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The statistic that sets Elliot Daly apart from any other 2021 Lion

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England back Elliot Daly heads into Saturday’s third Test versus the Springboks on the cusp of completing the extraordinary feat of playing a part in all eight Lions matches on South African territory. The versatile Saracens operator is the only player in Warren Gatland’s squad to have featured in all seven 2021 tour matches in the southern hemisphere so far and he will complete the full house if he steps off the Test bench in Saturday’s series finale in Cape Town. 

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A tourist in 2017 in New Zealand where he played in seven of the ten matches that took place in the southern hemisphere on that trip, Daly has started four matches in South Africa (the first Test versus the Springboks, both games versus the Sharks and the clash with the Stormers) while he also appeared off the bench in the Lions’ other three games (South Africa A, last weekend’s second Springboks Test and the opener against Sigma Lions).

The interesting difference on this tour is that Daly has been a starter at outside centre, the position where he last started for England in 2016. In contrast, his five starts on the previous Lions tour were on the left wing in 2017. 

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His 403 minutes on the pitch in South Africa have seen him score one try, provide two try assists, give five offloads, make eleven carries for a 149-metre gain, leave 13 defenders beaten, make 19 kicks in open play, put in 21 tackles, make 36 passes and kick for 452 metres. 

On the debit side, he has conceded six turnovers, missed eleven tackles and was also involved in that compelling early first Test hit from Lukhanyo Am which left him on his backside in Cape Town, but under pressure Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend is a fan of what Daly has brought to the table on tour in South Africa.  

“It’s a credit to his ability, his endurance of being able to back up games,” said the Scotsman about Daly’s ever-present inclusion on the Lions teamsheet. “He has worked really hard, things like his kick chase, getting back for opposition kicks has been outstanding. It shows his adaptability. He has run at 13, has run at 15, he has covered games and training sessions on the wing. It’s a credit to him that he is involved in all three Test matches and is covering a number of positions tomorrow [Saturday].”

It was on May 6, the day of the Lions tour squad announcement, that Townsend initially outlined his enthusiasm regarding Daly’s selection as a midfielder for the South African trip rather than as a back three player where he had traditionally featured for England and Saracens. “As a 13 it could go very well for us, the goal-kicking, the left foot – all the various attributes he has are positives,” he said.      

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Jon 2 hours ago
Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

> McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth. It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role. I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged. > The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings. I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone. I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

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