One of the most interesting elements of a Lions squad announcement each tour is the selection of what is referred to as a ‘bolter’. The bolter tends to be a suprise player in a squad that tends to be full of the established stars of the home nations.
Bolters in the past have ranged in what makes them a surprising selection. From having little to no international experience, such as Will Greenwood in 1997, to simply being someone nobody saw being picked, like Jason Robinson who was picked after only 3 England games for the 2001 tour.
Essentially the bolters add an element of surprise to the squad and give the opposition and host nation of the tour an unknown element to contend with on the pitch. The selection of Robinson for example on the 2001 tour was certainly was not something the Australians had prepared for. At least one can presume given Chris Latham’s defense of the speedster in the first test they had not!
The Lions tour bolter in 2013’s was arguably winger Shaun Maitland. Having only made his Scotland debut in the Six Nations that year he was the most inexperienced member of the squad in terms of international experience. Hoping to make the tour again this time around, in the country of his birth, Maitland has considerably more international experience this time around.
So who could be the Lions bolter this series coming? Well here are three, we at Pundit Arena could make the cut…
With only one England cap to his name, on tour to Argentina in 2013, and having been once again overlooked this Autumn for the England set up under Eddie Jones, Christian Wade would be an ideal Lions bolter.
Doubts over his defence have always seen Wade overlooked at international level despite his phenomenal attacking qualities and blistering pace and this is certainly an area of the game the Wasps man has looked to improve in over the last year or so. His selection would certainly raise eyebrows considering his lack of international rugby but like Robinson in 2001, the attacking prowess he possesses would make him a lethal weapon against the best team in the world.
His X factor talent could be enough to just see him sneak selection ahead some of the more established international wingers in the British and Irish isles at the moment. It should also be noted in Wade’s case that he was an injury call up to the 2013 Lions squad which was also led by Warren Gatland, this season’s Lions coach.
Whether this helps his case or not is yet to be seen but one thing is for sure- nobody in the British isles would complain if Wade skipped around Ben Smith next summer in the way Robinson did against Chris Latham…
Another Wasps player (I don’t even support them!), Robson has been in absolutely terrific form over the last 18 months. Having shown his potential at Gloucester as Greg Laidlaw’s understudy, Robson moved to Wasps last year in a move that may have seemed odd to many considering Wasps already had Joe Simpson at the Ricoh.
However, Robson took advantage of the opportunities he was given and when Simpson was injured for a stint last season, Robson took the 9 shirt and made it his own. Although they now share the shirt and are rotated frequently, Robson has been given the nod for more of the crunch games for Wasps this season and many have been calling for him to be called up the England side.
With a quick paced distribution game and an extremely strong running game too, Robson has all the tools to prove a real hit at international level despite not getting the call yet.
New Zealand have some excellent options at 9 themselves with TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith two of the finest 9’s in the world right now. Both of them raise the tempo in a game exceptionally and if the Lions want to keep up they’ll need a 9 who can similarly do the same in order to give the Lions the edge over this All Blacks side.
With the Lions likely to take 3/4 scrum-halves to New Zealand one can presume that if fit Wales’ Rhys Webb and Ireland’s Conor Murray will most likely make the plane. Both of these have excellent kicking games, can run well and are canny international operators.
With Ben Young’s passing sometimes questionable and Gred Laidlaw not the quickest of distributors, Warren Gatland may chance his final scrum-half choice though on the uncapped Robson as an option that will throw the spanner in the works for the New Zealand teams. If he was able to produce his domestic form on tour it would certainly make the Lions a very quick paced, watchable team this summer..
Okay, so I admit it. I’m on the Sam Underhill hype train…
That being said though the back row is not an easy position to make a Lions tour in and even harder to make the starting lineup for any of the tests in. Just ask Welsh legend Martyn Williams who finally made the starting lineup for a Lions test in his third tour!! Next year’s will especially be stiff competition considering the talent available to Warren Gatland when he makes his team selection next April.
However, Sam Underhill’s star has been on the rise ever since his move to the Ospreys, starting with a man of the match award in his first start for the Welsh region against Munster. With no senior England caps to his name, and quite unlikely to get any before the tour considering he plys his trade outside of England, the openside flanker could be a true Lions bolter should he make the tour.
With Warren Gatland undoubtedly aware of his talent considering his form last season in the Pro 12, Sam Underhill could be the betting man’s bolter to look for if wishing to make any money back.
With power, pace and tenacity at the breakdown Underhill appears to be, at this very young stage in his career, a real out and out 7 and a future international player if his quality and potential continues to grow. Having only just played his first few games of rugby in over 5 months since injury, the Ospreys man could be returning just in the knick of time to make a push to get on the plane to New Zealand.
With one out of the Kiwi trio of Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Matt Todd to contend with on the openside for New Zealand, you just never know whether Gatland may fancy unleashing the beast of a former England u18 captain upon the unaware Kiwis..
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena
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