on this tour.
Courtney Laws, Lock/Blindside, England
Very physical player, Eddie Jones turning him into a good lock. Likes to impose himself with big hits in defence. Athletic.
Iain Henderson, Lock/Blindside, Ireland
This player shows a lot of promise and now it’s time to deliver. A strong athlete, good lines of running, similar to Scott Barrett.
George Kruis, Lock, England
Lineout tactician, another Saracen. Another monster in contact, imposing. He can play ball too, good around the park.
From The Shed
Gareth and Steve had a great chat about all the front 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.