Monday, March 23, 2009

In BOD we trust

Having lived in Cardiff for two very enjoyable years of my life in the mid-90s and found it impossible not to get swept up in the passion and excitement that Six Nations rugby generates in that city, I usually support Wales against everyone else in the tournament bar England.

But on Saturday, I have to confess to having cheered on the Irish as they pursued their dream of a first Grand Slam in 61 years.

Partly it was down to sentiment - Wales have won their fair share of Grand Slams in that period after all - but mainly it was because Brian O'Driscoll is the greatest rugby player these islands have produced in the past 20 years (sorry Johnno and Jonny) and if anyone deserved the accolade of captaining a Grand Slam team it was him.

After a sublime Six Nations tournament, BO'D is once again in contention to captain the Lions this summer, and although his main rivals, Welshman Ryan Jones and fellow Irishman Paul O'Connell would both be perfectly adequate, I think he should have the job.

O'Driscoll, of course, has unfinished business with the Lions. I remember being in the Queen's Head for the opening Test of the last series against New Zealand. As the game got under way, the pub's rugby-mad owner, Dick Watson, called out "win it for us, Brian."

And win it he may well have done, but for the fact that, less than a minute into the game, his tour was over.

Brian was the victim of a disgraceful spear tackle by the All-Blacks Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga that could have left him paralysed or even dead and which most British rugby fans continue to believe was premeditated.

Nothing would give me greater pleasure this year than to see this great, great player join John Dawes, Willie John McBride, Finlay Calder and Martin Johnson in leading winning Lions sides.

So who else should play? Well, on the basis of performances in this year's Six Nations alone, you might select a starting XV along these lines.

15 Delon Armitage (England)
14 Tommy Bowe (Ireland)
13 Brian O'Driscoll, Capt (Ireland)
12 Riki Flutey (England)
11 Shane Williams (Wales)
10 Ronan O' Gara (Ireland)
9 Mike Phillips (Wales)
8 Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
7 David Wallace (Ireland)
6 Tom Croft (England)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
4 Paul O'Connell (Ireland)
3 John Hayes (Ireland)
2 Jerry Flannery (Ireland)
1 Gareth Jenkins (Wales)

But based on the maxim that while form is temporary, class is permanent, my Lions starting line-up would be:

15 Chris Paterson (Scotland)
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll, Capt
12 Gavin Henson (Wales)
11 Shane Williams
10 Stephen Jones (Wales)
9 Mike Phillips
8 Ryan Jones (Wales)
7 David Wallace
6 Tom Croft
5 Alun Wyn Jones
4 Paul O'Connell
3 Euan Murray (Scotland)
2 Jerry Flannery
1 Gareth Jenkins

In addition to the above names James Hook, Tom Shanklin, Dwayne Peel and Martyn Williams (all Wales) Andrew Sheridan, Matthew Tait and Ugo Monye (England), Mike Blair and Ross Ford (Scotland) and Donncha O'Callaghan (Ireland) would all make my squad.

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Ted Foan said...

Not a lot to disagree with on your picks, Paul, but where are Lee Byrne and Adam Jones. Not sure about Henson's character for a touring side and don't rate him above Shanklin and/or Tindall myself.

Are you going to any of the matches?

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Not sure about Henson Paul - yes he scores plenty, but he's such a loose cannon he tends to give away nearly as many in unnecessary fouls.

As for Ireland - as a Welshman (even if only half-Welsh) it pains me to admit it, but the Irish deserved to win having played really good rugby the entire tournament, and I hope that it will be something to cheer them all up in Ireland during these dark times that seem to be engulfing them one way and another.

stephen rouse said...

Quite agree. O'Driscoll is too good a player never to have won a Grand Slam. When Stephen Jones lined up that final kick a small part of my brain said "we wouldn't really deserve this."
Agree too he has unfinished business with the Lions and deserves more than two minutes as a test captain.
Pains me to say it, but I don't think Ryan Jones gets in ahead of Heaslip, while Mike Phillips, that last storming run against Ireland aside, was one of the key factors in Wales' disappointingly flat performances. Not sure who starts instead though.

Minekiller said...

You forgot ROG. Despite iffy form this 6N he can still deliver when it matters, as you may have witnessed last Saturday.

the spear tackle on BOD on the last Lions tour was in my view attempted murder and totally destroyed in an instant the respect I always had for the All Blacks.

Paul Linford said...

the spear tackle on BOD on the last Lions tour was in my view attempted murder and totally destroyed in an instant the respect I always had for the All Blacks.

Couldn't agree more. It is tragic that such a brilliantly gifted side felt the need to resort to such tactics.