Old stagers thrust themselves into Lions limelight

Six Nations ending has shifted the nations' rugby focus to the Lions tour this summer

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The end of the Six Nations has shifted the home nations' rugby focus firmly onto the Lions tour this summer, and with it has come an abundance of speculation over who will be selected. A favourite selection debate is that surrounding 'bolters', i.e. those players who are uncapped at international level, but are playing well enough, or offer something different enough, to make the Lions plane anyway.

There is another group of players who have the potential to add plenty to the tour, but who get rather less media limelight: the OAPs of the game. The old stagers who are in the twilight of their career, but would certainly be available for a month long summer tour.

The Heineken Cup games this weekend reminded us that several such players still have plenty to offer.

Paul O'Connell was imperious for Munster. He is 33, and has missed most of the season through injury. Prior to last weekend, he wasn't in many people's Lions squads, but all of a sudden, after a performance full of power and passion, he is back in everyone's thoughts.

He carried with aggression, made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown winning turnovers and soared in the line-out to disrupt any platform Harlequins had. This was the O'Connell of old, the one Quins head coach Conor O'Shea was referring to after the game when he called him 'arguably the greatest Ireland lock ever'.

Jonny Wilkinson, who, let's be honest, is never far away in a Lions selection debate, was superb for Toulon in guiding the French league leaders to victory over Leicester. His game management and control were exemplary. And as the Aussies can tell you, when the clock's ticking down, and you need someone to step up and take a drop goal, there is no-one in world rugby you would rather have sitting back in the pocket than Wilko. It doesn't even matter which foot he uses.

For Clermont, whose pack smashed and bullied Montpellier's into submission before their backs let loose, Nathan Hines was again fantastic. At 36 he continues to defy the years with performances brimming with not just power and aggression, but also some deft touches with ball in hand.

Of course, given that Wilkinson and Hines are based in France there is another dilemma to consider. Playing as they are for the top two teams in the Top 14, they are likely to be involved in the final, which clashes with the Lions' opening game against the Barbarians. Would they be allowed to miss either game? Hines could tell you all about this dilemma - in 2009 he left his team, Perpignan, to join the Lions, and whether directly or not it contributed to his leaving the French club. But that is a debate for another time entirely.

So there are lots of extenuating circumstances to consider, but it has to be said that if they are playing better than the other contenders in their positions then they have to be picked. Wilkinson's case is particularly strong as the options at fly-half are reasonably thin - do the likes of Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell bring that much more to the party than he does? Other than youthful exuberance, that is debatable.

Follow Jamie on Twitter - @jhosie43

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