I love the Lions. It truly encapsulates everything I love about being a rugby player: playing hard and touring. However I have some mis-givings about this years tour. I am not a professional rugby player, but I am a proud rugby player and fan. These are just a few views of mine and they will continue during the Tour.
Firstly, the squad. Yes, Warren Gatland was the right choice as head coach. Yes, he was always going to show a slight bias towards the Welsh, but I think he has gone for too many Welsh players. The main point of contention for me is the captaincy. Surely you should pick a guy who is guaranteed to start the Tests and actually enjoys being a leader. I am not sure Sam Warburton is either of those. There is no doubt he is an outstanding openside, but currently, I feel, not as good as Justin Tipuric or Chris Robshaw. Therefore picking him as captain has hamstrung Gatland a little. Tipuric was outstanding against the Ba-bas, hence making the situation more difficult. I believe the captaincy should have gone to either Brian O'Driscoll or Paul O'Connell. Proven leaders, guaranteed Test starters, inspirational men, just what is needed in a country (Australia) that loves nothing more than beating the Brits. Also, Dan Lydiate, although an outstanding player, should not be on tour. If I was Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood or Kelly Brown, I'd be scratching my head as to what more I could've done to go on tour. Welsh bias.
Secondly, the effect playing for the Lions seems to have. Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips have been poor by their high standards, but in the Lions shirt, something changes. The pride in playing for this team seems to lift their game to an incredible level and almost makes them unstoppable by the opposition. It is brilliant to see and hopefully they will continue it to Oz.
Thirdly, attitudes. Owen Farrell's was so poor in getting Schalk Brits, his club teammate, sin binned. Yes, we all love to wind the opposition up, but then laughing and applauding the yellow card!? GROW UP. I, even as a proud Scotland rugby fan, rate Farrell pretty highly, but he is temperamental and in the Tests will be punished by James O'Connor from the tee, should he give kickable penalties away. Contrast that to how Jonny Sexton has grown up since his childish screaming at Ronan O'Gara a few years ago, to an accomplished international quality fly half. Maybe there is hope for Farrell.
So who would I pick for the first test at the moment, purely on the evidence of this game? Difficult as what was nothing more, really, than a commercial exercise by HSBC, but a good (ish) run out. Richie Gray and Stuart Hogg might be pushing for a Test bench place, not sure they will start. Jamie Roberts, Justin Tipuric, O'Connell, Phillips and Adam Jones, provided they stay fit, must start.
As ever all feedback welcome.