Straight after the Otago match yesterday, Sir Clive Woodward said that the Lions team for the First Test next Saturday was already in his mind. If it was there before yesterday's action it is a shame, because if ever a player burst through from nowhere and into Test contention it was the Welsh No 8, Ryan Jones.
He was absolutely fantastic, and considering how much we bemoaned the early loss of the great ball-carrying skills of Lawrence Dallaglio from the Lions squad, Jones is heaven-sent.
Oddly enough, Jones did not replace Dallaglio. He arrived, almost unnoticed, as a late call-up in place of Simon Taylor. But he made his presence felt in Otago and looked more than capable of having a Dallaglio-type influence on the team.
At the very least, he has surely played himself on to the bench on Saturday, but trying to read the Woodward mind is not easy. He might have picked his team but I've yet to pick mine, because there are so many difficult decisions to make in vital positions. I have the idea that Woodward will pick, or has picked, his team on reputation and past performances and not current form. Considering the confusion the first crop of games has thrown up, perhaps you can understand that.
Yesterday's performance was typical of these Lions. They were very negative in the first half and that comes from a lack of continuity, of being unsure of each other. This is one drawback of having such a large squad. They don't get to play with each other enough. No matter what you do in training, nothing replaces match pressure, and with so many players and so many different formations and partnerships to try out there is a lack of cohesion.
Once they started to get used to each in the second half there was a big difference, and that has been the pattern of the tour. Shane Williams's try brought a massive injection of confidence; suddenly everyone wanted the ball, and with Williams and Charlie Hodgson getting over the gain line it made the game so much easier. The Lions' defence was off-key in the first half but that improved, too, once they got in front. Then, when Woodward sent on some big men towards the end, you felt the power of the team.
But it is striking the balance between power and skill that is going to be crucial over the Test series. What is noticeable is that the Welsh players have this freshness about them and an awareness of how to offload and keep up the momentum, but I'm not sure how much that will influence Woodward.
He is sure to go big in the pack and try to dominate up front, and he'll be thinking 22 rather than 15. He'll definitely make full use of his bench and keep his front row replenished with fresh blood. He might start with Shane Byrne or Gordon Bulloch as hooker, but you can be sure that Steve Thompson will be on sooner or later.
Dwayne Peel is a certainty at scrum-half, and Josh Lewsey and Brian O'Driscoll are bound to be there, and rightly so. But 12 is the crucial position. Jonny Wilkinson moved there last Saturday, but he is not the answer. Is he the answer at No 10? Wilkinson has got to play against Southland on Tuesday because, in my opinion, he hasn't played himself into the Test team yet and he needs another game at least. Then again, none of the outside-halves has made a cast-iron claim yet, but on pre-Tour form Stephen Jones is still the best choice.
Gavin Henson has all the dash and ability to do a great job, but they need an out-and-out target player at inside-centre and I would take a chance on switching Josh Lewsey there. He has played very well so far, an utter professional, and he could get the Lions over the gain line with the frequency they need. I'm slightly worried about the tactics the Lions have been playing behind. They are tending to play lateral and wide. When they're doing that they are not getting over the gain line, and as a consequence are making it even harder for their back row.
The back row is another area where I can't make up my mind. I thought Martin Corry was a cert for No 8 until I saw Jones yesterday. It wouldn't do any harm to have Jones's ball-carrying ability at No 6, because he has the advantage over Richard Hill in that department.
Other players are putting their hands up. Danny Grewcock has been playing well and so has Geordan Murphy, while Shane Williams still offers that magic. Perhaps we will know more about Woodward's intentions when he announces his team for the match against Southland.
Meanwhile, I'm not happy about the refereeing. There is no doubt the decisions have been favouring the provincial sides so far. They tend to balance out by the end of the game, but at key moments and at crucial times the decisions seem to be going against the Lions. I would expect Woodward to let everyone know that he will be watching very carefully when the Tests come along. Let the mind games begin.
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