Britain’s leading rugby writer Stephen Jones believes the Lions selectors have missed a trick and should have been bolder.
Jones, in his weekly newsletter ‘Rolling Maul’, writes there are too many weak areas and he also questions the flyhalf and hooker selections.
‘So how was the selection for you? There are almost as many debating points as there are players chosen. What percentage of the squad is correct? Who are the glaring omissions? Do you agree with my list of lucky choices? The debate will rage on and we will only really find out who was right when the international series begins,’ writes Jones. ‘Two personal beefs. I feel that McGeechan and his men may have got things wrong at fly half and hooker. With a big squad that now extends to 37, there is a potential for wild-card selections that has not been used. And by wild-card, I do not mean youngsters who may or may not come through, I mean a chance to take a punt. Take the situation at fly half. Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara may not be the most dazzling pair ever to tour but they have terrific strengths and neither will let the Lions down. In some ways, however, they are much of a muchness.
‘The fact that you have these two reliable men on tour gave the Lions a priceless chance to take a punt. Neither James Hook nor Danny Cipriani is playing at his best but we know how much they would add if they did. To my mind, it was well worth taking one of them, probably Hook, in the belief that he would re-discover himself in the early weeks of the tour and give the Lions valuable extra options – notably in terms of running ability from fly half and also a big boot. This Lions team is very short of a kicking game.
‘The selectors have also missed a trick at hooker. Jerry Flannery and Matthew Rees are decent players, but neither they nor Lee Mears, the third hooker in the squad, are big enough. I would have selected the first two and then taken a punt that one of the really big men around in the hooking fraternity would have bulldozed his way around South Africa if they had let him loose.
‘Ross Ford, the Scotland hooker, is of requisite size although reports on his recent form have been so disparaging that I would have turned my attention to the ebullient Dylan Hartley of Northampton and England. A bull in a china shop he may be, but that would be no crime in South Africa.
‘There is a certain homogeneous nature about the Lions selection which worries me and which prompts me to believe that they could have been a great deal more bold.’