Lions 2013 Centres - Where Are They Now?
The sixth in a seven-part series in the run up to this summer’s selection, taking a look at the 2013 incumbents and their chances of being selected again.
2013 tour: ‘Gatlandball’ is the word used for the Welsh strategy of running fast, hard and straight into contact and offloading when you want to keep the ball alive, rather than relying on complex set plays. If you want to do it well, you needed someone like Jamie Roberts, or at least the Roberts that was around in the early part of the 2010s. Roberts missed the first two tests through injury but was always going to be picked when fit, and scored in the third.
Since then: Like many of the top draw players from that tour, Roberts went to France and back, and the standard to which his Gatlandball is viewed has fallen dramatically. In an attempt to find a 12 who passes the ball, Wales have been picking Scott Williams since the autumn. Results are ‘mixed’. Roberts is currently a mysteriously impactless bench option.
Touring chances: 20%. Spent the six nations looking nothing like the star formerly known as Jamie Roberts, but we are talking about someone who went on his first Lions tour aged 20 and the second one aged 24. There’s usually a couple more when that happens.
2013 tour: On his fourth Lions tour, the Leinster and Ireland legend was presumed to partner Roberts in the centre. He partnered Welsh 13 Jonathan Davies instead, who played so well on that tour that Warren Gatland played Roberts and Davies in the third test, with no centre on the bench. Some people were ‘miffed’, others went as far as ‘peeved’. Keith Wood called the decision ‘catastrophic’ and said Gatland was just picking names randomly out of a bag. In the end it was fine.
Since then: O’Driscoll saved some of his best rugby for last in the 2014 six nations with a second Irish title, followed by a victorious 16th and final season with Leinster. Retired afterwards to focus on winning a world cup knockout game on his xbox.
Touring chances: 0%. If he was still playing some club rugby I could see it happening, but he seems to be happy with the pundit’s chair. Which is curious itself, considering how that involves proximity to Austin Healy.
2013 tour: Known for running hard and offloading rather than playmaking, Davies is one of those backs. The kind that wears an unnecessary scrum cap, has silly try celebrations, gets picked ahead of your favourite player and then drives through a puddle next to a pedestrian on the way home. I’m guessing. Played himself into being Roberts’ injury replacement with some fine performances midweek before controversially keeping his place.
Since then: Has remained a mainstay in the Welsh backline. Went to play in the top 14 and came back again, like the rest of them, but was part of the Clermont side that made dual Top 14 and European Cup finals in 2015.
Touring chances: 65%. Faces competition with England’s Elliot Daly and Ireland’s Gary Ringrose, but I’d expect his experience and versatility will get him the nod over the Leinster man. Picking him over the new Brian O’Driscoll would also be appropriately dastardly.
2013 tour: The youngest and most talented of the many Tuilagis to make Leicester their home, Manusamoa was the one young enough to become an England player. In a few short years in the early 2010s he quickly became the best of them too. The 213 Lions’ strength at centre limited him to one test appearance, but still it seemed reasonable to think it was only a matter of time.
Since then: That didn’t happen. Injuries have come thick and fast and Tuilagi has barely had any matches between comebacks and getting his next long term injury. In the turmoil among Leicester’s coaching staff, Tuilagi’s latest season-ending injury coincided with Tigers veteran Cockerill being sacked. It probably wasn’t a coincidence – getting Tulagi fit again has to be a point of interest for more than just him.
Touring chances: 4%. He is out for the season and has been for some time, as well as not being a regular England player for three years. Still, that didn’t stop Matt Stevens from touring last time. Manu Tuilagi, for the record, is better than Matt Stevens. He’s still, remarkably, only 25. Maybe his time will come.
2013 tour: Known for being a defensive powerhouse while having the attacking instincts of Gandhi at Glastonbury, Barritt was one of many centre experiments in England’s years under Lancaster. Called up as ‘backline cover’, which is to say, midweek team filler once the tryouts finished, Barritt played two games.
Since then: Can a centre live on defence alone? The answer is, yes, so long as you are not playing Test matches and your club team is the rugby equivalent of the Borg. Barritt’s England career seems to be finished with Farrell moving into the much passed 12 spot successfully, but he continues to be an effective operator for Saracens and has since taken the club captaincy.
Touring chances: 2%. Even if the star power at centre is not what is was four years ago, there is more depth there now, so Barritt shouldn’t really be required. He wasn’t especialy required in 2013 either, but here we are.
Since then: In 2013 Twelvetrees was an exciting thing – a creative 12 who could attack, defend, kick and pass. It took a couple of years of ups and downs before it was decided that he did not do any of these things particularly well and he mostly created frustration. Another England centre career put to bed by the new version of Owen Farrell, but he still plays for Gloucester.
Touring chances: 1%. Bastion of creativity he may be, but it’s hard to see his services being called upon any more. We probably need him to make the compulsory early 30s move to a mid-table club in France for fans to start talking him up again.
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