Sam Warburton helps us go through Lions best back row candidates
"All these brilliant back-rows aren't going to go... There's going to be some big, big omissions."
We are 10 days out from the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa, and Sam Warburton is predicting some pain for some of Europe's best back rows.
While Lions head coach Warren Gatland has conceded he may have to pick just 36 players to tour, this summer, Robin McBryde [his scrum coach] would not be surprised if the Kiwi squeezed another two or three into his squad.
Gatland told us, earlier this month, that he and his coaches all selected their Lions squads and then compared notes. When they totted it all up, 57 players were mentioned.
There are expected to be seven back row slots filled and there are 14 players in with a decent shout of making the final cut. They are:
- Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Courtney Lawes, Sam Simmonds (all England)
- Hamish Watson (Scotland)
- Toby Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi (Wales)
- Tadhg Beirne, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock, Caelan Doris (Ireland)
And that is leaving out the likes of Jack Conan, Aaron Wainwright, Mark Wilson, James Ritchie and Peter O'Mahony, a Test captain on the 2017 tour.
Take out Maro Itoje and Tadhg Beirne, and even Courtney Lawes, out of the equation - all three being in the mix for utility forward roles - and you still have 11 men looking for those seven places in the squad.
As Warburton noted, when he helped launch the new Canterbury-designed Lions jersey, there will be some big omissions. On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 49:30 below], Warburton spoke about two Irish players with the best shouts of going as Lions back rows.
Rather than picking and choosing from Warburton's comments - at that launch and on his recent House of Rugby appearance - we felt the best way to do the Welshman justice was to present his unfiltered version of events.
Selecting Itoje as an out-and-out second row, here are Warburton's comments on his 10 leading contenders for those Lions back row places.
SAM WARBURTON ON LIONS' BACK ROW CANDIDATES
JUSTIN TIPURIC: From a hard ground perspective, I imagine Gregor Townsend will really be pushing for Tipuric, When Gatland said all the coaches had picked their own squad, I'm sure Tipuric would have been in Gregor Townsend's squad. There's not an attack coach in the world who wouldn't want him in their team.
JOSH NAVIDI: Then every defence coach would probably pick Josh Navidi because he's so good in defence. He's actually great in attack but for different reasons. He's got good hands, but he's so good at actually securing 30 rucks a game. People take it for granted and it goes unnoticed.
TOBY FALETAU: Toby is a shoe-in. One of the classiest players I've played with. I said in the autumn Toby would be Lions No. 8 and I got a bit of heat on Twitter. I knew he'd turn up and lo and behold, he turned up for the Six Nations. Anyone that writes him off is a fool. You ask any coach, they'll tell you they don't really tell Toby what to do. There's a lot of structure in rugby and they say Toby is one of those players who is just so naturally gifted, you just let him fit in.
JOSH VAN DER FLIER: Josh has been phenomenal lately. I'm not much of a stats guy, but he made the most metres out of every flanker in the Six Nations. He made the most tackles, just behind Justin Tipuric. He's just so good. Technically, he's a brilliant 7. He does exactly what a 7 is supposed to do.
TADHG BEIRNE: Tadhg, for me, is nailed-on to go on tour. He has a good chance to be a Test starter and I think 6 could suit him as well.
HAMISH WATSON: Hamish Watson is never too small... I said this on Twitter recently, power trumps size every day of the week. I’ve played against plenty of big guys who were slugs, but it is that repeated power that you need and personally I think Warren Gatland would have been purring watching Hamish Watson over the Six Nations, I thought he was outstanding.
TOM CURRY: He was the shining light for England... he is a stand-out shoe-in for me. I don't see a game where he doesn't have an impact. He always has an impact at the breakdown, he carries well and he gets up in the air well.
SAM UNDERHILL: When he's fit, he punishes people. It's explosiveness what counts when you're playing at flanker... he'd be one guy, in defence, bursting off the line and just destroying people.
COURTNEY LAWES: England missed Underhill and Lawes massively. You can't overlook them just because they missed the Six Nations. Those guys have way too much of an impact and they're two of the most physical guys you can have.
That's why Courtney Lawes went on the last Lions tour over other second-rows because they knew his physicality and aggressiveness would pay dividends down in New Zealand. He was there in the Test squad. Gatland likes his style and the fact he covers six.
SAM SIMMONDS: I think Sam Simmonds will go. [On BT Sport Warburton also said] It looks like he is going to take some handling as the weather dries up and pitches dry up. He is going to run with some abandon.
Sam Warburton was speaking as Canterbury launched the British & Irish Lions Test Jersey. Get yours from www.canterbury.com