There was Jonathan Davies, writing in the Independent on Sunday two days ago. He seemed to be genuinely distressed by his exclusion. It does not require any great feat of the imagination to see why. As I wrote a week ago and as he confirmed on Sunday, to play for the Lions was his one remaining ambition. Three-quarters of the way through the season and half-way through the Five Nations' Championship, he has been told he will not be wanted on the voyage.
If we are to believe Cotton and his fellow selectors, Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer, Davies ranks behind (in alphabetical order) Mike Catt, Craig Chalmers, Paul Grayson, David Humphreys and Gregor Townsend. If we are to believe Kevin Bowring, he also ranks behind Arwel Thomas, who likewise is not among Cotton's chosen five. This leaves us with the conclusion that, according to those set in authority over us in rugby matters, Davies is currently the seventh best outsidehalf in the British Isles. Which, as old Euclid used to say, is absurd.
But I do not want to turn this column into the Jonathan Davies Show. I come to the evidence of Gregor Townsend and Jonathan Bell on Rugby Special.
In the past I have not always been kind to this programme, partly because of its silly gimmicks, prominent among them being the practice of its presenter, John Inverdale, of wearing jerseys to which he is not, as far as I know, entitled. Despite this deplorable habit, he remains a very good interviewer, with the knack of extracting from players or administrators comments they would not normally make.
Thus Peter Winterbottom is usually taciturn and - shall we say? - a little on the surly side. Dean Richards is rather more civil but still a man of few words. Yet a couple of weeks ago Inverdale managed to get them both to say (quite independently, as far as I could tell) that as England No 8 they would prefer Ben Clarke to Tim Rodber. Whether they have changed their view after Rodber's performance against Ireland I do not know. No matter. The point is that they spoke frankly.
Last Sunday, similarly, Townsend and Bell spoke frankly about the announcement of the Lions party. Unlike Davies and Phil de Glanville, they cannot be accused of sour grapes, for they are both in the squad. Townsend said he had other things on his mind till the end of the season. Bell confirmed this feeling.
Altogether, Cotton has caused nothing but trouble: not only the unseemly spat with De Glanville about his exclusion but also the undignified squabble with Will Carling, Cotton having claimed that Carling would have made himself available had he been guaranteed the captaincy.
One might have thought that his lamentable announcement would have had yet another unfortunate consequence: that is, depriving us of the opportunity to play the rugby fans' traditional evening game of picking the Lions. But not a bit of it. On the contrary: the naming of the blessed 62 provides the opportunity to speculate on which of them will reach the final 35 and, of these, which 15 will form the Test side. Even more enjoyably, it provides the opportunity to heap curses on the heads of Cotton and his colleagues for not including our favourites in the squad already announced. It is all rather silly, because the Five Nations season is only half-way through, and matters may look entirely different in a month's time. Here, nevertheless, is my selection, based neither on absolute merit, nor on what I expect Cotton and friends to do, but on form so far in the championship: J Staples; J Sleightholme, A Bateman, S Gibbs, T Underwood; P Grayson, R Howley; G Rowntree, M Regan, J Leonard, M Johnson, S Shaw, D Corkery, S Quinnell, C Charvis.
Of these, Sleightholme, Underwood and Charvis are not even in Cotton's 62. Nor, of course, is Jonathan Davies. I cannot pick him -not because I do not want to, which I do, but because he has performed so far only as a Welsh substitute. He therefore falls outside my self-imposed terms of reference. And this is as much a criticism of Bowring as it is of Cotton.Reuse content