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Sport What the full Lions squad looks like today after Scotland shake the Six Nations

23:00  08 february  2021
23:00  08 february  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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The way the former Wales football manager Bobby Gould relates the story, deciding on the merits of a player can sometimes be easy.

Telling how it was when he opted to sign Stuart Pearce for Coventry, Gould said: “I went to have a look at him playing for Wealdstone on a stinking night at Yeovil.

“After eight minutes, he put in a thundering tackle and the Yeovil winger landed in my wife’s lap.

“I said to her: ‘That’s it. I’ve seen enough. We’re going home.’”

And so the Goulds departed, with Mrs Gould no doubt brushing mud off her coat.

The wonder is whether Warren Gatland saw anyone produce a similarly startling moment in the opening round of the Six Nations. Was there anything from an individual to convince him the player in question had to be included in the Lions squad to tour South Africa?

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Or will the New Zealander require more than one assessment before making a final call?

Probably the latter, but some players undoubtedly advanced their cases over the weekend while others fell back.

On the basis that nothing is yet set in stone, and taking into account Gatland’s past preferences, we look at what the Lions squad would look like if chosen today...

Back three (6)

Stuart Hogg, Elliot Daly, Duhan van der Merwe, Louis Rees-Zammit, Johnny May, Josh Adams.

There are four rounds of the Six Nations left — time for people to put up their hands to be part of the 2021 Lions assuming the trip goes ahead.

But it’s not that long.

If Liam Williams, first instance, wants to make the cut, he urgently needs to bank game-time and make an impact in matches that matter.

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That he has the quality and an edge that Gatland enjoys isn’t in doubt. The Scarlet is a high-class player whose fearlessness inspires others and he’s popular with it. That counts.

But he needs to be playing rugby.

Leigh Halfpenny could do with a couple of big performances to stand a hope of making Gatland’s squad, too.

Right now, Stuart Hogg and Elliot Daly are well-placed to cover No. 15. Daly can play full-back, centre or wing, versatility that’s useful on a tour.

Despite his absence for the first two rounds of the tournament, Josh Adams excelled in Gatland's final year with Wales and is a player he values to the point where it would be a shock were he left out of the tour.

Johnny May presumably has credit in the bank, too, while Duhan van der Merwe is a power wing who looks made for Test rugby and the expectation is Louis Rees-Zammit will simply keep improving.

A tour selection usually involves the odd punt and the feeling is that LRZ could be the one Gatland will like the look of in 2021. How well did the youngster take his try against Ireland?

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It could stick in Gatland’s memory.

Centres (4)

Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, George North, Manu Tuilagi.

No Jonathan Davies? Well, the centre has no form.

In fairness, injuries have hammered him and he’s been unable to put much rugby together. When he has played, he has been a long way off his best.

It’s far from over for him, but, like Liam Williams, he needs to return to playing action quickly and move up the gears with some urgency.

Tuilagi is a different case because he had been playing well before the injury that'll sideline him until April. He’s a relentlessly physical player who Gatland would want in a Lions squad if he can prove his fitness.

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Jonathan Davies and Warren Gatland during training with Wales in 2019 © Huw Evans Picture Agency Jonathan Davies and Warren Gatland during training with Wales in 2019

George North is back in the picture after his resurgence this season. As with Daly, his ability to play in more than one position will help his cause.

The two Irish midfielders, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, were exceptional against Wales.

There is every chance the Scottish youngster Cameron Redpath could interest the selectors, too, but, like Rees-Zammit and the full-back Hugo Keenan, he’ll need to put a run of show-stopping performances together.

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Henry Slade? Possibly. Just not today.

Fly-halves (3)


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Owen Farrell, Jonathan Sexton, Finn Russell.

The best fly-half performance over the weekend came from Sexton with his imperious game-management in the first half against Wales.

Here was a man who knew what he was doing and had the skill to back it up.

By contrast, Farrell wasn't at the races against Scotland, lacking inspiration and unable to galvanise those around him, but Gatland values his winning mentality.

He can also play at centre which may allow the Lions to drop a midfield man should they opt to take just 35 players, an idea the New Zealander has previously floated.

Despite the hype, Russell didn’t sparkle against England. His goal-kicking was hit and miss, he was needlessly yellow-carded and ended up being turned over five times. For the avoidance of doubt, those are things that would not have impressed Gatland.

But the Scot has a point of difference and it centres on his skill with ball in hand. He can attack in a way that puts his rivals in the shade — in short, he has an elite attacking game — but he isn’t nailed down for a place yet.

Dan Biggar? Still in the picture.

Gatland values his mental toughness and reliability.

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Scrum-halves (3)

Conor Murray, Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies.

Could someone please step forward and show they deserve to tour with the Lions as a scrum-half?

We’re a couple of months out from Gatland’s scheduled squad announcement, but so far next to no-one is making a serious move for the No. 9 jersey.

Conor Murray seems in pole position despite not truly being at his best. It was good to see Tomos Williams defending with spirit against Ireland, only for the Cardiff Blue to hit hamstring trouble.

Despite what former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies called a brain explosion in the dying stages of the game on Sunday, when he kicked possession to Ireland instead of keeping it and playing out an anxiety-free remaining few seconds, Gareth Davies is the third choice at this point.

He is lightning quick, can score tries and is a tenacious defender. Gatland knows what he can bring and favoured him after Rhys Webb went to France.

Webb has ground to make up. He needs a break to put himself back in contention.

Props (6)

Rory Sutherland, Mako Vunipola, Wyn Jones; Tadgh Furlong, Kyle Sinckler, Zander Fagerson.

There’s good competition here.

Rory Sutherland and Mako Vunipola will be part of Gatland’s party, which leaves Wyn Jones competing with Cian Healy and Ellis Genge.

Scotland evidently didn’t think much of the England loosehead at Twickenham — at one point, a “Gengy’s struggling” call went up — while there’s not a lot between Jones and Healy.

On the weekend’s evidence, Jones is ahead, with the Scarlet outstanding in pretty much all phases against Ireland.

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Furlong and Sinckler look shoo-ins on the other side, but there’s a battle in prospect between Zander Fagerson, Andrew Porter and Tomas Francis.

Perhaps Fagerson’s carrying just puts him ahead.

Hookers (3)

Jamie George, Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie.

No hooker was perfect as the 2021 version of the Six Nations opened. Ken Owens saw a few throws go awry but had an immense game around the field, while James George wasn’t at his races.

a group of people standing on top of a mountain: Ken Owens and Warren Gatland © ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan Ken Owens and Warren Gatland

But Gatland will want those two leaders in his set-up.

Maybe Fraser Brown can make it back from injury to challenge, but right now Luke Cowan-Dickie is heading the pack behind Owens and George.

Locks (5)

Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, James Ryan, Jonny Gray, Tadhg Beirne.

Again, massive competition.

But three locks were outstanding for their respective countries and they were Alun Wyn Jones, Jonny Gray and Tadhg Beirne.

Itoje will, of course, be in the squad because he’s shown himself to be a top-drawer performer time and again, while Ryan had already nicked two Welsh line-outs before being forced off injured after just 23 minutes in Cardiff.

Iain Henderson, Johnny Hill and Courtney Lawes lead the competition.

Back rowers (6)

Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Justin Tipuric, Hamish Watson, Taulupe Faletau, CJ Stander.

Nicola Sturgeon won’t be pleased but it’s hard to find a place for Scotland’s back-row star Jamie Ritchie in the mix here.

Who do you leave out?

Tom Curry had an ordinary game at the weekend, conceding three penalties, but he’s a proven performer at the highest level, while Sam Underhill was missed by England even though the root of their problems was in the front five against Scotland.

Justin Tipuric underlined his strength of character by putting behind him a costly missed tackle to pile up 29 hits in Cardiff, a startling effort, and Hamish Watson excelled at Twickenham.

Similarly, Taulupe Faletau and CJ Stander were bang on top of their games, whereas Billy Vunipola looked off the pace.

All this could change with the likes of Richie, Josh Navidi, Caelan Doris and Vunipola sure to battle tooth and nail for places. Considering he’d played so little rugby for so long before the weekend, Navidi’s effort for Wales was extraordinary.

It underlines how closely fought that particular battle will be.

Just as every position will be.

Nothing’s settled yet, but those who want to be in Gatland’s party need to hurry up and start banging in consistently good performances.

Otherwise — well, otherwise they can forget it.

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