With 4 matches gone, and 4 matches won, the Lions squad look to have good fitness and a variety of strong options in the attacking line-up. Let's not gloss over the fact that three of the matches so far have done little to prepare the Lions for what will greet them on the 22nd thus far, with the only intense workout being last Saturday, against Quade and the Reds. The Lions marched on through that worryingly tense match, with a well-taken try from Ben Youngs and a dominant forward effort, marshalled by captain Warburton.
The other three matches, well what can you say? The drunk Barbarians, the depleted Force and the Combined Country XV that, in hindsight, weren't very combined. However I would like to mention their very valiant, tenacious effort, especially in defence, to marginalise the Lions score, when at half-time, the chips were really down and it looked as if the score could potentially hit the triple figures. Outstanding performances came from Sean O'Brien, with 20 carries and Stuart Hogg, who slotted into the fly-half shirt like a key in it's designated lock, and the one and only Prince of the Northern Hemisphere, Brian O'Driscoll. Surely O'Driscoll is a shoe-in for the tests, he is so comfortable on the ball, has an eye for a gap, and is just one of those players who gets in the right place at the right time, which is exactly what the Lions will need in the three tests. Remember his glorious score the last time the Lions visited Australia? Woweee!
So we look on to the Waratahs match on Saturday, hopeful of an upping in the intensity, and a higher skill-set and ball retention from the Lions boys. One would assume that Mr. O'Driscoll, North and Halfpenny will play no part in the next two matches, so the final chance will come to the boys who are attempting to make the test team for the first test match of the British and Irish Lions 2013.
On to the tests:
Like every person associated with rugby union at the moment, I will select the team that I would if I was Gatland on Thursday week.
Fullback- Halfpenny: in imperious goal kicking form and although Hogg played fantastically today, he cannot oust the man who hasn't missed a tackle in almost 2 years.
Right wing- Maitland- defensively solid, gas to burn and a real team player who makes space for others. Of course if Tommy Bowe recovers in time then he will start.
Outside centre- Brian O'Driscoll- absolutely no question about this, although his rival Jonathan Davies has done well, he has not done as well as this man!
Inside centre- Tuilagi- runs harder than Roberts, has better offloading than Roberts and scores more tries than Roberts. Roberts had a good game, undeniably, against a weak Barbarians team, and was absolutely nowhere today, I forgot he was even on the pitch.
Left wing- North. Has broken the most tackles so far and made some unbelievable runs, and his competition is limited compared to him.
Fly-half- Sexton because he's better than Farrell in every department
Scrum-half- Ben Youngs- similar to the Tuilagi argument- Phillips has played well against a weak BaaBaas side, and Youngs played exceptionally against a stronger Reds side. Clarity will be provided when Phillips plays on Saturday. Murray is good, but not in the frame due to his lack of form in comparison.
Loosehead prop- Vunipola- injuries to the other looseheads mean that Mako is in the driving seat and hasn't done anything wrong on this tour so far. Good ball carrier. Weak point is scrummaging, again, this will come under scrutiny on Saturday
Hooker- Youngs- people criticise his throwing but he didn't lose a lineout in the match vs the Reds. The other two haven't impressed me as much. Not only throwing, but he is also a strong ball carrier and big-hitter.
Tighthead prop- Adam Jones- Gatland's game plan will be to put the Wallabies to the sword up front, and Jones is a stronger scrummager, so he'll get the nod over Cole and Stevens.
Left lock- Geoff Parling- although normally a 5, he has been the form lock along with O'Connell, stealing 4 lineouts against the Reds. With a chap like Geoff in the team, the lineout will be sured up and this selection would smooth over a potential crack in the team.
Right lock- O'Connell- plays with his heart in his sleeve and this passion will rub off on other players and help guide the Lions to a series win Down Under. He's also a very, very good player.
Blindside Flanker- Sean O'Brien- big carrier, makes gainline ground which could be key for getting quick ball for the halfbacks to feed off.
Openside- Warburton- Will need a big game on Saturday but Gatland strikes me as a man who won't like being wrong, so even in the great form of his Wales pal Tipuric, Warburton is still favourite I think.
Number 8- Heaslip- shown terrific form and like O'Brien, can be a useful carrier around the park.