With all selections on the table for Saturday, I’m sure the coaching team will have a headache of who should start in the back row for the first Test. Not all positions are nailed on. As with previous articles of who should start in midfield and in the back three, the back row will cause some debate.
Talupe Faletau should start at Number 8. He’s been the in-form player in the position on this tour. His work-rate is sublime. According to Ultimate Rugby, The Welshman has made 33 tackles in total, missing zero. This is the highest conversion of any man on tour. Attacking wise, he’s second only to Ben Te’o in defenders beaten.
Talupe Faletau's stats for @lionsofficial
— Irish Rugby Blog ? (@IrishRugbyBlog) June 20, 2017
I think Irishman Sean O’Brien should get the nod at openside over Sam Warburton.
The talisman has not had the same impact as O’Brien has on this tour.
Being called ‘completely mental’ by James Haskell sums up what kind of player O’Brien is: destructive in open field, showing grit and determination no matter the opposition.
The 2011 ERC European Player of the Year seems to step up a gear in big games. He played an integral part in Ireland’s victory over Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Man of the Match in the Lions victory over the Maori All Blacks, O’Brien is peaking at the right time.
If O’Brien gets the nod and continues on his upward curve, he’s a player the All Blacks will be very wary of.
Fellow Irishman and another who belongs to the ‘completely mental’ classification is Peter O’Mahony. If O’Brien shows grit and determination, O’Mahony is that, and more. The Munsterman put in a strong performance as captain in the Lions’ victory over the Maori All Blacks.
If the Lions are to beat New Zealand, they must have the upper hand in the set-piece. This is where O’Mahony is at his best. An excellent line-out operator, O’Mahony probably wouldn’t be travelling only for a last minute call up in Ireland’s victory over England. If he can replicate that performance, they will have a real chance against the world’s best.
A true leader on the field, a person of O’Mahony’s stature would make an ideal captain against the All Blacks. Gatland may stick with the tried and trusted. If not, the Munster mongrel should get the nod.
We’ll find out who should start in the back row for the first Test at 8 pm on Wednesday. Whoever is chosen will need the game of their lives.
Fergal Nolan, Pundit Arena