Lions 2013 Back row - Where Are They Now?
The fourth in a seven-part series in the run up to this summer’s selection, taking a look at the 2013 incumbents and their chances of being selected again.
2013 tour: Openside and captain of Gatland’s Wales side, who as a result of their success in 2011-13 formed the core of the Lions, was made captain for the 2013 tour. This news was big a surprise to a couple of monks in outer Mongolia and no one else. Earned his coin with two outstanding defensive performances in the first two Tests before missing the third through injury.
Since then: It’s been something of an up and down run. Peak Warburton was doubtlessly in 2013 and he’s faced a fair bit of competition for his Wales spot from Justin Tipuric. This season has seen something of a resurgence, and a move to the blindside flank while moving on from the captaincy seems to have worked wonders.
Touring chances: 99%. Warburton is favourite to take the captaincy again despite leaving it behind for Wales. A minor injury has suspiciously ruled Warburton out for ‘six weeks’, that is ‘not playing any more until the Lions tour leaves’. Funny that.
2013 tour: A searing winger masquaring as a flanker, Croft had a tendency for 50m tries, loitering out wide instead of hitting rucks, and just being fit to play in time for a Lions tour, which he did twice. Played in the first two tests, before Gatland settled decisevly on his pack’s strategy in the third, leaving no room for Croft.
Since then: Imagine you have a shovel. It is the most futuristic, technologically advanced shovel you have ever seen. It has neon lights down one side, can play all your music and shoots fireworks out of one end. It also has a tendency to go floppy and useless if you ever need to, y’know, dig a hole. Casual onlookers are very impressed by your shovel, but you know the real story. Eventually, you’re going to just call it a pillock and tell it to go back to Leicester and stop wasting everyone’s time. Tom Croft has only played in two Tests since the Lions tour, starting neither.
Touring chances: 2%. Still plagued by injuries, 31-year old Croft hasn’t shown any evidence of that temtping pace in the recent past either, and is not going to go on his third Lions tour.
2013 tour: One of the most exciting back rowers of the early part of the decade (and European player of the year in 2011), O’Brien played four club games before coming into the test side late on the tour.
Since then: Despite being an effective mainstay for Leinster and Ireland, that might be about to change. One or two injuries have been an issue, but for the most part O’Brien hasn’t quite hit the heights that he managed before the previous Lions tour.
Touring chances: 15%. At the time of writing, Peter O’Mahony is better than him and offers better balance in the back row. Despite Gatlandball’s peak being only four years ago, carryers like O’Brien are now looking a little old-fashioned. Just don’t ask me to say it to his face.
2013 tour: He had one job: Chop tackle hard and let Warburton or Alun-Wyn Jones come over the top for a turnover. He was very, very good at it and was player of the tournament for Wales in the grand slam winning campaign of 2012. Lydiate was brought in for the second and third test to lead the Lion’s defense and protect the scrum half despite there being more all-round rugby players available. In other words, Lydiate would last as long as Gatlandball and the Wales team that played it.
Since then: It hasn’t quite lasted this long. Lydiate moved to Racing Metro after his Lions success but was soon back in Wales, making increasingly sporadic appearances as Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty cemented international places after the 2015 world cup. He was left out of the Wales squad entirely for this years’ six nations.
Touring chances: 2%. Still there for Ospreys but the international game has changed and there’s better competition for that blindside spot. Ross Moriarty has eclipsed him through sheer performance and even he’s unlikely to fit on the plane.
2013 tour: Did I mention Wales were good in 2013? It’s kind of a theme. Tipuric wasn’t starting for Wales but many felt he should be doing so over the Lions captain, so it’d look silly not to take him at all. Tips was just starting to turn into the all-round ball player he’s become and was a mainstay in the midweek team, before appearing as a sub in the third test.
Since then: Has gone from strength to strength, particularly in open play. 50+ caps for Wales and is the current leading champion of youtube montages. If that’s not the mark of a world class player I don’t know what is.
Touring chances: 75%. Again, lots of competition is the only thing stopping this from being a sure bet, but if Gatland wanted him in 2013 it’s hard to see him falling afoul of the big Kiwi cuboid now.
2013 tour: Played for Wales, started the third test, what else is new and I’m beginning to regret trying to summarise this for every player. He’s good. Back then he was just ‘Toby’, but like a former member of Blazin Squad, has requested the use of his real name in order to be taken more seriously.
Since then: Has been one of the few young starlets from the 2013 tour to actually follow a typical career progression. Now aged 26, and playing for a much more fashionable club since his move from Dragons to Bath, there’s a sense that he is coming into his own.
Touring chances: 75%. A few weeks ago there were questions over his fitness, but his recent performance against Leicester at Twickenham suggested that leaving him out would be as popular as leaving your dog in a hot car at the airport. The only reason it’s as low as it is here is because I can only see two spots between him, Heaslip and Billy Vunipola.
2013 tour: Ireland captain and veteran of the 2009 tour, Heaslip was expected to start all three tests. In the end he started the first two, but still went home with plenty of credit in the bank, literally as well as figuratively.
Since then: Has left the captaincy behind him but the 33 year old remains a mainstay for both club and country. Some suggest that CJ Stander could be a better number 8 for Ireland by now, but Heaslip was still there scoring the try that won the try of the year last year. Reports of his decline have been, I would suggest, greatly exaggerated.
Touring chances: 35%. Like a few of the second rows yesterday, Heaslip remains a good player but there’s just more competition now. I’d expect him to lose his place to Billy Vunipola, so he probably needs Gatland to pick a third number 8.
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