Saturday 19 August 2017

Horgan and Howlett raise questions over Lions calls on Ringrose and Zebo

Horgan: “They may see them as luxury players but I don’t see Garry as a luxury player at all.
Horgan: “They may see them as luxury players but I don’t see Garry as a luxury player at all." Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

After the Lions unveiled their squad selection last Wednesday, prompting a different squad to be selected by every occupant of a bar stool within the British Isles, the head-scratching from without was as feverish as within.

Also, there was disquiet that the announcement would overshadow the biggest two club games of the northern hemisphere; if anything, the weekend's games have now compromised the Lions selection, particularly after Garry Ringrose's slashing slice through the Clermont defence in Lyon.

"I wonder what the conversation would have been had selection been a week later because he made a really a strong case for himself at the weekend," says Shane Horgan, a 2005 veteran of the last Lions tour to the land of the long white cloud.

"I had him in my squad and I only had 36 in it. I put him in because he is exciting. It was a toss-up between him and Jonathan Joseph.

"They may see them as luxury players but I don't see Garry as a luxury player at all. He doesn't defend like a luxury player.

"How he can break up a game, we saw it at the weekend. And then the pace he has in the secondary line is incredible.

"A huge thing about him is that he has that agility. It's a new thing and sometimes with training practices players lose that agility. Few can do it beyond 25 and retain that pace.

"Shane Williams retained it but he didn't have it off both feet and he had a winger's skill-set. Garry has it in the midfield.

"Naturally, he is predisposed to having good footwork, using that step and retaining that pace. And it is hard to see what other outside centres he has really picked."

Gatland informed us that his assistant Andy Farrell had told him that Ringrose was "going to be something special in six months' time."

In just five days, however, Ringrose would remind them both that indubitably his time is now, particularly if the Lions want to pack something a little more esoteric than bish and bosh in their luggage.

Perhaps Farrell, a defence coach, has been alarmed by perceived defensive frailties; his missed tackle numbers ran to at least two a game in the Championship for Ireland and a bad misread compounded Leinster's sloppy start in Lyon.

Horgan realises those fears exist but insists they are vastly overplayed.

"He squared up badly at the weekend for that try," Horgan concedes. "All those missed tackles may not all be straight-up misses.

"Generally, it may not be the strongest part of his game but I think it is a solid part of his game.

"His physicality is always brought up, especially in the context of New Zealand, but he has proven that is not an issue at this stage. Getting square is not physicality, that is just a bad read.

"I was talking to Brian O'Driscoll about this. He said he is playing very systematically which is a positive for a young player.

"Making extra reads can get you into trouble but it can be game-changing if you want to be become a really brilliant defender in the hardest position."

Doug Howlett, victorious winger on the 2005 All Blacks side who whitewashed the Lions, would be happy with Joseph, rather than Ringrose in his side and appreciates what his Auckland Blues successor, Jared Payne, can also offer in midfield.

Howlett is more concerned that Gatland may have missed a trick in omitting Simon Zebo after a weekend where none of the Lions wingers featured in the last four of Europe.

"Aerial skills will come under the microscope and you saw the way Simon Zebo ruled the skies at the weekend, he is capable of doing that," says Howlett.

"I haven't seen that from the other players, they are all good runners but they cannot command the air like Simon.

"And New Zealand have Israel Dagg so maybe that is something they are missing out on."

Howlett feels his team can nab one Test and win the series; Horgan reluctantly agrees but feels the Lions must be eponymously brave.

"I was confident in the autumn and then a little pessimistic after the Six Nations," adds Horgan.

"Selection will be crucial as will be intent. They need to play. They have the players but whether they can navigate all the warm-ups and keep the players together for three Tests is very, very difficult."

To win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to New Zealand to watch the All Blacks take on the Lions in two Tests in June, log on to the AIG website at www.aig.ie/the-all-blacks/aig-lions-tour-competition

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