Five Outside Chances for the Lion’s Tour
With the Lions squad being announced on May 6th, the anticipation of Warren Gatland and his team’s selection is growing ever more. For months now the rugby community have taken to social media and other media platforms to present their Lions squads and XV’s, and with the usual rabbit hole that is social media, I’ve found myself visiting many a squad and debate upon selection. Of course, every squad usually includes the nailed-on selections of this year’s tour in the form of Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones and Robbie Henshaw. There are also the selections that make most squads with the likes of in-form players Louis Rees-Zammit and the ever-consistent Hamish Watson or veterans such as Jonathan Davies and Ken Owens.
Nevertheless, some players have far less noise surrounding their name but deserve their plaudits and potentially a seat on the highly competitive 36 strong flight to South Africa this July. Think of these players as ‘Five Outside Chances for the Lion’s Tour.’ Players that may have been forgotten in other peoples selections for the tour, or even outside bets, but certainly in my opinion deserve to be at least in the discussion.
Chris Harris: Centre – Scotland and Gloucester
When selecting a Lions squad, it is vitally important to have a squad built with in form players, even more so with the reduced schedule of 8 games (5 warm up tour games, 3 test matches) contrary to the usual 10.
Chris Harris has earned his right for discussion upon his strong form over the last 18 months but particularly the last Six Nations campaign. He was a key cog in the Scottish midfield, playing all five matches in a side that claimed away victories at both Twickenham and Paris. A real anchor defensively all tournament in a position where Scotland have displayed a real depth of talent with Harris, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones and Cameron Redpath in recent years. The Cherry and White has offered the Scots a strong running game combined with good decision making at 13 on top of his strong defensive capabilities.
With the injury to Lion’s shoe-in George North, the outside claim of Harris has been given a boost. Right now, he’s on the outside looking in but very much a man who could be given a chance to break into the upper echelons of Lions centres and make the tour. Regardless of his fate, Harris is one of the strongest claimers from a solid Scottish campaign, and with his physicality and form, there will be no qualms on my side if he makes a tour.
Enter @charris_13's channel at your peril.😳
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) April 27, 2021
Andrew Porter: Tighthead Prop – Ireland and Leinster
The Scrum is going to be a vital weapon for either side on the tour of South Africa and will certainly pay a pivotal role in deciding the victor. World Class tight-heads are worth their weight in gold due to their ability to withstand pressure from the opposition Loosehead and Hooker. A dominant performance from the tighthead can turn a game on its head for any side and with games at the highest level often decided by the finest of margins, victory at the scrum is ever more important.
In Andrew Porter, you have an incredibly strong body; said to squat 350kg, which can combine with a deceptive level of speed and agility in the position. A very strong scrummager, Porter displayed this across the Autumn Nations Cup and the Six Nations, having particularly strong games when he started against Wales in both tournaments. Fronting up against potential Lions test starters Wyn Jones and Ken Owens, Porter proved he has the quality. As well as a capable scrummaging game, Porter has impressed round the park. He’s strong in the loose, makes his tackles at a 93% rate in a green jersey this year according to ‘Rugby Pass’, and is accustomed to entering the game from the bench. This is where he could provide a solid replacement for fellow countryman Tadhg Furlong.
Due to Furlong’s return to the green jersey and dazzling performances at tighthead Porter has somewhat become a forgotten man but there’s no doubt of the talent and physicality the Leinsterman can bring to the squad and he deserves to be there.
Keith Earls: Wing – Ireland and Munster
Onto another Irish entrance, in the form of the evergreen veteran presence that is Keith Earls. After a solid and somewhat underrated Six Nations the Irish have many the claimant trying to muscle in on a Lion’s jersey. Earls is no different. The Munster winger is seeking his first Lions tour since 2009 and is arguably in as strong a form as ever.
Earls, who is closing in on a century of Irish caps has proven time and time again that he is one of the most reliable wingers in the northern hemisphere. He is a capable try scorer, a fearless competitor under the high ball and a winger with the ability to make very savvy defensive reads. The man from Moyross could be of great wealth and bring test match experience to a Lions back division which could include the less experienced heads of Duhan Van Der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit.
In this years Six Nations he displayed his full repertoire of skills, playing a key part in all of Ireland’s fixtures. He shone particularly in the away victory at Murrayfield and home win against England. Earls rolled back the years scoring his 33rd and 34th test tries in the tournament but caught the eye more for his strong defensive performances which relied on brain over brawn. He was a big part of a solid Irish defensive tournament, and in comparison, to the less than impressive defensive performance of James Lowe on the opposite wing; the Munster man outlined his real value to the Irish side, and potentially to Warren Gatland’s touring squad.
Currently, on the outside looking in and with strong competition for places on the wing Earls looks like he may miss out. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old offers experience, versatility (can play centre) and reliability to the back division and he is more than worthy to be in the conversation.
These wing spots are going to cause problems 😅
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) March 20, 2021
Cameron Redpath: Centre – Scotland and Bath
One of the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere, Cameron Redpath could be in with an outside chance at making the Lions tour. Despite his youth and inexperience at the test level, the Scottish centre has displayed very mature and assured performances for both Bath and for Scotland in his sole international cap so far.
Redpath returned from the neck injury sustained during the Six Nations earlier this month. In his return, he managed to steer an injury-stricken Bath side to victory against London Irish to reach the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup. With the early head injury to Orlando Bailey, Redpath slotted in at 10 for the best part of the game and looked unfazed as he worked Bath round the park to earn a hard-fought victory. This an example of Redpath’s quality in pressure situations as he competed against an international calibre Fly-Half in Paddy Jackson.
We also saw the young Scot impress in his sole international cap. He displayed a confident and destructive running game when attacking Owen Farrell’s defensive channel at will. Making the 97-test capped Lion look very average at times. Redpath’s composure on the ball, intelligent decision making, and strong positioned defensive game make him a very well-rounded option at inside centre. In addition to this, with the recent ACL injury to George North ending his Lions hopes, there’s a place to be had amongst the elite of British and Irish centres right now. Furthermore, with the question marks on Owen Farrell’s form and questions regarding his strongest position, it leaves Robbie Henshaw as the likely only nailed-in inside centre currently.
When taking in all of the above, it’s hard not to get excited with the talent of Redpath. Yet, it is very easy to get carried away with him. The small sample of games, particularly at test level, is a concern. Even more so when considering him facing the current World Champions South Africa. Nonetheless, judging on his club performances and his breath-taking international debut, Redpath has a very bright future. Showing he is an international standard centre in this small sample of games he’s played so far.
Right now, Redpath is an outsider and there could well be more experienced names ahead of him in the pecking order. Nevertheless, the young Scottish centre is an exciting name to chuck into the hat and displays a number of standout attributes which could be of value to Warren Gatland’s Lions squad. This see’s Redpath as one of the most intriguing options in our list of ‘Five Outside Chances for the Lion’s Tour’.
Sam Simmonds: Number 8 – England and Exeter Chiefs
Last but certainly not least, we have Premiership Player of the Season in waiting, Sam Simmonds. Simmonds, who has caught many a headline in the media of late for his shock continued omission from Eddie Jones England squad has an unlikely chance to become a British and Irish Lion despite not featuring for his country since 2018. Simmonds who holds 7 caps to his name, has been playing the best rugby of his career so far and is arguably the most in form player in England.
Known for his devastating speed and agility, Simmonds offers the try scoring ability and the round the park mobility as good as any forward in world rugby. For a long time now, Simmonds has starred for the European Champions the Exeter Chiefs, boasting a breath-taking 14 league tries in 16 appearances. In addition to this, according to the Premiership Rugby’s official statistics, Simmonds ranks in the top 10 in tackles made, turnovers won, and defenders beaten; as well as in the top 15 in clean breaks. A relentlessly hard-working back rower with the pace of a winger to match, Simmonds offers an entirely different angle of attack for Warren Gatland at 8. Differing from the hard battering-ram carries of CJ Stander and Billy Vunipola, and more in the mould of Taulupe Faletau but even speedier and with more tries, Simmonds offers Gatland a real headache when it comes to selecting his No.8’s.
Very much a modern day back rower, you can find Simmonds causing problems in wide areas as well from the base of the scrum. Furthermore, the Torquay native relishes play in the loose and is one of the best support runners in Europe. Despite this, he is still largely unexposed at test level with his international accolades not necessarily supporting his Lions case. Nevertheless, at only the age of 26, Simmonds is just beginning to hit his prime and remains a far more decorated player than his years suggest. He’s proven with his performances for the Exeter Chiefs domestically and in European competition that he is amongst Europe’s elite back rowers.
Under any other regime, Simmonds would well have found himself with considerably more England caps to his name than his current 7. This would make his selection for a Lions tour a lot easier to justify. Nonetheless, his performances over the last two seasons for Rob Baxter’s Chief’s has made it criminal to not at least consider his selection. Simmonds, without question offers a completely different option at the no.8 position. Whether Gatland will be able to look past his international credentials in selecting him over the likes of Vunipola or Stander is another question, but Simmonds has definitely given himself as good a chance as possible from the outside looking in. Therefore, he more than deserves his place in our ‘Five Outside Chances for the Lion’s Tour.’
What did you make of his performance at Ashton Gate in R17?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) April 29, 2021
We hope you enjoyed the article ‘Five Outside Chances for the Lion’s Tour.’ Who do you think is the most likely to make the tour? Let us know!
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