Selecting a Lions Probables vs. Possibles team if warm-up games cancelled
Warren Gatland may need to ramp up training sessions if tour games are cancelled.
As they prepare to face the Sharks, on Wednesday, the British & Irish Lions are anxiously awaiting news of their Saturday date with the Bulls.
Supersport, in South Africa, has reported of positive Covid cases in the Bulls squad. The team assembled on Monday evening and were entering a six-day bubble that would bring them up to this weekend's clash with the Lions. Players were tested for Covid and, reportedly, some positives were returned.
The Springboks themselves are having their own Covid issues. Lood de Jager came back with a positive test, ahead of Friday's game with Georgia, and the entire squad are isolating until more PCR tests are carried out. A Bok press conference scheduled for this afternoon was postponed [as was Monday's].
Asked about the situation in today's Lions press briefing, assistant coach Steve Tandy said 'there's nothing to confirm' on the Bulls game, or possible contingencies. Queried if Georgia could be asked to stick around to provide the Lions with another hit-out, Tandy commented:
"You're really talking through hypotheticals! I think anything is possible with Covid."
Tandy, who is defence coach for the Lions, was also asked if the tourists would consider a 15 vs. 15 training match if the Bulls game, or any other warm-up game, had to be cancelled.
"It'll depend on what point of the tour we’re at," he said.
"I think we’ll weigh up whether to give the boys an extra day off or a heavier loaded contact day. With Covid everything can move so quickly and change so quickly. It’s just seeing where the group is. We’ll adapt to that as we go along."
With that in mind, we tried our hand at selecting two sets of 15s for a Lions Probables vs. Possibles training match. Both sides are stacked with quality players.
On the latest episode of House of Rugby's Lions Series [LISTEN from 2:30 below], Sean O'Brien, Alex Goode and Tom Croft discussed who is already pressing solid cases for Test selections. Such a 15 vs. 15 hit-out could definitely provide Gatland and his coaches with Test selection clarity.
The Probables vs. Possibles is a remnant from the amateur rugby days, but some coaches have been known to crack it out to get a taste for their best XVs, and those that have what it takes in a white-hot and highly competitive atmosphere.
Back in 2017, Joe Schmidt assembled 40 players in Ireland camp at Carton House and ran 15 vs. 15 sessions as he put plans in place for what would be a stand-out 2018. Andy Farrell has done similar, but the matches do not extend to full-blown 80-minute affairs.
We have selected our Probables by going back to the Lions XV Pecking Order we have been using to chart player form, and standing, since late last year. These are the players we feel are in pole position for Test spots.
15. Liam Williams
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Josh Adams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Conor Murray
1. Wyn Jones
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Iain Henderson
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Hamish Watson
8. Toby Faletau
The Possibles, then, are the best of the rest, and some combinations that are used to playing with each other.
A handful of the players listed below could still find themselves starting the First Test against South Africa, given how they fare over the coming weeks and what set-backs may befall others. It is another stacked XV.
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Anthony Watson
13. Chris Harris
12. Owen Farrell
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Finn Russell
9. Ali Price
1. Mako Vunipola
2. Ken Owens
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. Courtney Lawes
5. Adam Beard
6. Josh Navidi
7. Tom Curry
8. Jack Conan
That still leaves the likes of Rory Sutherland, Zander Fagerson, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies and Elliot Daly in reserve.
If it comes to it - and it would probably take a couple of warm-up games falling by the wayside to happen - the Lions should record it all and include it as a bonus in the eventual tour DVD. It would be a gripping view.