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'Really got me excited': The persuasive effect that watching Elliot Daly in the Championship had on Lions assistant Townsend

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

Saracens have been getting a hard time lately regarding the general standard of the Championship action that their England contingent have experienced in recent weeks, a level of play that was expected to militate against the likes of Elliot Daly getting selected by the Lions to tour South Africa in a couple of months.


The consensus amongst rugby fans was that what those players produced in the second-tier division in England wasn’t comparable to the performances other Lions selection contenders were producing in leagues of a higher standard. However, the Lions begged to differ, Warren Gatland’s assistants embarking on their travels to ensure that the form of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Daly was monitored.

Their cause was especially helped by the Lions management having a coach who had played at Championship level and understood what that experience can do for a player. Scotland boss Gregor Townsend once spent a season in the English second division with Northampton and he has recalled how winning in that league on a weekly basis boosted his confidence and he then brought that form into the international arena.

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The crazy reaction on the RugbyPass Fanzone to the 2021 Lions squad announcement

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Having scouted the Saracens contingent in recent weeks, this same hope is now what Townsend wants to see unfold when five of those players – Billy Vunipola was the only one to miss out on Lions selection – arrive in South Africa following a club campaign that should culminate in the Londoners regaining their spot in the Gallagher Premiership for next season.

That said, the inclusion of Daly in the 37-strong Lions squad raised eyebrows in the sense that he was a player who was dropped by England after playing full-back during the recent Guinness Six Nations. Then when primed to start at outside centre in the tournament finale versus Ireland, a role described by Eddie Jones as his preferred position even though he hadn’t started there since 2016, a late injury reshuffle in Dublin instead saw him revert to No15 as Max Malins had pulled up lame.

Despite that, Townsend has now explained that the 2017 Lions pick caught the eye off the England bench in the round four win versus France and some of his involvements in last Saturday’s victory by Saracens at bottom Championship side Nottingham then confirmed in the Scot’s mind that Daly had to be chosen to go on his second Lions tour later this year. “The way he came off the bench against France showed that he reacted really well to being dropped,” said Townsend, outlining the reasons why Daly was named by the Lions to travel as a centre with the ability to also provide cover in the back three.

“He got two line breaks in that game and the way France defend isn’t too dissimilar to South Africa, a very blitz defence, and he showed really good footwork. So then to see him in the flesh (with Saracens) and see what a class player he is when he is in form and full of confidence really got me excited.


I watched his game at the weekend against Nottingham and even though he was at full-back he was a second receiver a lot, he worked really hard and on the back of that, he was a successful Lion and someone that can cover more than one position. But as a 13 it could go very well for us, the goal-kicking, the left foot, all the various attributes he has are positives.

“I do believe that it could be positive for these Saracens guys playing in the Championship. From my own experience of playing a season with Northampton in the Championship, I was full of confidence getting a lot of ball in hand and taking that to the international stage.

“These guys look to be playing with ambition, they are getting match fit and we’re not talking about a group of players who don’t know what it is like to play at the highest level, so it is a real positive now they are getting this game time and feeling good about where they are rugby wise.”


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