With selection for the first Test at the forefront of everyoneâ€™s minds, and selection just two days away, now seems the perfect opportunity to rate how each of our British & Irish Lions has fared so far.
A perfect opportunity for those who have caught up with the tour late and want to catch upon how our boys have been doing, or indeed for those who just love a good old fashioned rating out of ten.
Fifteen Rugbyâ€™s Lions Tour Ratings:
Leigh Halfpenny â€“ 9.5
Halfpenny has been practically faultless all tour, he has scored a few lovely tries and missed only one kick throughout the tour. If we were to be super critical then he could perhaps get involved in general play but frankly he has been magnificent.
Rob Kearney â€“ 7
His hamstring injury has reduced him to just one start and one appearance off the bench, his start coming in todayâ€™s 14-12 defeat to the ACT Brumbies. However, despite the loss, Kearney was one of the Lions standout players and a man that the coaching staff clearly trusts implicitly.
Stuart Hogg â€“ 7
It feels almost wrong to rate Hogg at present, he has played a huge amount on tour but has twice been asked to start at fly half, a position he has not played since school. From full back his play has been very good and he had a good game at ten against Combined Country. Will cop some flack for todayâ€™s defeat but in our view it was simply just unfair to throw in a 20 year old at fly half, where he does not play, against the best team in super rugby and for him to be asked to lead a backline that had only met for one training session â€“ he can hardly be blamed for the ball he was given either.
Tommy Bowe â€“ 8
Was having an outstanding tour before injury struck and was surely heading for the Test team. That he has been retained in the squad despite not even being certain of a return to fitness by the second Test shows just how important he is.
Simon Zebo â€“ 8
Has only played a game and a half since arriving as injury cover for Bowe but has been sufficiently impressive to be in genuine contention for a Test place. Has brought energy and a further sense of fun to the squad as well, a valuable asset.
George North â€“ 9
One of the stand-out players on tour before his hamstring injury stalled his progress. His 80-metre run against the Reds will live long in the memory and Gatland will be crossing everything to get him fit for Saturday â€“ Dr James Robson will have free drinks all over the UK and Ireland if he manages to.
Sean Maitland â€“ 8
Was a â€˜9â€™ right up until he got outpaced against the Waratahs at the weekend, the suspicion is that it had as much to do with the fact that he was on his third game in a row as it did any perceived weakness. Was a surprise inclusion for many but he may well have played himself into the Test team ahead of Alex Cuthbert (or alongside him if North is out).
Alex Cuthbert â€“ 7
A mixed tour so far for the gas man, Cuthbert started the tour with a bang as he crossed for a brace against the Barbarians. His finishing cannot be questioned but some questions have been raised about his defence, particularly after the game against the Reds. Will not want to face Luke Morahan again.
Christian Wade â€“ 5
Harsh to mark him, harsher to mark so low, however in his one game things did not go well at all. The list of excuses for that is nearly as long as his flight was though. Reserve all judgement until he has settled.
Shane Williams â€“ 5.5
Like Wade it is harsh to mark him and even harsher for it to be so low. Like Wade though he just could not get involved. Earns a slightly higher mark because his 3 day presence has definitely added something to the squad off the field, players are visibly excited to have him around. Leaves tomorrow though.
Manu Tuilagi â€“ 7
Looked really good against the Force in tandem with Oâ€™Driscoll and they look to have struck up a good relationship. Injured early against the Reds and has not featured since, still in with a shout for Test selection though.
Jonathan Davies â€“ 9
Davies has had an exceptional tour so far and one could argue that even if everyone were fit that he would be pushing Oâ€™Driscoll seriously hard for the 13 shirt. As it is he looks set to partner the great Irishman, deservedly so.
Brian Oâ€™Driscoll â€“ 8.5
The man they call BOD has yet to do anything exceptional on his fourth Lions tour, however everything he has done has been good and he often looks a class apart when it comes to handling, timing and awareness of space. Committed almost to a fault.
Jamie Roberts â€“ 7
Roberts started the tour well and then seemed to have a few games where nothing really seemed to happen for him. He is a big game player though and would have been a certainty for Saturday had he not injured his hamstring. There will be another round of drinks for Dr Robson if he can sort Roberts out for the second Test.
Brad Barritt â€“ 6
Like all of the others who have only just been called up, it is harsh to judge Barritt. Was the best of the newcomers against the Brumbies though, doing exactly what you would expect of him.
Billy Twelvetrees â€“ 5
Started his first game against the Brumbies today after being called up last week but he found the going tough. Should probably have taken the responsibility to help Hogg inside him more but again, it is harsh to point the finger really.
Owen Farrell â€“ 7
After his reaction to Schalk Britsâ€™ punch in Hong Kong drew a little ticking off from the coaches, Farrell has actually played rather well. He has been magnificent when kicking for goal and has done his utmost to play flat and to use his runners wisely. He is not Jonny Sexton but we already knew that.
Jonny Sexton â€“ 7.5
Maybe harsh to give him a similar mark to Farrell when we have just said that Farrell is no Sexton but then we apply different standards to Sexton, perhaps unfairly. He was outstanding against the Force in the first week, since then his tour has mainly been about keeping things ticking over whilst trying to shield him from the firing line as much as possible. Vital for the Lions prospects.
Conor Murray â€“ 6
Murray has had some excellent moments on tour and some where he has looked as though he is just trying too hard. He is in a tough position though, he knows he is there in almost a â€˜Mike Phillipsâ€™ reserveâ€™ role, however he needs to stick to his strengths as they are what got him here. Perhaps a touch harsh.
Mike Phillips â€“ 7
Very, very good against the Barbarians but he has been quiet since then. As with Sexton though, the feeling is that this has more to do with the Lions trying to manage his game time and avoid any injuries, particularly after his knee troubles on the flight back form Hong Kong, which still appear to require icing.
Ben Youngs â€“ 7.5
Youngs has been the most dangerous of the scrum halves, certainly since they arrived in Australia, and is unfortunate that the Lions gameplan seems to revolve around starting Mike Phillips otherwise he would be pushing very hard indeed for a start. Struggled against the Brumbies, however he can justifiably blame his forwards for that â€“ as can the rest of the backline.
Mako Vunipola â€“ 9.5
Vunipola has been one of the stars of the tour, that the absence of Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins is not nearly as much of a worry as we anticipated is purely down to Vunipola. His carrying has been immense though his scrummaging has yet to be truly tested, we have to assume it has been in training though.
Alex Corbisiero â€“ 7.5
Called up as cover and eventually as a replacement for Cian Healy and has performed well without being spectacular. His scrummaging has been strong enough thought that he is seen as a genuine starting possibility for the 1st Test if the management decides that Vunipola would be better used as an impact sub, will be in the 23 regardless.
Ryan Grant â€“ 6
Has not had many opportunities since he replaced the injured Gethin Jenkins. Started against the Brumbies today and without doing much wrong, he was part of a forward pack that disappointed in the extreme.
Rory Best â€“ 4
The key skill of a hooker in the modern game is their lineout work and on that count Best has failed, badly. In his defence, the lineout has generally been poor regardless of the man wearing the number two shirt, however with Best at the helm it has been worse. Against the Brumbies it hit the lowest of all lows. His work in the loose should never be underestimated but unfortunately it does not save him from our frustration.
Tom Youngs â€“ 8
What a year the Leicester Tiger has had, and it just keeps getting better. Destructive and dominant in the loose, Youngs has also been the most consistent lineout operator among the hookers. Potentially he has a weakness at scrum time, but he will definitely be in the 23 and is a strong candidate to start.
Richard Hibbard â€“ 7
Came on tour as the overwhelming favourite to start at hooker, he is now about 50/50 with Youngs, though that is more down to Youngsâ€™ form than Hibbardsâ€™. Lineout work has been inconsistent, but he is a good ball carrier and excellent at the scrum. Impressed when he came on against the Brumbies. Not many who played in that could say the same.
Dan Cole â€“ 6.5
We had high hope for Dan Cole on this tour but so far he has not quite lived up to them. That is not to say that he has not done his job though. Cole has been quietly efficient without ever truly challenging Adam Jonesâ€™ Test place. He will definitely be on the bench though and he has the ability to be a game changer when he comes on.
Matt Stevens â€“ 6
Stevens has played a lot of rugby on tour but has always come off the field giving the impression that the Test team is a step beyond him. That said, he has done little wrong, bar a poor dropped ball last week, and has undoubtedly been one of the most charismatic tourists. A valuable squad member.
Adam Jones â€“ 7
Jones has not played a lot of rugby at all on tour but he has quietly gone about his business and appears to have held of the threat of Dan Cole to his starting place. His scrummaging has yet to be tested much but he will be relishing the challenge of trying to put the Wallaby scrum under pressure.
Richie Gray â€“ 6.5
It has been an up and down tour for the giant Scot. At times he has shown some of his outstanding running game and surprisingly subtle hands, but at times he has also looked like a man desperately short on games (which he is). It is a measure of his quality though that he is still regarded as a possibility for a bench spot.
Alun Wyn Jones â€“ 8
The Osprey was disappointed with his early contributions on tour, though the rest of us though they were not too shabby, however his performance against the Waratahs was outstanding and firmly cemented his place in the Test team. Outstanding work rate, passion, leadership and some good lineout work.
Ian Evans â€“ 6.5
Like Gray, Evans has had his moments on tour but also had some slightly anonymous periods. He will not be in the Test squad but he is a valuable member of the touring party. Ask any of the Lions and they will tell you he has been one of the off field stars of the tour, that is no damning with faint praise either, it is a valuable asset on a Lions tour.
Paul Oâ€™Connell â€“ 9.5
Brilliant. Has shown anyone who had any doubt about his ability/right to be on this tour that they are absolutely wrong. Excellent every time he has started, he was even better against the Reds from the bench, showed true leadership and desire just when the Lions needed it. Test Match Animal.
Geof Parling â€“ 8
Parling has been very impressive despite having very little game time. He always makes a difference to the lineout and is clearly a leader in the squad, if anyone saw him talking to the team after the loss to the Brumbies they will know exactly what we mean. He will almost certainly be on the bench for the First Test.
Dan Lydiate â€“ 7.5
It is only when you re-watch Lydiate in action that you appreciate what he does. There is very little flashiness to his game but he tackles everything, hits every ruck, and protects his scrum half like it is his child. If there is bridging to be done, he does it, it a one-yard run is needed, he makes it, if a tackle needs assisting, he assists. His lack of match fitness was apparent early on but not any more.
Tom Croft â€“ 8
Croft has not played a lot of rugby on this tour but the impression is that it is because Gatland wants him to be as fresh as possible for the Tests. His try against the Waratahs was an example of just how devastating he can be with the ball in hand, on that count no other back row forward in the world can compete with him. Needs to make sure that he does not neglect his primary duties as a flanker though.
Sean Oâ€™Brien â€“ 8
Oâ€™Brien has had a really excellent tour, his ball carrying has been outstanding and against Western Force we saw a side of his game that we have rarely seen before, his handling skills â€“ they were excellent. His performance slipped a little against the Brumbies, hence he slips from an 8.5/9 down to an 8, but he has still been mightily impressive.
Sam Warburton â€“ 7.5
Has a Lions captain ever been under more pressure to perform? His rivals have been in excellent form, while Warburton had been written out of the Test side before he had even played a game. He was a touch of the pace against the Reds but had an excellent game against the Waratahs. He will start, and deservedly so.
Justin Tipuric â€“ 8
Tipuric was excellent against the Barbarians and again against Combined Country but he struggled in a tough battle against the Brumbies. He will be very unfortunate to miss out on a Test spot but so will the entire Lions back row that miss out. He has skills that are the envy of most backs though and if he started it would not weaken the side at all.
Jamie Heaslip â€“ 9
Heaslip has come in for a lot of criticism but it seems to us that a lot of it is based on the fact that he had such a poor Six Nations. He has been really very good on this Lions tour and has a wonderful balance to his game. He carries brilliantly and has tremendous footwork, as he showed against the Force, yet he is also capable of putting in a tidy shift in the tight as he showed against the Waratahs. Turns over a lot of ball too and will almost certainly start.
Toby Faletau â€“ 8.5
Faletau is one of the games ultimate tidy up men, whenever there is a problem Faletau is first on hand to clean it up and that is an invaluable quality. He was one of very few to come out of the Brumbies game with any credit in the bank and he has been that way all tour. His fault is perhaps that he does not real posess any game-breaking qualities, however every team needs men who just get through a workload. Fifteen game-breakers are no use if they have nobody putting in the grunt. Set to be one of the most unfortunate men on tour.
Those are the Fifteen Rugby ratings for the Lions tour so far, let us know what you think, we are sure that plenty of you will disagree but we would love to hear why and about whom!