Sean O’Brien Picks His British & Irish Lions Test Back-Row As Things Stand
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British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is set to unleash his third different back-row combination in as many games on Wednesday as he slowly builds towards a Test side and figures out one of the most competitive areas in the squad.
Tadhg Beirne was a standout against Japan before Hamish Watson stepped up and got man of the match against the Stigma Lions on Saturday evening. Now on Wednesday, you’ve got Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Sam Simmonds all coming in for their first starts.
And we haven’t even mentioned guys like Toby Faletau and Courtney Lawes who came off the bench against Japan and started on Saturday.
Sean O’Brien knows what it means to start a big Test match for the Lions in the back-row with five caps to his name, and he was asked who he thinks should start the Tests on Episode 3 of the special Lions edition House of Rugby this week, and he offered up some interesting observations.
“You saw yesterday, looking at Hamish [Watson] – you’d say he’s there, thereabouts now but then [Tom] Curry like, we know what he’s been about the last two years and [Wednesday] is gonna be his first game for the Lions. Competition is mega there at the minute, absolutely mega,” O’Brien said.
“My mind is changed a little bit now, I think Hamish has put his hand up but I think the way Tom was playing, he was just untouchable in terms of his physicality, his turnover rate, and Gats is gonna look at this stuff.
“It’s like Tadhg Beirne at six, no one has said much about him at six but he has the most turnovers in the Six Nations for instance. He’s effective in what he does, he’s a nuisance around the place.
“Like, would you have Watson and Curry together? Probably not to be fair because you’re gonna miss out on someone like Courtney [Lawes] who can be another lineout option, especially given what way we’re going to play in these Tests which is going to be confrontational, first and foremost.
“And you want to dominate your set-piece and have weight there.”
But at the end of the day who does O’Brien go with to start?
“I think the back-row for the first Test is going to be Curry (7), Faletau (8) and Tadhg Beirne (6),” O’Brien said.
“I’d pick that based on currently what’s happened. And then I’d have definitely Hamish on the bench and a back-row/second-row probably.”
2009 British and Irish Lions Test started, Tom Croft was also on this week’s show, and he reckons having a big selection headache is a good thing for Warren Gatland and his coaching ticket.
“The best place that Gats can be in a few weeks’ time picking a Test team is not having a clue which way to go,” Croft said.
“It’s great in terms of competition in the squad and it stops there being a divide. You don’t want the veg off disappearing on a midweek jolly cos the Test team are playing. You want competition until the Friday night.”