Back in August I picked a wildy inaccurate Lions team but with the 19th of April fast approaching I thought I’d highlight a few players who might be on the plane to New Zealand despite not featuring heavily during the 6 Nations.
This is very much a dream of mine, but it’s not entirely out of the question, nobody has scored more tries in European competition this season than the Ospreys Keelan Giles and given the All Blacks flagrant disregard for any opponents (who could forget Brodie Retallick having no idea who Courtney Lawes was in 2014) Giles could be just the secret weapon the Lions need. Plus who doesn’t love seeing a teenager make experienced opponents look daft?
On the subject of young players who shine at the Ospreys despite a seeming maelstrom of malaise engulfing the Liberty Sam Underhill might not be far from Gatland’s thoughts. There are a ridiculous number of candidates for backrow places (Ireland alone have about 8 players who fit the bill) but not many of them tackle as hard as Underhill and have the ability to make correct decisions in the backline too.
Like Underhill my next candidate is playing his rugby on the foreign side of the Severn. Richard Hibbard has undergone a transformation in about the 10 months, he’s shed pounds and he looks to be the fittest player at Gloucester (which is some achievement when they have 6 Kiwi’s in their squad and one of them is John Afoa). He’s also become one of the most accurate line-out throwers in the Aviva too, he was over 90% last time I heard a statistical breakdown, and set piece efficiency will be vital to even compete in the land of the long white cloud.
Back to wingers (and there’s plenty of them to go round too) in terms of British qualified players there are 2 close to Keelan Giles in the European try scoring stakes and they are Chris Ashton (who I think will be going if only to bring a bit of levity to a tour that will be close to 2 months long with the training camp) and Clermont’s very own Nick Abendanon but I think players based in France will struggle to be released because the Top 14 season is seemingly eternal!
Another winger who is scintillating form is Sale’s Denny Solomona, the former rugby league player isn’t quite the the miraculous “convert” some seem to blindly believe. Having grown up in Auckland Solomona attended and represented the first XV at St. Peter’s College the alma mater of Pat Lam and brothers Peter and Francis Saili (amongst others) so he’s hardly come from out of nowhere to notch up 9 tries in 9 starts!
On the subject of players born in Auckland who could be popping back for 5 weeks in the summer Ireland’s Joey Carbery brings all the poise you’d expect of an international inside back but he can also play 15 and he could probably slot anywhere along the backline in an emergency. Unlike Solomona Carbery moved from New Zealand when he was just 11, now aged 21 he was selected in the touring party when Ireland travelled to Chicago to beat the All Blacks in 2016.
Another Aucklander who could hoping a business class flight to the other side of the Tasman Sea is Ben Te’o, he did feature heavily during the 6 Nations, but he only started once. Gatland will definitely be interested in the possibility of Te’o renewing his acquaintance with one of his old NRL combatants Sonny Bill Williams (see here – http://thebiglead.com/2014/03/06/new-zealand-rugby-league-match-delivers-most-vicious-clean-hit-of-2014/ben-teo-hit-on-sonny-bill-williams/ )
And finally, and most definitely most tenuously Simon Berghan has only made 3 appearances for Scotland but the Christchurch born Tight-Head is a man mountain. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall and tips the scales at just over the 20 stone mark. If Tight-Head wasn’t such a problem area he’d have absolutely zero chance (but Tomas Francis does lack anything that resembles athleticism, Zander Fagerson is about 18 months away from being a top class 3 and Samson Lee hasn’t been at his devastating best this season) so the former Crusader Knights player could be headed home for a flying visit.