by Ben Coles
EVERY FOUR years, a player not considered for the Lions tour suddenly finds themselves on the plane, regardless of Test experience or age. Ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia next summer, here are five potential ‘bolters’:
Paul Marshall (Ulster)
Very impressive in Ulster’s bonus point win over Castres in the Heineken Cup, Marshall first made an impact in last season’s competition when his try secured a bonus point for Ulster against Leicester Tigers at Ravenhill. Blessed with great pace, Marshall’s distribution skills are also excellent, making his inclusion from the Ireland squad all the more surprising. The Heineken Cup will be his platform to shine over the coming months as he fights with Ruan Pienaar for selection, but do not rule out seeing him on the plane.
Jim Hamilton (Gloucester and Scotland)
Being captain seems to suit Hamilton, a beast of a lock forward who despite the odd moment of irrational aggression, is adored by the Kingsholm faithful. A strong competitor in the lineout, Hamilton was absent for Scotland’s shock win against Australia back in the summer and would love an opportunity to prove what he can do against the Green & Gold. If the Lions are looking for a warrior, Hamilton is their man.
Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon and England)
England’s favourite son is entering his twilight years, but that doesn’t mean that the lure of a final swansong with the Lions is not on his wishlist. The stumbling block for Wilkinson, as it will prove to be for Gethin Jenkins, Steffon Armitage and others, is the clash of dates between the beginning of the Lions tour and the final of the Top 14. If injuries occur to the front runners for the No 10 shirt, then Wilkinson may well get the call. It would be a fitting conclusion for one of the game’s greatest players
Dan Biggar (Ospreys and Wales)
Dan Biggar has hit critics, even among the Ospreys faithful, but no one can knock his prodigious point scoring ability. Many forget that Biggar is still only 22, three years younger than Rhys Priestland, and against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road a week ago he showed his true class. Accurate kicking at goal and producing some moments of brilliant distribution, he has thrown himself back into contention for the Wales 10 jersey after Priestland’s consistency dipped in Australia over the summer. For now he remains an outsider, but if he continues to perform for the Ospreys domestically and on the European stage then he make creep into the selection plans of Warren Gatland and company.
Steffon Armitage (Toulon and England)
Unavailable for England this November, Armitage was voted as the best player in the Top 14 by readers of Midi Olympique last season, the finest accolade around for an individual player in France’s top flight. More importantly, he was also the first Englishman to win the award. These feats however are not enough for Armitage to be named in the England squad, due to his availability outside of IRB windows for training camps. Like Wilkinson, he may well be competing in the Top 14 Final when the Lions face the Barbarians in Hong Kong, but his brilliant form is both undeniable and should be impossible to ignore.
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