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Dublin: 22 °C Sunday 24 June, 2018

Lions review: How did the forwards perform in New Zealand?

We’ve taken a look back at each player’s performance on the tour.

Lions' Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler after yesterday's game.
Lions' Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler after yesterday's game.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WITH THE CURTAINS being drawn on the 2017 Lions series, we’ve reflected on the performances of each of the players involved, starting with the forwards.

Each player has been marked on a scale of three stars [⭐️], from one to three.

One star represents a minimal impact on the tour, two stars signify a good tour, while three indicate that the player had a major impact for the Lions.

Mako Vunipola ⭐️⭐️

Excellent for the Lions aside from his madcap patch of poor discipline in the second Test, during which he was sin-binned and gave away four penalties as they almost threw away their opportunity against 14 men.

Vunipola’s quality around the pitch – carrying, passing and his breakdown work – gave him something extra over the other looseheads and he rewarded Warren Gatland’s faith in the final Test with a busy performance.

Jack McGrath ⭐️⭐️

Jack McGrath celebrates after the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Can consider himself unlucky not to have started that third Test after Vunipola’s disciplinary shortcomings in Wellington.

Indeed, McGrath would have liked many more minutes of game time on this tour, ending with fewer than 200 minutes but being involved in all three Tests off the bench. The Leinster man filled that role well and was particularly impressive as a replacement in the second Test, hammering into tackles in the endgame.

Joe Marler ⭐️

Had a good outing against the Chiefs aside from his yellow card and is likely to have regrets over that needless moment. Clearly played third fiddle behind Vunipola and McGrath.

Tadhg Furlong ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Still just 24, Furlong is en route to being the best tighthead in the world. He will have learned huge amounts from three more Tests against the All Blacks, particularly how Joe Moody attacked him repeatedly.

Aside from a couple of rare scrum issues, Furlong was immense for the Lions. His mobility, handling, intelligence and aggressive edge all make him more than a set-piece prop and he is almost certain to be back in four years’ time.

Kyle Sinckler ⭐️⭐️

A man who brings serious edge to his game and one of the breakout players of the tour, nudging ahead of the experienced Dan Cole to feature in all three Tests off the bench.

While his spiky nature threatens to boil over at times – and even saw team-mates holding him back after the Lions were awarded the match-winning penalty in Wellington – that feisty approach clearly appealed to Gatland. Good hands and explosive carrying too.

Dan Cole ⭐️

Dan Cole Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Had a brilliant game against the Chiefs but he was clearly the third-choice tighthead by the end of the tour. There’s something brilliantly old school about Cole, but Furlong and Sinckler are the new breed.

Jamie George ⭐️⭐️

It seems quite impossible that Eddie Jones will continue to pick Dylan Hartley ahead of Jamie George next season, with the Saracens man showing in New Zealand that he is easily good enough to start Tests.

His tackle technique is world-class, while George can also catch and pass, as well as pick the kind of running line that laid the platform for Conor Murray’s second Test try. However, George will have big regrets over a handful of crooked lineout throws in the second and third Tests.

Ken Owens ⭐️

Ended up playing very few minutes but sat on the bench for all three Tests, not quite managing to make the kind of replacement impact that might have really pressured George’s starting spot. Owens is a tough nut and possesses great skills too.

Rory Best ⭐️

Rory Best celebrates winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Praised by Gatland for his leadership of the midweek side and he remained an influence on the Test side despite not being involved. Brilliant breakdown work throughout and always abrasive, but missed a couple of lineouts against the Chiefs.

Maro Itoje ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Not starting the English wrecking ball in the first Test was one of Gatland’s big selection errors, with Itoje superb in the second and third clashes with the All Blacks.

There are still some creases to iron out – particularly the penchant for conceding avoidable penalties – but Itoje is already a monster at the age of 22. He could even be around when the Lions next tour New Zealand. Destroyed opposition mauls, smashed ball carriers and generally spoiled.

Alun Wyn Jones ⭐️⭐️

Poor in the first Test after appearing to take a damaging blow to the head and being allowed to play on, the grizzled Welshman was another to reward Gatland’s faith with a muscular performance in the second Test.

Good in the third Test too, but found himself in the midst of a head injury concern again. Passed his HIA again according to the Lions, but possibly should have been removed permanently based on the video evidence. Nine consecutive Tests for the Lions is some achievement.

George Kruis ⭐️

Looked like being a key man as the Lions’ lineout leader and was very good earlier in the tour, but will have been gutted at his display in the first Test. Uncomfortable being asked to carry and produced handling errors, while his tackling was weak. Did not feature again in the Test series.

Iain Henderson ⭐️⭐️

Iain Henderson dejected Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Ulsterman was name-checked by Gatland as being one of the most unlucky players not to enjoy Test action and he certainly comes away from this tour with his reputation greatly enhanced.

Got off to a poor start against the Provincial Barbarians but was superb otherwise, especially in a huge display against the Hurricanes. Ball-carrying back to its best. Joe Schmidt will have been encouraged.

Courtney Lawes ⭐️⭐️

The Northampton lock pushed hard for a Test start and was largely excellent in New Zealand, with his powerful tackling and sharp footwork when carrying being particularly impressive.

Had a couple of errors off the bench in the third Test, but a fine tour overall. Eddie Jones will have some job on his hands picking England’s second row next season.

Sean O’Brien ⭐️⭐️⭐️

At his best in New Zealand and a huge influence on this Lions squad as one of the main leaders. It was a major shame for Gatland’s side to lose O’Brien to a shoulder injury at half time of the decisive Test when his pure energy might have made a difference.

Leinster will be praying O’Brien’s shoulder scan comes back clear, given how he had physically looked at his peak for the Lions. Brilliant carrying, breakdown competition, work rate and communication.

Ross Moriarty ⭐️

One of the few to impress against the Provincial Barbarians on the opening match night of the tour, but never featured again due to a back injury and eventually headed home early.

Peter O’Mahony ⭐️⭐️

Peter O'Mahony Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Had the massive high of captaining the Lions in the first Test but that was followed by the low of being dropped and not featuring at all in the second or third Test.

O’Mahony was an important figure at a key time on the tour, leading the side superbly in the win over the Maori All Blacks. He stole a lineout in the first Test but couldn’t make a telling impact on the game. Gatland’s back row selections thereafter were completely vindicated.

Taulupe Faletau ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Played more minutes than any other Lions player on this tour, coming close to the 500-minute mark, and it’s obvious why he is such an important player for Gatland.

His finish in the second Test was superb, while he carried dynamically, brought inspirational work rate and was constantly clever off the ball. Made up for the absence of Billy Vunipola.

James Haskell ⭐️

While his impact on the pitch wasn’t noteworthy, Haskell was an extremely popular tourist among his fellow Lions. Bromance with Sean O’Brien was even a genuine highlight for some fans. Gatland picked him partly for his character and, in that regard, it was a wise call.

CJ Stander ⭐️⭐️

CJ Stander dejected Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Earned a Test cap and capped off a strong 40-minute shift in the third Test by aiding the try-saving tackle on Jordie Barrett in the last minute. Had some big ball-carrying performances in New Zealand as his upward trajectory continued.

Justin Tipuric ⭐️

An unlucky figure in many people’s eyes, including Gatland’s, the classy Welsh openside was good when given opportunities but never quite managed to dominate a game. Handling skills of a back and a relentless tackler, he just missed out to the superior contact skills of other back rows.

Sam Warburton ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Struggled with his fitness the start of the tour and it was a divisive shout from Gatland to restore the tour captain to his XV ahead of the second Test. Warburton was brilliant, however, and backed it up in the third Test.

As much of a breakdown menace as ever and powerful in the tackle, while his management of Romain Poite during the controversial late incident in the third Test was typical. A class act off the pitch, he made a major impact on the series.

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Murray Kinsella

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