B&I Lions' 'likely skipper' and bolters for SA tour
SPOTLIGHT: Former British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan believes he knows who will be the B&I Lions skipper for their tour to South Africa in 2021.
McGeechan has tipped recent Test newcomers Ollie Lawrence, Caelan Doris and Louis Rees-Zammit to feature as bolters on next year’s tour – while also outlining the specific role that should be given to veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones.
A player on the famed 1974 tour to South Africa who later went onto to coach on the 1997 and 2009 trips, McGeechan is well placed to gauge the type of player the Lions will need if they are to continue their run of success under Warren Gatland which features the 2013 series win in Australia and the tied series in New Zealand four years later.
McGeechan’s views on the upcoming tour have been an ever-evolving jigsaw puzzle in 2020 and his latest thoughts, contained in a column for the UK Telegraph, provided ample food for thought for 2021 on the back of the recent extended block of Test matches, particular his nomination of a trio of youngsters as potential Lions tour bolters.
Starting off with the pressing business of who will lead the team, McGeechan now believes Maro Itoje is “the likely skipper”, adding that because so many second rows can also play back row, he would be inclined to select six locks for the tour including Welsh veteran Jones.
“He’s no longer a potential Lions starter, but he’d be my midweek captain,” wrote McGeechan in the Telegraph. “He is a born winner and Lions legend, and on such a short tour Warren will desperately need players who can lead by example, especially in training as well as on the field.”
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The former Scottish player and coach added how he really rates James Ritchie, outlining how he “has the potential to be another Tom Croft”. Sticking with the Scots, he suggested the 2021 tour is “Finn’s time”, believing the Racing flyhalf has the ability to find space and his use of an “extraordinary range of passes and kicking to manipulate defences is unrivalled”.
Russell’s inclusion along with Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar would mean bad news for Johnny Sexton, McGeechan claiming it is “a tour too far” for the Irish veteran and he also overlooked George Ford. He would instead like a punt to be taken on Exeter’s Joe Simmonds, the recent uncapped double winner. “His game management in the high-pressure hurly burly of the Premiership and Champions Cup finals was flawless.”
However, the names of Test rookies Lawrence, Doris and Rees-Zammit as suggested bolters stood out most in McGeechan’s latest Lions despatch. About Lawrence, the 21-year-old who made his England debut in England’s Six Nations title win in Italy, McGeechan wrote: “With Manu Tuilagi constantly injured and Jamie Roberts absent stage left, the Lions desperately need a forceful ball-carrier in midfield who can take the ball up and get over the gain line early.
“Ollie Lawrence is a fledgling in Test terms but he’s the player best suited to that role, although the excellent Rugby League-style lines run by Scotland’s Sam Johnson means he can also fulfil that role too, as he showed at Twickenham two years ago.”
Switching to 22-year-old Doris, McGeechan added: “Billy Vunipola is the standout No.8, but I think Doris could really offer something different if a more mobile game is needed. The Irishman is a great line-out jumper and a superb athlete who operates wider out than Vunipola.
“With his great feet, good turn of pace, nice hands and sharp rugby brain, he always gets over the gainline to put his side on the front foot and is the sort of serial offloader who thrives on South Africa’s hard grounds.”
McGeechan finished with a glowing review of Rees-Zammit, the 19-year-old who made his first four appearances for Wales this end of year. “There is no substitute for pace, but this potential bolter also glides past would-be tacklers without pausing for breath. Used properly he could wreak havoc, although he is prone to worrying defensive lapses.”
@RugbyPass & Telegraph