So Mr Gatland has selected us a set of Lions, and what controversy it has caused! I was very interested watching the storm of emotion stirred up on social media as the lions were announced on Wednesday, and the never-ending stream of internet memes and tongue in cheek videos that followed the announcement were just hysterical. Let us be candid about this though, there was a veritable feast of talent at Warren’s disposal for the forthcoming tests, and nationality I believe had very little to no bearing on the decisions made, despite what Facebook and Twitter would have you believe. Sure there were some surprise omissions from the test squad, but do I think that they will make a drastic difference to the outcome? Probably not.
There were two players, just two, that I think have been unfairly overlooked for selection and those were Launch and Russell. I’m not sure exactly what Launchbury will have to do in future to prove himself worthy of a Lions place, but I am pretty certain that it is going to involve selling his vital organs, he has probably two or three stabs left at Lions selection and I certainly hope that one day he makes it. He played out of his skin during the 6N and has been more than solid week in week out at club level as well. Gatland argues that he wanted a “hard edge” to take the AB’s to task, but you sometimes require a little more than a wrecking ball to bring a building to the ground and I feel that Launchbury could have been part of the strategically placed dynamite that could perform the task. Ces’t La Vie, we’ll see what the injury reserves list brings…
There has been argument from the Scots (and justifiably so) that they beat Ireland and Wales in the 6N and finished higher in the tables than the Welsh, so they feel their representation should be better in the Lions 41, but I have to agree that this isn’t about national pride (easy for me to say sitting here as an Englishman with 16 players in the squad) but about the connection between those players and their ability to produce a solid match day XV, you need a blend that will go for five to six weeks without capitulating under the pressure of a side that play together frequently, know each other well and are, oh yes, the best team in the world. There have been calls that Watson and Barclay should have been included in the team, but to what end? I think if you look at the back-row forwards selection, it is strong, but if I had been in the position of looking at centres, I would have probably left Jonathan Davies and taken Russell instead. He is young and still has a lot to prove, but he is proving it quickly and went extremely well in the 6N. Sometimes you have to play heart over mind and I think that Gatland has tried to run the stats too many times instead of trusting his gut on this one.
So putting controversy to one side, I actually think we have got a pretty good team to go touring with here. Northern hemisphere rugby is probably the strongest it has been for quite some time, and you certainly wouldn’t put the mortgage on New Zealand having an easy time of it over the course of the competition. NZ have proved themselves fallible after having their longest run of wins bought to a grinding halt by the Irish in the Autumn (they do like to spoil a good party) and if you team up the best of the rest from all other nations, you have got yourself a decent scrap on your hands! I am absolutely fizzing with excitement to see how things pan out down under. Do I think there is any chance of a series whitewash like England pulled out on Australia? Absolutely no chance, but do I think we could win this thing? You bet!
If Gatland can spend the next six weeks nailing together a well-oiled machine, then there is half a chance that we’ll all have something to celebrate in a couple of months’ time.