Lions Tour 2017
So the first XV of the 2017 Lions Tour has been announced and now the talking can stop and all the players can now fully focus on playing games and the end game of a Test Series vs The All Blacks. Looking closely at the selection for game 1 , he has given the first bite of the cherry to all the players that have been involved over the past few weeks.
Gatland has gone for the tried and trusted in the back row with an all Welsh back row and he has gone for a Scotland / Ireland axis at half back with Greg Laidlaw and Jonathan Sexton picked to start the opening game. He has also gone for an all England pairing of Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph in the centre so you can see already that Gatland is happy to pick combinations that are familiar to each other which can only bode well for the Lions in the coming weeks.
This tour has been criticised for the amount of games the Lions will play before they face New Zealand in the opening Test . I would see it as a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario where no matter what the Lions did before the first Test they would be criticised. Gatland as I have shown has gone for what he knows best in particular in the back row and he will hope that familiar combinations will work throughout this campaign.
Looking to the bench , you have some real quality to come in and improve the team as the game enters the second half . Guys like Owen Farrell and Rhys Webb will be chomping at the bit to get stuck in and see how they get on. The one thing this bench will offer is impact in open play and one feels that the Lions will need to show from Saturday that they can play a number of ways and they can’t just play one way and think that will be enough to get past all 5 Super rugby teams and the two International sides they face namely New Zealand and the Maori.
The New Zealand Barbarians have selected Bryn Gatland at 10 and he will need to be at the peak of his powers to deal with an onslaught from the Lions back row who I am sure will be hell bent on denying him time and space on the ball.
He has been selected alongside the very experienced Dwayne Sweeney who will play at number 12. An ex Irish schoolboy player will be at Tighthead for the New Zealand Babas Oliver Jager left Ireland at 17 and has been playing in New Zealand since then , he is in the Crusaders set up and will relish his battle with Joe Marler .
Looking to what is to come over the next 6 weeks , it is going to be a hell of a white knuckle ride for players , coaches , support staff , media , supporters and anybody else connected to the tour so sit back and enjoy what may come your way over the next few weeks. We can only wait and see can Gatland’s class of 2017 emulate John Dawes crew of 71 and win a Test Series in the land of the long white cloud……
Cian Mc Gibney