Lions 2017: Five players with a point to prove
The Lions finally kick off the 2017 tour and for a few it is the chance to give coach Warren Gatland plenty to think about ahead of the Tests
The 2017 Lions tour kicks off within hours after what has seemed an interminable wait. With the Provincial Barbarians expected to put up the least resistance to the Lions in the torrential rain of Whangarei, it’s up to the individuals selected to grasp the game by the cojones and show Warren Gatland they’re not there to hold tackle bags.
Here are five players looking to make a big impression…
Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
The common consensus, for what it’s worth, is that Scotland’s captain – a late call-up for Ben Youngs – will be watching on as Conor Murray and Rhys Webb tussle over the Lions Test shirt and it’s up to the nuggety Jedburgh old-boy to disabuse onlookers of that notion and force his way into the Test reckoning.
A near 10-week injury break, should give him a spring in his step, and once he shakes off any ring-rust that saw him feature fitfully at the end of Gloucester’s season, before he links up with Clermont, he will need to prove his worth, as a top-rank goal-kicker, astute tactician and shrewd leader. If he can show some zip around the base of the scrum, the aforementioned duo may feel the 58-cap No 9 breathing down their neck.
Kyle Sinckler (England)
There will be a packed clubhouse in Battersea Ironsides, South-West London tomorrow morning when their former charge, Kyle Sinckler, makes his Lions debut. Built like the proverbial outhouse, the former centre, is renowned for explosive bursts in the loose with Harlequins and England, but Sinckler, under the watchful eye of Graham Rowntree and Adam Jones is making headway as a scrummager.
A surprise inclusion, who would likely have been overlooked for WP Nel, had the Edinburgh tighthead not succumbed to long-term injury, Sinckler nevertheless has plenty of fire and from all accounts is thriving on tour. Okay, there’s room to make up on Dan Cole and Tadhg Furlong, but the gap is not insurmountable.
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Ross Moriarty (Wales)
Had you mentioned a year ago that Ross Moriarty would be a Lions tourist, there may have been a few scoffs, but a lively tour in New Zealand with Wales, and a Six Nations campaign, where he showed scant regard for reputations – notably sending Owen Farrell backwards into the Prinicipality Stadium turf – showed Moriarty has the right mentality to thrive.
A strong finish to the end of the season with Gloucester, where he was named young player of the year, saw him named as one of the shock inclusions. Like his father, Paul, who made such an impression at a young age at the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Moriarty Jnr’s devil-may-care attitude, pace and handling that befit a former full-back, could see him thrust into the Test cauldron.
Tommy Seymour (Scotland)
The US-born wing has been one of the most consistent wide men in the Northern Hemisphere in recent years, crossing the whitewash 17 times in his 36 appearances for Scotland. Rejected by Ulster in his early twenties, he’s turned into a consummate finisher at Glasgow, and scored tries against Wales and Italy in the recent Six Nations.
His strength in the air, ability to prowl the tramlines and nose for the try-line mean he’ll hope to put pressure on the likes of George North, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell and rekindle his understanding with favourite for the No 15 berth, Stuart Hogg.
Whispers that Te’o had crept onto the selectors list came days before the squad announcement, and since then, commentators have lined up to laud the Worcester Warriors midfielder. With the omission of Jamie Roberts, cross-code star Te’o is seen as a credible option to be running down the 10 channel at the end of the month, should he click with those either side of him.
How he communicates with Johnny Sexton and Jonathan Joseph will be closely scrutinized against the Barbarians, and even though he’s a quiet man off the field, he nevertheless has belief in his own abilities. His muscular 16st frame belies a shrewd rugby brain and ability to offload in heavy midfield traffic.