Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The good littl'uns

There's been a bit of commentary on the upcoming Lions tour to South Africa along the lines of: 'shame England aren't doing well, as the Lions usually rely on the big English forwards'. I think even Jonathan Davies said something along these lines.

Well, what about the two most successful Lions teams of all time, to NZ in 1971 and SA in 1974? England had pretty poor representation and certainly didn't dominate the forward selections.

In 1971 of the party of 33, 6 were English and 3 Englishmen made it into the test team: Peter Dixon (wing forward), Dai Duckham (wing) and John Pullin (hooker).

In 1974 of the party of 32 there more English than three years previously, 9, but only Roger Uttley (wing forward) and Fran Cotton (prop) could command a Test place.

In both these tours it was the relatively small, mobile and technically accomplished Celtic props (OK, along with Fran Cotton in '74) who really provided the platform for victory: Mighty Mouse MacLachlan and Sean Lynch.

Moreover, if you take the most successful (and entertaining) tour of the last 30 years, to SA in 1997, when England had already begun their era of dominance, it was again the Celts who dominated the pack.

The 1997 Test team had Tom Smith and Paul Wallace at prop, Keith Wood (the raging potato) at hooker, and Jeremy Davidson and some bloke called Martin Johnson at lock. This lot were pretty lightweight compared to the Boks but very mobile and skilful. And it's SA again this year.

Interestingly I don't think anyone would have predicted the '97 Test line-up at the beginning of the tour - the players emerged as the tour proceeded. (Which makes Woodward's pre-tour selection of the Test team in 2005 look even more foolish).

So do not fret - a shortage of quality Englishmen is far from unprecedented and is usually a very positive indicator. Let's hope the littl'uns come good again this time. (Mind you, Gethin Jenkins is over 19st).

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