Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Lions or Lambs pt II: Scotland’s Forwards

John Hardie and Jonny Gray make the tackle - pic © Al Ross
John Hardie and Jonny Gray make the tackle - pic © Al Ross

After a look at how Scotland’s backs are shaping up in the dogfight for Lions selection – now it’s the turn of the big lads in the pack.

Loosehead prop – Alasdair Dickinson

Rivals include:
Mako Vunipola (Eng),  Jack McGrath (Ire),  Gethin Jenkins (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
Number 1 – game time. Number 2 – to drive home to all concerned that this current era of the Scottish scrum being a weapon that can help them win games is as much down to Al as it is to WP Nel. His ball carrying is pretty minimal these days but his defensive work rate is immense – there can’t be too many of his peers who have made 30 tackles in one game (v Connacht, Jan 2015).

Chances of travelling?
Should keep his passport handy.

Hooker – Ross Ford

Rivals incude:
Dylan Hartley (Eng), Rory  Best (Ire), Ken Owens (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Test?
To step out of his comfort zone. Fordy’s contribution to the power of the scrum isn’t in doubt and his defensive workrate is much underrated – but he also needs an almost perfect showing at the lineout and more in the loose. More crucially he would need an aggressive attitude and far stronger leadership qualities to match up to the hookers Gatland is likely to pick.

Chances of travelling?
Can probably book a beach holiday.

Tighthead Prop – WP Nel

Rivals include:
Dan Cole (Eng), Tadhg Furlong (Ire), Samson Lee (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
A rest. WP may be Scotland’s strongest candidate for both a squad and Test place – which is not to diminish the credentials of Stuart Hogg or Jonny Gray, but they are both currently operating in positions packed with talent. Tighthead is a little shorter on depth and WP is the early front-runner for the number 3 jersey.

Chances of travelling?
If he’s fit – in the departure lounge.

Lock – Jonny Gray

Rivals include:
Maro Itoje (Eng), Ultane Dillane (Ire), Alun Wyn Jones (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
A touch more explosiveness to his carrying. There is no question that Jonny is in a class of his own when it comes to the defensive duties of a lock – he rarely misses, as a run of 111 consecutive tackles completed across Glasgow and Scotland games last season attests. He’s shown his quality at the lineout as well but in a position where Gatland will have plenty of options he needs to show he can match the dynamism of his rivals in attack.

Chances of travelling?
In the departure lounge.

Lock – Richie Gray

Rivals include:
George Kruis (Eng), Devin Toner (Ire), Luke Charteris (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To outperform his younger sibling. Jonny’s brother will need to match or exceed Gray Jr’s work rate and also dominate at the lineout if he wants to put himself in contention for a second Lions’ tour. He’s been heavily involved for Toulouse and his move from Castres looks to be having a positive impact. It will take a real return to the kind of carrying form he showed 4 or 5 years ago to get him on that plane though.

Chances of travelling?
Keeping an eye on other players’ injury status.

Flanker – John Barclay

Rivals include:
James Haskell (Eng), CJ Stander (Ire), Ross Moriarty (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To keep showing the utility of utility. Nominally a 7 but playing much of his club rugby at 8 and almost all his international rugby at 6, JB’s biggest virtue from a selector’s point of view has to be his flexibility – which could be very handy if the squad size is not to be too unwieldy. By the same token though not excelling in one position is likely to count against him when Warren Gatland can pick outstanding candidates across the back row.

Chances of travelling?
Can probably book a beach holiday.

Flanker – John Hardie

Rivals include:
Chris Robshaw (Eng), Sean O’Brien (Ire), Sam Warburton (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To wind the clock back. 6 months ago “Hard Horse” would have been a strong favourite to travel home to New Zealand in one of the Lions’ flanker slots. Fast forward to now and he’s short of game time and under pressure for his 7 shirt at both Edinburgh and Scotland from the outstanding form of Hamish Watson. He needs to get back out on the pitch and let his heavy hitting do his talking before his star falls any further.

Chances of travelling?
Keeping an eye on other players’ injury status.

Number 8 – David Denton

Rivals include:
Billy Vunipola (Eng), Jamie Heaslip (Ire), Taulupe Faletau (Wal)

What does he need from the Autumn Tests?
To not to be injured! The Double D  (and skip ahead if you are squeamish!) ripped his hamstring away from the bone playing for Bath early in the season and will be out for a while yet. Most unfortunate after his best ever season for Scotland. His biggest issue in terms of the Lions is that even in top form there are players like Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau who can out-wrecking ball the former Embra man – and also offer a broader range of skills despite their bulk.

Chances of travelling?
Can probably book a beach holiday.

Dark horse – Hamish Watson

If club form was the crucial factor in selection then Hamish, who has been flying for the whole of 2016, would have to be a serious contender. As it stands though he needs to win the Scotland 7 shirt from John Hardie and demonstrate that he can bring the same consistency to the international stage. He’s always been a ball of energy in defence but his development into one of Edinburgh’s primary ball carriers gives him a more rounded game than many of his rivals. If he can force a decent amount of turnovers in the Autumn Tests he will be hard to shift from the Scotland back row and would at least add his name to the conversation for the Lions’ discussions towards the end of the Six Nations when it will be selection time for Gatland too.

13 Responses

  1. Nel and J. Gray are definitely going – I’d agree with that.

    I also think Dickinson has a good chance, probably a straight shoot out with Marler and Healy for the 3rd loose head spot – I like Dickinson because the other 2 are timebombs and he is unfussy, hard working and would be a great midweek player.

    Depending on progress I wouldn’t rule out a fight with Genge, Lee and even Fagerson for the 3rd tight head spot

    I would have said Hardie as a midweek openside had a chance but he is regressing and Moriarty might be the bolter for that spot – but I think only 2 genuine opensides will go because Robshaw will be a blindside who can cover Openside and with Henderson (see below !) and Itoje they will have plenty of options

    I have to say that I am surprised that you have Owens ahead of George as a rival for hooker. I’d go as far to say that if Hartley isn’t captain then George is the starting hooker on account of being the best one in the isles !

    Also no Henderson??? I think because of numbers and his and Itoje’s ability to play lock and flanker mean they will both travel

    George, Hartley, Best
    Dickinson, McGrath, Vunipola
    Nel, Cole, Lee
    Itoje, Kruis, Wyn Jones, J. Gray
    Henderson, O’Mahony, Robshaw
    Warburton, O’Brien
    Vunipola, Falateu, Hughes / Heaslip

  2. Nel – yes. Jonny Gray – I’d really like to think so.
    The other forward with a chance of getting Gatland’s eye is Hardie, because as with Sean Maitland on the last tour, he ticks a Scottish representative box but is really a New Zealander !
    Agree with Martin about Jamie George being the best ( no pun intended ) hooker if Engerlund win the 6N with Hartley as captain, he must be favourite to lead the Lions.
    Anyone remember Ciaran Fitzgerald ? :)

  3. Right now, I don’t see Gray as anything like a stick on.

    I’d argue that Lawes, Itoje, Kruis, AWJ, Charteris and Dillane are probably either ahead of him or sufficiently close with more experience in a better side to tip it their way.

  4. A good AI & 6N for the Grays will propel them into Lions contention, you could agree with Cameron re all those locks but you could argue that Jones / England have been lucky (fixture wise) & are riding that luck.

    The player who i’ve seen “stepping up” is Fraser Brown, maybe………!?!!!!????

    1. Oh JM!! Brown isn’t even the starting hooker for Scotland. And the incumbent doesn’t (can’t) hook. The Grays will have to be stellar tomorrow to become serious contenders. Johnny has the potential, but has to take his game to the next level internationally as a punishing ball-carrier and deft off-loader. Richie has plateaued and it is arguable whether he is the player he was 4 years ago. Ask yourself ‘Do either of the brothers scare the fans of other teams?’

  5. It’s interesting that everyone has Itoje nailed on as a Lion but we seem to think it is too soon for Bradbury at international and he needs eased in over a period of time. And yet they are only 10 months apart in age…

  6. Highland Bear,

    Ford is in the team today because of the inexperience either side of him, for his beef & experience.

    Brown is a very capable hooker increasingly effective in the loose & recently I’ve seen a step up from him @ Glasgow, he can cover the back row as well….

    The Grays – you may well be right re your rugby synopses but name me a lock that “scares” any fans (in a rugby sense) in the world?

    Anyway almost about to begin the long trip to Murrayfield from South Tyneside…….

    1. Retallick and Etzebeth are monsters.

      Then there are those from recent times that stuck fear into opposition fans like Martin Johnson, Bakkies Botha and Brad Thorne.

      1. Courtney Lawes is one scary hombre. I still have nightmares about the French front five of the late 1970s: Cholley; Pacot; Paparemborde; Palmie; Imbernon.
        From a Scottish perspective Nathan Hines had something of the night about him, and for earlier generations Gordon Brown was the man, enough said.

        Pleased to see both Grays played out of their skins on Saturday.

  7. Hi,just wondering about other people’s thoughts about an lions squad without the inclusion of residence qualified players would look like in others’ opinions. i.e.: no Hardie,Strauss,Stander,Vunipola’s,Faletau,Hughes etc would look like?i mean no offence just thought it would be interesting to discuss. Thanks. Nice blog to read always.

  8. Just watched the England Fiji game, and having watched all the home nation AI’s so far I think the lions team will be very interesting. So based on the 6N 2016 and the AI’s my Lions XV would be:
    1- M Vunipola, 2- J George, 3- WP Nel, 4- M Itoji, 5- I Henderson, 6- T Falatau, 7- O’Brien ?, 8- B Vunipola
    9- C Murray, 10- O Farrell, 11- T Seymour, 12- A Dunbar, 13- H Jones, 14- L Williams 15- S Hogg

    16- D Hartley, 17- J McGrath, 18- D Cole, 19- G Kruis, 20- CJ Stander, 21- R Webb 22- G Ford, 23- A Watson

    I know the team will end up being completely different (Jamie Roberts) but the 23 I have picked contains 3 Welsh, 5 Irish, 5 Scottish and 10 English players.

    1. More to the point – 5 Scots starting! And 4 of the backs! Imagine you’ll get fantastic odds on that! I think for each and every one of those it is wishful thinking (thought I recognise it is YOUR side, not a predicted side). Surely JG is closer to the action than anyone else, though the competition is very tough at Lock and I think it is easier for Gatland to go with Irish/English/Welsh players if in any doubt. For what it’s worth, I’m probably fairly atypical in that I don’t care for the Lions at all. Yes, it’s reaffirming to have more Scots in the mix but all I’m interested in is 6 Nations 2017, and then it’ll be Autumn Internationals 2017!

    2. The side would need to have more Irish in it based upon their scarcely believable intensity and attritional rugby that sees average players with superhuman levels of strength.

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