Pandemic or no pandemic, coming in 2021 there’s always going to be half an eye on who’s in the offing to make the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. And nobody’s ‘Lion’s eye’ is more respected than that of Sir Ian McGeechan, whose musing are considered a major selection bellwether for the game’s most prestigious touring party.
Although they lost, the Lions guru was impressed with aspects of the Wales performance against England in the Autumn Nations Cup and singled out Welsh No.8 Taulupe Faletau as having confirmed his Lions credentials once again.
“Much of the credit for that must go to Wales,” McGeechan wrote in his Telegraph column. “They were the best they have been for a while, certainly defensively. Wayne Pivac’s side still struggled at the set-piece but they were hugely competitive in contact, hardly missing any first-up tackles. I don’t think England expected that.
“The big plus from Wales’ point of view was their defensive solidity. They scored a good try from crowding the outside channel, charging down Henry Slade’s kick, and they managed to disrupt England’s ball in contact.
“Taulupe Faletau’s return to form was hugely welcome. He is a Lions contender again on this sort of form.
“He offers so much in attack as well, operating as he does in both the outside channel and in the tighter channels. He has really good feet, often getting past the first tackler. Not big yardage but two metres over the gain line, which is sometimes all it takes.”
Faletau has been plagued by injury at Bath in recent years, but when he’s fit and in form, he right up there as one of the most effective No.8s in world rugby.
He of course has competition for the spot. Ireland’s CJ Stander and England’s Billy Vunipola will be his key rivals for the position; while Caelen Doris, Ross Moriarty, Matt Fagerson and even out of favour Sam Simmonds will also be part of that conversation. Gatland took eight backrows on the 2017 tour of New Zealand, but it may come down to how many No.8 specialists he goes for this time around.
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