Sean O'Brien makes valid case for starting Sam Simmonds against South Africa
"He was doing so good there!"
Sean O'Brien may not have agreed with every British & Irish Lions squad selection, but he is loving the Sam Simmonds pick.
O'Brien, a two-time Lion, was forced to rejig his Test XV to face South Africa, this summer, after Warren Gatland omitted Keith Earls and Garry Ringrose from his 2021 touring party. He also made a back-row tweak.
To Adam Jones, who toured with the Lions in 2009 and 2013, the exclusion of Josh Navidi from the back row picks surprised him the most. He was not too surprised that Billy Vunipola missed out, after the England star claimed, a few years back, that Eddie Jones would have coached the Lions to a 3-0 Test Series win against the All Blacks.
"This is what I know about Gats," said Jones, "He will hold a grudge, and there was no chance [he was making the squad]."
With a No.8 slot up for grabs, then, Gatland and his coaching staff went with Exeter and erstwhile England back-row Sam Simmonds. They also sought clearance for a 37th player and were then able to select versatile forwards Courtney Lawes and Jack Conan.
Now that Simmonds, who is on-course for a Premiership try-scoring record this season, is in the squad, O'Brien can't wait to see him get a decent crack of it in South Africa. On House of Rugby, he commented:
"I love [Justin] Tipuric, he's one of the best players in the world... The back row is competitive, and then you've got Jack Conan, as well, who is able to give you something different and use his feet quickly. And he's another lineout option.
"Looking at the back-rowers that are there, I think [Test selection] will be pretty easy. I reckon it will be Tom Curry at 7, Tadhg Beirne at 6 and Sam Simmonds at 8."
"He was doing so good there," Jones remarked, as he made his case to give Talupe Faletau the No.8 jersey for the Tests against South Africa.
"No.8 for me, head and shoulders above everyone else is Talupe Faletau. Head and shoulders. To me, Faletau is 100% a Test starter."
"To be fair," O'Brien conceded, "you're probably dead right, at 8. I'm going for Simmonds as he's made the squad, now, and he deserves it after missing out for England, all those times!"
"I'd like to see Simmonds get out in the First Test and prove a point."
O'Brien believes Gatland will either go Dan Biggar at 10 with Owen Farrell in midfield beside Robbie Henshaw, or could give Owen Farrell the outhalf role to accommodate Bundee Aki in midfield. Right now, he is leaning with Biggar-Farrell.
SEAN O'BRIEN'S LIONS XV
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14. Anthony Watson (England)
13. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
12. Owen Farrell (England)
11. Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)
10. Dan Biggar (Wales)
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
1. Wyn Jones (Wales)
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4. Maro Itoje (England)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
6. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
7. Tom Curry (England)
8. Sam Simmonds (England)
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