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Power Rankings: The Lions Backline After Two Games

Power Rankings: The Lions Backline After Two Games
By Will Slattery Updated
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The opening two games of the Lions tour are done and dusted and already some players are making their case for a test place at the expense of others. Even though not every tour member has started a game, almost all have them have played a part in a game so far. So now seems like a perfect time for a subjective and unscientific power ranking seeing which players are the current favourites for each position. (image credit: Stephen McCarthy, Sportsfile)

Full back

15. Leigh Halfpenny

The Welshman was a shoe in after the 6 Nations but with Rob Kearney playing so well in the end of year awards season many people, most of whom were Irish, were pushing Kearney's credentials. But Halfpenny's 11 for 11 kicking display against the Force pretty much nails his position at 15. Could Halfpenny play wing with Hogg or Kearney at 15? Definitely not, the caliber of winger at Gatland's disposal is too high to shunt a full back option there. This is a three way shoot out for the 15 spot, and Halfpenny looks to have the inside track already.

The rest

Stuart Hogg was the Keith Earls of the opening game, and not just because he too is the youngest member of his party. He was a bit off the pace that his teammates were operating on and he overran a few balls to go along with a couple of handling errors. Has another chance against the Reds and he showed enough glimpses against the Barbarians to think he could rekindle his 6 Nations form.

Unfortunately for Rob Kearney, his hamstring injury is keeping him out of the formative stage when key impressions are made. And while he ices his hammy, Halfpenny position gets stronger and stronger. But hey, at least he has his Indo column and a cool video blog to keep him busy.

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14. Tommy Bowe

Tommy Bowe was another who benefited from the end of year trophy scramble but he carried it into his first game excellently. He cut excellent lines against the Force but the ability to link with opponents once the break is made is what sets him apart from his Welsh challengers. North and Cuthbert are big strong tackle breakers who have little peripheral vision. If Bowe is an all seeing eagle, those two are frogs. They are more prone to get bundled into touch running down a tight channel than to look for an offload.

11. George North/ Alex Cuthbert

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The top 3 were very hard to seperate but these two even more so. North is bigger and stronger but Cuthbert is faster and a better finisher.  A big showing from Cuthbert against a strong Reds side could tip the scale in his favour. Probably the fairest way to seperate them is to give them an IQ test. The results probably wouldn't be as high as Cutbert's try count.

The rest

It was only one game but if Maitland had any chance to make the test team he needed to come out flying. He did not and now he is consigned to the midweek team, where the fosters consumption will be higher, if not the competitivness. I said it at the time and I will say it now: this spot should have gone to Simon Zebo.

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13. Brian O'Driscoll

The pressure seems to be really off O'Driscoll, which is strange because he has a lot to gain this time around. But his on pitch body language and interviews afterwards show a player really comfortable in the Lions environment. And that's not mention he is looking as sharp as ever. His performance against the Force was perfect O'Driscoll, offloading when neccessary but knowing when to hang back to pick a line off a teammates shoulder. Has to be the front runner for the 13 jersey.

12. Manu Tuilagi

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The Tuilagi/O'Driscoll partnership went smoother than anyone could have anticipated. The perfect inside centre switch line run by Tuilagi and finished by O'Driscoll is the perfect template for a 12/13 combo. There were few Lions fans not licking their lips at seeing these two again.

The rest

Will it be a shootout between Roberts and Tuilagi for the 12 jersey? We will likely see the Roberts/O'Driscoll partnership from 09 in action against the Waratahs next wednesday. Given Gatland's preference for Roberts, a good showing from him will likely edge him ahead of Tuilagi.

Jonathan Davies was good against the Barbarians but the feeling is that his passing won't hold up under test match presure, given that it usually doesn't. Already he is behind O'Driscoll and Tuilagi for 13.

10. Jonny Sexton

Like Halfpenny, Sexton's display against the Force puts him as firm favourite for a test spot. Every aspect of his playmaking ability was on show: there were dummies, deft crosskicks, across the body floated passes. Put simply, he has a skillset that Owen Farrell doesn't have and will never possess.

The rest

If my dad was on the Lions coaching staff maybe I would have made the tour too. Owen Farrell came into the tour in poor form and it doesn't look like he will regain it in time to trouble Sexton for the test place. His petulant and arrogant reaction to the Brits yellow card wouldn't have endeared him to Gatland. Maybe he should get dad to put in a word for him.

9. Mike Phillips

Phillips started this tour like he finished the last one. His sniping and physicality are skills that no other scrumhalf on tour can match and it is a testament to his play that many fans are willing to overlook his very prickish personality to see him in the side.

The rest

In Conor Murray's performances so far he is trying so hard to displace Phillips that he is trying, for better or for worse, to emulate him. Murray isn't strong enough to snipe with Phillips effectiveness and that showed against the Force. Will be interesting to see how Ben Youngs fares in his first start this weekend and he may struggle behind a less strong pack that his rivals played with.

 

We will bring you the Lions pack power ranking later in the afternoon.

 

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