Have England lost their majority vote on the Lions trip to New Zealand? Posted almost 2 years ago

Photo: BBC

Have England lost their majority vote on the Lions trip to New Zealand?

What a difference one week makes. Had the British & Irish Lions squad to New Zealand been selected after the demolition of Scotland at Twickenham, as many as 19 or 20 English players might have made it.

After the last round loss to Ireland, England may no longer be certain of winning that overall majority in Warren Gatland’s 37-man tour party. The Ireland match (which England lost 13-9) had the effect of reinforcing England’s struggles against the middle-ranking sides in this year’s Six Nations, rather than accenting the dominant image portrayed by the Scotland game.

England won the games against France, Wales and Ireland by a combined margin of 44 points to 41, while both scoring and conceding three tries. Rightly or wrongly, it is these games which may ultimately count for more in selection than either England’s victory over Scotland, or even their outstanding 18-match string of success since Eddie Jones took over the reins as head coach.

That is the impact of momentum. However high your ascent takes you – and it has taken England to a clear ranking of number two in the world, within touching distance of the All Blacks – when the momentum of development begins to grind to a halt, it presents a problem.

That is the dilemma which now belongs to Warren Gatland, all the way up until the Lions’ announcement on April 19. England are the best in the Northern Hemisphere, but their progress has run up against some typical second season resistance.

How does Gatland weigh England’s winning run in 2016 with Ireland’s ability to beat the very best (including New Zealand) in one-off contests? How does he factor in his long-standing familiarity with Welsh players on such short and brutal tour? How does he assess Scotland’s improvement (and hence their representation in New Zealand) in the light of the Twickenham rout?

I believe he will stand selection on what he knows to be facts – his in-depth knowledge of the Welsh players he has coached for almost ten years, Ireland’s success against the All Blacks in Chicago, and the incredibly short time-frame for preparation between the Pro 12 and EPL finals on 27 May and the first tour game on 3 June. England selections will have to fit in around those influences.

This is the squad I believe Warren Gatland would select if the squad was announced this week (first Test starters asterisked).

Loose-head prop


Tight-head prop
W.P.NEL (if fit)

Second row:
Second row
Alun-Wyn JONES* (capt)
Johnny GRAY

Blind-side flank


Open-side flank


Johnny SEXTON*
George FORD


Jonathan DAVIES*
Jonathan JOSEPH
Elliott DALY

Back three:
Left wing

Stuart HOGG*

Right wing
George NORTH*
Anthony WATSON

This would give a split of 11 England, 11 Ireland, 11 Wales and four Scotland players. In the team for the first Test, there would be a representation of six Welsh, five Irish, three English and one player from Scotland. If Willem Nel isn’t fit for the tour, I would expect Leicester’s Dan Cole to be selected as the second tight-head, bringing the English contingent up to 12.

There are some other grey areas which could boost the English presence, such as Joe Marler for Cian Healy as one of the props, Courtney Lawes for Iain Henderson in the second row, Chris Robshaw or James Haskell for Justin Tipuric in the back-row, and Jack Nowell for Tim Visser on the wing.

But ultimately, the composition of the tour party may well reflect the closeness of the majority of games in the Six Nations rather more than it does England’s long unbeaten run.

I believe that there are one or two Welsh players – such as Jamie Roberts and Taulupe Faletau – who are not first choice for their country at present but may be towed along into the tour party as a result of Gatland’s familiarity with both their play and their character.

Lions’ icon Ian McGeechan has often spoken about

• The critical importance of getting the right support from the squad players on Lions tours – from those who will not necessarily play in a Test match but will be expected to give their all to the trip as back-up players, encouraging and even mentoring the starters while contributing heavily to the ‘social and community’ aspect of Lions touring:

“We have been in the incredibly fortunate position where we can contribute to communities, helping to provide facilities and engage young people in sport. These projects have nothing to do with rugby but they have everything to do with wearing the Lions badge…The social bit is important. When 90 per cent of the tour is off the field that will impact on where we can get to as a group of people.”

• The need for continuity in selection between Lions’ tours. Old hands in the coaching group, like Rob Howley, Neil Jenkins and Graham Rowntree, who were all on both the 2009 tour to South Africa and the 2013 trip to Australia, will again join forces with Andy Farrell (2013) to form an experienced group who all know each other well. I think that Roberts will probably get the nod for much the same reason in the playing group. There is an instinctive understanding growing out of experiences dating back to 2009 of the behaviours that will make the Lions competitive in New Zealand.

This will be Warren Gatland’s third tour with the British and Irish Lions. He will know better than anyone what it takes to enable a playing group from four different nations to gel in such a short time-frame. As a Kiwi he will also be well aware of the extraordinary combination of positive factors required to come away with a series win in New Zealand.

The composition of the Lions tour squad, especially at the ‘back end’ may not be quite as expected as a result, and there not be as many Englishmen in it as most would have thought after their amazing recent run of success.

The Rugby site is the only online coaching resource to offer a truly global perspective, subscribe for 12 months – now at a lower price point.

Enter your email address to continue reading

We frequently post interesting articles and comment from our world class content providers so please provide us with your email address and we will notify you when new articles are available.

We'll also get in touch with various news and updates that we think will interest you. We promise to not spam, sell, or otherwise abuse your address (you can unsubscribe at any time).


comments powered by Disqus

Nick has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2002), Mike Ruddock (2004-2006) and latterly Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Since then, three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for, or won national sports book awards. The latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union. It is entitled “The Iron Curtain”. Nick has also written or contributed to four other books on literature and psychology. "He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches."

Topic News & Opinions
Applicable to Coaches   Players   Others   Supporters and fans  

Related articles

How to play the ‘libero’ like Faf de Klerk

The ‘libero’ is an evocative term in the Soccer vocabulary. It describes the free role played from a defensive position occupied by outstanding players like Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Ronald Koeman from the Netherlands, and Gaetano Scirea and Franco Baresi of Italy. Eventually the libero died out of the professional arm of the game with the demise of man-marking. However as Analyst Nick Bishop illustrates in the use of the scrum-half as the free man on defence have occurred recently in rugby through players like South African Faf de Klerk.

What attention to detail at the cleanout really means

Ireland’s Joe Schmidt already coaches with the same values as his All Black counterparts, Sir Graham Henry and Steve Hansen. He insists on high standards of behaviour both on and off the field, on the need to ‘sweep the sheds’ and take responsibility for every individual action. I believe this makes him a New Zealand head coach-in-waiting. Analyst Nick Bishop explores the attention to detail from Joe Schmidt’s Irish team in his latest article.

Getting your defence right: when to ‘dig’ and when to ‘wrap’

It is probably no accident that the teams with Farrell-coached defences only lost two of the six Tests they played against the All Blacks. Against other opponents in the same time-frame, New Zealand have scored tries for fun, averaging a runaway 5.7 tries per match on their way to a 90% plus win rate. Analyst Nick Bishop explores one of Ireland’s key breakdown defence strategies when to ‘wrap’ around into a new position, and when to ‘dig’ for a turnover after a tackle has been made.

How to attack with the box-kick

The perception of ‘negative play’ in rugby is often associated with kicking the ball. The idea that a team which can no longer think of anything positive to do with the ball, kicks it away instead. Analyst Nick Bishop looks at how kicking is now about creating opportunity for the offence, rather than simply to move the ball off the field of play.

How to blind-side your opponent from scrums!

Defence in the modern game is built around the speed at which the defensive line can move up and mount pressure on its opponents. Analyst Nick Bishop looks at when the offence becomes “How can we offset that momentum? How can we take away some of that speed?”.