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Irish starter looking unlikely as The42 Rugby Weekly panel pick their Lions back rows for 2021

Darren Cave, Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella also selected their starting and travelling half-backs on today’s episode, available on all usual platforms.

Tom Curry is tackled by Justin Tipuric.
Tom Curry is tackled by Justin Tipuric.
Image: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

Updated Apr 30th 2020, 9:00 PM

IT HAS UNTIL quite recently been one of Irish rugby’s areas of greatest strength, but when it came down to selecting their back rows for next summer’s Lions tour to South Africa (with the caveat of course being that things might well change in the meantime), none of Bernard Jackman, Darren Cave or Murray Kinsella foresaw an Irish player forcing his way into Warren Gatland’s starting lineup at the back of the pack.

The three lads joined Gavan Casey on Thursday’s The42 Rugby Weekly podcast for episode two of our Making the Lions series, wherein the middle five positions were up for discussion.

Bernard and Murray had last week selected very different-looking tight fives while agreeing on Alun Wyn Jones as series captain, but Darren was quick to throw the cat among the pigeons today when, with the first overall pick of the second round of Lions pods, he selected Peter O’Mahony as his starting blindside flanker for the opening Test at the home of the world champions.

O’Mahony didn’t make the plane in either Bernard or Murray’s seven-man back-row contingents, and by the end of the podcast, he sadly didn’t make Darren’s either.

Billy Vunipola was the universal choice at eight, while all three men also went with Justin Tipuric at openside.

In the half-backs, meanwhile, Bernard had no room in his touring squad for an Irish scrum-half, while all three men included Johnny Sexton among their travelling out-halves despite Gavan citing the 2018 World Player of the Year’s shaky form for Ireland over the past 14 months or so, as well as Father Time, as notes for caution.

jonathan-sexton-signs-an-autograph-for-a-fan Johnny Sexton signs an autograph for a fan on the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Starting back rows

Darren Cave (eventually): 6. Tom Curry, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Billy Vunipola
Bernard Jackman: 6. Tom Curry, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Billy Vunipola
Murray Kinsella: 6. Tom Curry, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Billy Vunipola

The full podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get yours. Here’s a snippet from the back-row discussion, beginning with Bernard disagreeing immediately with Cave’s original selection of O’Mahony as the 2021 Lions’ starting blindside:

Bernard: “I think Peter will be lucky to make the plane, to be honest. I would say [Tom] Curry or [Adam] Wainwright are probably just a little bit more dynamic — on form, anyway, this year. Peter will probably bounce back but I didn’t have Peter in my initial three [at blindside] to be honest.

Murray: “O’Mahony missed out when I was going through the options. I went for Tom Curry at six. Obviously, he can play across the back row now — he kind of silenced quite a few doubters at eight over the course of the Six Nations. I think he grew into it.

I don’t think O’Mahony’s form has been great. I think Wainwright’s a decent option — I’d probably get him on the plane — but I think Tom Curry has obviously played there for England and he just has such a complete skill set that he could do a good job there. I think you have to have him on the team — probably one of the first names. And if he’s not wearing the seven jersey, then you can get another brilliant player [Tipuric] into your back row as well.

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Bernard: “I’d start Curry, and I’d only bring two sixes. I think Courtney Lawes will double up [as a six], so I’d bring Curry and Wainwright.

“I have Tipuric at seven and I’ve [Sam Underhill] as his backup. Obviously, if Dan Leavy was to come back to form, he’d be in that picture, but I think Tipuric is a world-class footballer and gives you that bit of x-factor. Very good defensive lineout option.

“Underhill is similar to Curry — just a really athletic, hard-working, effective openside. And it could easily be Curry and Underhill starting together, to be honest. I went with just two out-and-out opensides which are Tipuric and Underhill.

tom-curry-with-the-guinness-6-nations-triple-crown-trophy England's Tom Curry. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO


I’m a big fan of Underhill as well. I think he is the one player in world rugby at the minute who has really mastered how to tackle effectively, with force, technically well, without bringing the referee into it. I think if I was a coach — which I never will be, because it’s far easier to sit on your couch and complain — he would be the guy where I’d be saying: ‘Watch how he tackles people.’ The way he tackles people around the legs, gets them to ground, gets people over the ball — he’s a definite to travel for me.

Murray: “Leavy is a really interesting one because now, with the lack of rugby, Leinster have said he’s pretty much ‘there’ with his rehab, that whenever rugby comes back he’s going to be back. So the sooner, obviously, the better for him because he’ll get a chance to build up that fitness level and contact skill, and show his quality again.

“I think, if we do get rugby back, he can tour. There are a lot of unknowns: it’s a complex knee injury. Even in terms of putting yourself in contact situations, I can only imagine… But if he can come back fully fit, I think he can be a brilliant tourist. He’d just relish that physical contest of taking on the ‘Boks. A brilliant player to push and compete with Tipuric at seven.”

To hear the lads’ full selections at back row and half-back — starters and squad members — listen to the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

In the second of a three-part series, Darren Cave, Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to select their back rows and half-backs to board the plane and face world champions South Africa next summer.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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