This was my original rant: see below for an update, with a happy ending!
After today’s hammering of the Western Force, the British and Irish Lions have called up England’s Alex Corbisiero as cover for Cian Healy who injured his knee and picked up a citing for trying to suck Brett Sheehan’s thumb – sorry, bite him – earlier in the match. Either of these could keep him out of a chunk of the tour (if you will pardon the loosehead expression) so the decision has been made to bring another one in.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Grant would be the obvious choice, having played several of the other Lions props off the park in recent months and also being first choice for his country, unlike, well, quite a lot of them. Anyone who saw his form against Ospreys or for Leinster in the Rabo PRO12 semi final must have felt sure this was a man destined for the shores of Australia, not Africa. Of all the players missing out initially, probably Chris Robshaw was most talked about (he’s English), but Ryan Grant earned plenty of mentions too as perhaps the next most unlucky not to go.
There were endless rumours that scrum coach Graham Rowntree is actually a big fan of Grant, which made some of those front row picks even more surprising. Surely Grant was next on the list rather than a player who did not play during the Six Nations? Especially as his picks haven’t been all that great so far – one sent home before he left, one possibly going home for biting. Richie Gray and Dan Lydiate were others that were picked short of game time, but at least Gray had played high level rugby this year. Corbisiero has been picked on the strength of his performance against New Zealand in the Autumn. Ask Clive Woodward how that sort of selection policy worked out.
It might be possible that Grant “did a Jonny” and wanted to concentrate on the task in hand – a test against Samoa on Saturday – before turning attention to such frivolities as the Lions. It might be possible that Grant has been held back by his coaches for the Samoa encounter to give Scotland a fighting chance. It might be possible that with Gethin Jenkins still also a worry, Grant being test-match sharp would be an advantage should a further loosehead need to be called up.
It might also be possible that Graham Rowntree is just a donkey who picks his mates.
While Ryan turns his attention back to Samoa – and let’s hope he puts in a Man of the Match performance – on the Lions tour attention turns to the Queensland Reds, who have named a strong side to face the tourists.
With this the final chance for everyone to get a start – and then possibly the ball-hogging can end – it is fairly easy to predict certain areas of the team and we should see Scots back in action.
Jenkins, Tom Youngs, Stevens, Parling, Warburton, Ben Youngs and Kearney are all due a start. That leaves us needing a second row so Gray who needs game time may well appear as could Lydiate, Gray alongside Geoff Parling, the only second row yet to get a start. Warburton will captain and Faletau is the likely choice at Number 8.
You can also see the test team starting to take shape with Phillips, Sexton, Roberts and O’Driscoll already inked in as a test midfield. The back three is a little harder to call with Halfpenny kicking brilliantly but doing little else and Hogg showing plenty of confidence. North looks in fine form while Cuthbert was lucky to get his two tries despite finishing them brilliantly. Maitland has been criticised in the press (well, not really, they just made it up from telly quotes) for not looking for work but it may be that he doesn’t quite fit Gatland’s mould of a bullocking centre-style wing on either side with a full back sweeping up behind. Hogg too might struggle to contain his flamboyance in this sort of gameplan. We all worry Gatland will pick favourites. After all, the Welsh back three would no doubt do a good job. But would it be enough to get past the Aussies? For me it would be North, Hogg and AN Other who could quite easily be Halfpenny – his goal kicking has been excellent and come the tests that will be vital. But if Sexton was kicking well it could quite easily be Cuthbert, Bowe or Maitland, I think they all have the class.
In the pack it is harder to call with Gray and O’ Connell looking better against sub-standard opposition (Evans was anonymous and AW-Jones was carded) while Tipuric and O’Brien have both made Gatland’s job much trickier in picking an openside. There hasn’t been a standout front rower other than Adam Jones but more luckily both Number 8s look in fine form.
As usual outside of the principality we all worry though, that the coaches go with who they know rather than what they see…
Rory’s Lions Test XV after first two games: Hogg, Halfpenny, O’Driscoll, Roberts, North, Sexton, Phillips;
Vunipola Grant, Hibbard, Jones, Gray, O’ Connell, O’Brien, Tipuric, Heaslip
Ryan has this afternoon been called up to the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia. Grant is to replace the injured Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins who will not now start versus the Reds. He will leave Durban later this afternoon and will thus miss Scotland’s Test match against Samoa at King’s Park tomorrow.
In an exclusive video interview with www.scottishrugby.org (embed below) Grant said: “This time last year I got my first cap. Now I’m heading out to Australia to represent Scotland for the Lions.
“What can you say? It’s been so fast I’ve not really had time to process it.
“It’s the top of the game. To call myself a Lion is the greatest honour.”
Scotland head coach, Scott Johnson, said: “We are absolutely stoked for Ryan. To get another Scottish player, who we feel possesses the talent and resolve the play at the highest level – and playing for the Lions is the highest level – is great.
“People out there may be in for a pleasant surprise as to what a player he is.”
As a consequence of Grant’s call-up, Alasdair Dickinson, 29, who rejoined Edinburgh Rugby from Sale Sharks at the start of this month, will win his 25th cap tomorrow and make his first start for Scotland since the 2011 EMC Test against Italy. Moray Low moves to the bench.
A decision on who will replace Ryan Grant on the Scotland tour will be finalised later today.
St.George Queensland Reds team to play The British & Irish Lions
1. Ben Daley (58 Reds – 3 Wallabies), 2. James Hanson (50 Reds – 1 Wallabies), 3. Greg Holmes (103 Reds – 13 Wallabies), 4. Adam Wallace-Harrison (32 Reds), 5. Ed O’Donoghue (40 Reds), 6. Eddie Quirk (27 Reds), 7. Beau Robinson (35 Reds – 1 Wallabies), 8. Jake Schatz (47 Reds), 9. Nick Frisby (16 Reds), 10. Quade Cooper (87 Reds – 38 Wallabies), 11. Luke Morahan (44 Reds – 1 Wallabies), 12. Anthony Faingaa (58 Reds – 23 Wallabies), 13. Ben Tapuai (38 Reds – 7 Wallabies), 14. Rod Davies (43 Reds – 1 Wallabies), 15. Ben Lucas (60 Reds)
16. Albert Anae (15 Reds), 17. Sam Denny (Queensland debut), 18. Jono Owen (Queensland debut), 19. Radike Samo (32 Reds – 23 Wallabies), 20. Jarrad Butler (12 Reds), 21. Jono Lance (18 Reds), 22. Mike Harris (30 Reds – 8 Wallabies), 23. Dom Shipperley (33 Reds – 8 Wallabies)