We track the players putting hands up for Lions selection – or damaging their cause
British & Irish Lions form tracker
Who is trending upwards and who is falling behind in the race to earn British & Irish Lions selection for the series against South Africa?
We take a look at the third round of Six Nations action to offer our verdict. Scotland players were unable to advance their cause after their match in France was postponed.
On the Up
Taulupe Faletau – The Wales No 8 never disappoints when up against his close friend Billy Vunipola. He won that personal duel, his 18 carries and 14 tackles helping him to capture his second Man of the Match award in as many weeks – he gained similar plaudits for Bath last week. He can’t match Vunipola’s sheer power but makes up for it with superior footwork. Currently in pole position for the Lions eight shirt that he wore throughout the 2017 series.
George North – Who would have thought we’d be thinking of North as a contender for the Lions 13 shirt? The sixth Welshman to win a ton of Test caps, he did a ton of good things on his special day, particularly in defence. Yesterday was only his eighth start at centre in 103 Tests (three for the Lions) but he’s right in the mix for the big tour this summer.
Related content: Ten things you should know about George North
Tadhg Beirne – Played at six in Rome instead of second-row, not that he’s bothered by the number on his jersey. The 29-year-old has carried his outstanding Munster form into the Test arena and has become a pack leader. He set the tone with an early lineout steal on his own line and never let up. His remorseless work-rate, hitting rucks and making tackles, earned him the Man of the Match award. He also made a couple of tackle breaks and won a turnover. Will Peter O’Mahony get his place back after suspension? Probably not.
Will Connors – The Leinster openside was close to the player award. He relished chopping down Sebastian Negri and his mates and popped up for a couple of tries: he got on Jordan Larmour’s shoulder for the first, then applied the finishing touch to a driving maul. He had scored on his Test debut against the Italians last autumn. Still a long shot for the Lions tour at this stage, he needs to prove himself against higher-class opposition.
Kyle Sinckler – England’s scrum went well in Cardiff and the Harlequins tighthead was there for the duration. Having missed the opening round due to suspension, he was feeling the heat from Will Stuart and has responded emphatically. England’s top carrier after Billy Vunipola, he offers direct running and subtle hands not seen in many No 3s. A sub in the 2017 Lions series, he’s probably favourite to start in this year’s tour.
Liam Williams – Marked his first Six Nations start at full-back for nearly two years with the commanding presence we’ve come to expect of him. No matter what array of kicks are raining down on him, he never looks remotely flustered. The Scarlets full-back saved Wales early on by sweeping up after Maro Itoje’s charge-down and scored his team’s second try following that contentious Louis Rees-Zammit ‘knock-on’.
Related content: Rees-Zammit gif sweeps social media
Robbie Henshaw – The Leinster centre’s 2017 Lions tour ended early because of an arm injury. He’s since had a full shoulder reconstruction, too. He keeps bouncing back, carrying hard in traffic and offering handling touches that were less evident in his earlier days. Defensively rock-solid, Henshaw won his 50th cap against Italy and produced a performance to match. “He was the best player on the pitch,” said captain Johnny Sexton.
On the Slide
Elliot Daly – Has played the fourth-most minutes for England under Eddie Jones but too often disappoints. The Saracens full-back twice lost the ball in contact to stall English momentum and switched off terribly for the tap-penalty try by Kieran Hardy. Monster penalty kicks are a specialty of his, so why didn’t Owen Farrell give him the opportunity from long range just before Hardy’s try? Farrell took it on himself and failed. Daly was a Lions Test starter in 2017 but needs to up his game to make the plane this time.
Maro Itoje – We all know Itoje is one of the first names on Warren Gatland’s tour party list – the England lock is absolute class. However, his reputation took a dent in Cardiff because he conceded five penalties. Deliberate knock-on, lineout interference, offside in the maul – whatever the offence, Itoje is sometimes too eager for his own good. He both empowers and hurts England. He’s always one of the best players on the pitch but discipline is a big work-on.
Dan Biggar – Are we being harsh here? It just felt that Wales moved up a notch after the Saints fly-half left the pitch five minutes after half-time. Callum Sheedy showed nerves of steel to kick three awkward and crucial penalties just when England threatened to take control. Biggar might well have landed them too but indisputably his kicking from hand was off-colour, with some slices to touch costing Wales valuable territory.
French officials – Romain Poite took charge of the deciding Lions Test in 2017 and caused a furore by reversing a penalty decision at the death. At Stadio Olimpico, as TMO, he bizarrely ruled that Iain Henderson had lost control of the ball whilst touching down for a try that all and sundry could see was legitimate.
Related content: The Iain Henderson try that wasn’t
A couple of hours later, Pascal Gauzere eclipsed him by awarding Wales two tries that left viewers flabbergasted. If there was at least some mitigation for the knock-on misinterpretation, the way he stitched up Owen Farrell was farcical. Difficult to see either French official being involved in the 2021 Lions series should it proceed.
Think we’ve got this wrong or you would make a different call? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.
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