Mark Reason: My Lions all Beast, not Beauty; men of destruction, hard yards, character

England's Dylan Hartley and Jamie George  both make Mark Reason's Lions squad as hard men of character.
Peter Cziborra/ Reuters

England's Dylan Hartley and Jamie George both make Mark Reason's Lions squad as hard men of character.

OPINION: This will not be a Lions squad capable of playing the beautiful game. Even the great team of 1971 won some of the test matches by playing hard, physical rugby. Warren Gatland will need ugly men, rugby players who annihilate space and choke the ball. There is no point even pretending he can beat New Zealand at its own game.

The All Blacks want you to come at them, because they thrive on turnover ball. Their whole game is based on fast ball movement and dynamic runners. They want you to kick the ball back at them, because Beauden Barrett is one of the best of all time at running from the backfield and Ben Smith is no slouch either.

But no rugby team has ever been built without some sacrifice. This All Blacks team says we will score more points than you, and they need to, because some of their defending is none too flash. The front row is lightweight and vulnerable, the back row can be caught out by inside angles and the 9 and 10 are poor defenders in their channel by international standards.

Two world class captains are required, so Dylan Hartley must be on the plane.
Henry Browne

Two world class captains are required, so Dylan Hartley must be on the plane.

So Warren Gatland's selection, which will be revealed in the early hours of Thursday morning, has to include men who hold onto the ball in contact and who know when to abort a pass because it is too high risk. It has to include men who are gnarly. And crucially, it has to include at least two world class captains, which is why Dylan Hartley must be on that plane.

* Smith: Lions fans best in the world
Warburton set to captain Lions
Barnes: ABs are rugby's Mt Everest
'Lions need cover for Warburton'
SBW set to face old NRL foe in Lions


Okay, so here's a quiz question for you. Who captained the Lions in the second test 12 years ago after the infamous spear tackle removed Brian O'Driscoll from the tour? The only search engine allowed is your brain. And the answer is: Gareth Thomas.

That won't be good enough this time around. You could argue that Alun Wyn Jones could do a job, but we're not in Australia for goodness sake. The Aussies four years ago may just be the weakest frontline opposition the Lions have played against. And they still only scraped home.

So if Sam Warburton is named as captain, as expected, then Hartley has to come. Warburton broke down four years ago and he is currently also recovering from treatment. The odds are that he won't make the end of the tour. Lions captains in New Zealand tend to be an endangered species. It will be an attritional tour which is why Gatland may take a man or two more than the 37 he chose last time.

Welsh captain Sam Warburton will be doing well to get through an arduous tour.
Peter Cziborra

Welsh captain Sam Warburton will be doing well to get through an arduous tour.

But at least this Lions squad, a balance largely of England, Ireland and Wales, in that order, should be good enough to contest the series. Clive Woodward took a lot of flak back in 2005, some of it deserved. But he took a squad of players who were either over the hill or not good enough.

Ad Feedback

The rugby hall of fame is not likely to include men like Gordon Bulloch, Julian White, Andy Titterell, Shane Byrne, Donncha O'Callaghan, Simon Taylor, Gareth Cooper, Michael Owen (wasn't he a footballer?), Ollie Smith, Josh Lewsey, Iain Balshaw, Chris Cusiter and Shane Horgan. Yet they were all Lions in 2005.

Gatland has a much, much stronger group to pick for although very sadly it looks like Rob Kearney is unlikely to go because of injury. He would have been my starting fullback. He made a mess of Ben Smith in the air in Chicago and he was able to pick the sort of inside lines that fractured the All Blacks defence.

Warren Gatland guided the Lions to a series victory in Australia in 2013.
David Rogers/ Getty Images

Warren Gatland guided the Lions to a series victory in Australia in 2013.

It was a match, thanks to the brilliance of Joe Schmidt, that will have given Gatland many clues on how the Lions should go about things. Indeed, if Schmidt had been made Lions coach I might even have given them an even chance of winning the series.

In Chicago, Ireland always doubled up or smothered the tackled player and their support players concentrated on shutting off the offload. New Zealand hardly ever got the ball out of the tackle. On almost the only two occasions they succeeded, they scored tries.

Ireland opened with a variety of fake lineout plays. They were always giving New Zealand different looks, making it hard for them to get set. They usually passed behind to deeper runners who had time to secure the ball like an American running back, treasuring possession. And they were prepared to kick the ball off the pitch, to shut down New Zealand's backfield, run down the clock and make the game less a test of fitness.

Schmidt knows that trying to beat New Zealand at their own game is insanity. It is one of the great con jobs of all time, but one that has worked with such devastating effect as to make New Zealand the supreme masters of Super Rugby. At least the Stormers had the sense to somewhat mimic Ireland when they beat the Chiefs.

Eddie Jones put his finger on it, as he so often does, when he said, "The thing that really annoys me about rugby at the moment is that everyone tries to copy New Zealand so they play as New Zealand play, stand where New Zealand stand, as if we've got to try to emulate them. Why?

"Come up with your own game — that is what England are trying to do. Everything is about coming up with a game to make the All Blacks uncomfortable, to develop a style that gives other teams an opportunity to play differently to them."

Gatland's selection needs to make New Zealand uncomfortable. It is why I have no time for locks like Joe Launchbury and Jonny Gray, in my squad, brave men, good men, but men who make passive tackles and don't smash you over the gain line.

I want destruction. I want the hard yards close in. I want men who can challenge in the air and on the ground. I want men of character. I want a squad like this.

Mark Reason's Lions squad: L Halfpenny, S Hogg, L Williams; E Daly, T Seymour, S Zebo, G North; R Henshaw, J Davies, J Joseph, J Payne; J Sexton, O Farrell, F Russell; C Murray, R Webb, B Youngs; M Vunipola, J McGrath, C Healy, K Sinckler, D Cole, T Furlong; D Hartley, K Owens, J George; M Itoje, G Kruis, A Wyn Jones, C Lawes, D Ryan, B Vunipola, T Faletau, CJ Stander, P O'Mahony, S Warburton, J Tipuric, C Robshaw

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback