LionsWatch: Bolters stake a claim out wide

The British & Irish Lions touring party normally contains a few surprise inclusions who might not be in the international picture at that point in time. [more]

LionsWatch: Bolters stake a claim out wide

The British & Irish Lions touring party normally contains a few surprise inclusions who might not be in the international picture at that point in time.

Will Greenwood in 1997 was the last uncapped player to be selected for the Lions but in 2013 Warren Gatland opted to select prop Matt Stevens – who hadn’t played for England in over a year.

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There is scope therefore for players to come from left field and stake a claim and there were a number of speedsters this weekend who caught the eye ahead of Gatland’s squad announcement on April 19.

The likes of Chris Ashton, Christian Wade and Keelan Giles were left out by their respective countries during the 2017 RBS 6 Nations.

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But they served a timely reminder of their talents as attention returned to the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12.
Wade was called up to the 2013 Lions Tour as an injury replacement and appeared in the mid-week clash against the Brumbies.

But since then Wade has been left out of the England fold by both Eddie Jones and his predecessor Stuart Lancaster – despite a ridiculous try-scoring rate for Wasps.

He scored two more this weekend to stretch his lead at the top of the league try scoring charts in the league with 14 – he has scored 66 in his career from 98 starts and is still only 25.

Wasps have now qualified for the semi-finals with four rounds of games to spare and against Worcester Warriors on Sunday they were firing on all cylinders in attack.
Most defenders beaten by home nations players in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12:
Christian Wade – Wasps – 12
Mike Brown – Harlequins – 9
Tiernan O’Halloran – Connacht – 8
Chris Ashton – Saracens – 7
Keelan Giles – Ospreys – 7
Wade beat 12 defenders, made a whopping 157m with ball in hand and managed four clean breaks.

Gatland has already shown he is a fan by calling him up in 2013, could he come from nowhere to secure a wing berth in New Zealand later this year?

Another man out in the cold on the international scene is Ashton – but he was back to his best for Saracens on Sunday as they put Bath to the sword.

The England winger scored two tries in their 53-10 romp, beat seven defenders for 114m and looks to be hitting top form in time for their crunch European quarter-final clash with Glasgow Warriors this weekend.


That was enough to earn praise from Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, who believes that both Ashton and returning wing colleague Sean Maitland, a 2013 tourist who also scored a try, will be on Gatland’s radar.

"Chris was really good, you could see what a clever rugby player he is," McCall said.

"Sean Maitland on our other wing was also good and the two of them gave performances that Warren Gatland might be interested in.”

Staying in England, and Denny Solomona’s fine try record since switching codes to union at Sale Sharks continued with a breakaway try and 118m in total against Exeter Chiefs.

Meanwhile, a man who is in the international fold at the moment in Quins and Scotland flyer Tim Visser was a constant threat alongside Mike Brown against Newcastle on Saturday.

Visser worked his way back into the Scotland side in this year’s RBS 6 Nations, and scored tries in their victories over Wales and Italy, and was back at it again for his club side this weekend with 134m with ball in hand.

Meanwhile in the Guinness PRO12 Keelan Giles showed the Wales and Lions selectors what he can do with a try, 110m, seven defenders beaten and four clean breaks but the Ospreys slipped to a surprise defeat in Treviso.
Top metre makers in Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12:
Tiernan O’Halloran – Connacht – 158m
Christian Wade – Wasps – 157m
Tim Visser – Harlequins – 134m
Mike Brown – Harlequins – 133m
Sam Davies – Ospreys – 128m
Alex Cuthbert – another Welsh winger looking to get back in Gatland’s favour – beat six defenders of his own for the Cardiff Blues as they lost narrowly to Leinster while Connacht full-back Tiernan O’Halloran continued his impressive statistical season.

No-one in the Guinness PRO12 has made more metres than the Ireland full-back, who made his debut last summer against South Africa, and he was sublime on Saturday in defeat to Glasgow with 158m, and eight defenders beaten.

The competition for places in the Lions back three is incredibly deep, with current internationals like George North and Anthony Watson also back in club action last weekend.

But throw in the above bolters, and Gatland has a real headache when it comes to narrowing down his choices.
Gatland will have been delighted with the form of the two Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, on Sunday.


Both missed the start of England’s RBS 6 Nations campaigns with knee problems before returning at the back end of the Championship.

But with the Lions Tour now only two months away, they served notice of their potential on Sunday.

No 8 Billy made 25 carries at Allianz Park and came out firmly on top of his head to head battle with childhood friend and fellow Lions contender Taulupe Faletau.

While Faletau was tireless throughout with 11 carries and ten tackles, Vunipola ran riot for 65m, five defenders beaten, three clean breaks and a try in the decisive win.
Top home nations carriers in Aviva Premiership Rugby and Guinness PRO12
Tiernan O’Halloran – Connacht – 28
Billy Vunipola – Saracens – 25
Sam Davies – Ospreys – 25
Andrew Browne – Connacht – 22
Lewis Evans – Newport Gwent Dragons – 20
In the front row Billy’s elder brother Mako, a Test Lion in 2013 against the Wallabies, also impressed.

He made 11 carries and ten tackles in the victory as Saracens flexed their muscles for the season run in that will see them defend both their domestic and European crowns.
Staying in the front row and Mako’s England teammates and fellow props Ellis Genge and Dan Cole both got through impressive 80-minute shifts for Leicester Tigers on Saturday as they downed Northampton.

In the back row battle, Chris Robshaw returned from injury for Quins and both his director of rugby John Kingston and Newcastle’s Dean Richards tipped him for Lions selection.

After a near-three month injury lay-off he did not miss a beat in a romp past the Falcons that also saw Brown impress, the full-back scoring a try and making another for Marland Yarde in a dominant display.

In the Guinness PRO12, the versatile Jared Payne continued where he left off against England on his return for Ulster as he scored a try, made over 100m with ball in hand and helped the province to down Newport Gwent Dragons.

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