It’s the news that everyone was dreading – two-time Six Nations ‘player of the year’ Stuart Hogg has been ruled out of the remainder of the Lions tour after a freak accidental collision with Connor Murray. This had led to discussion about the leading candidates for the vacant Stuart Hogg fullback position.
Though he was yet to hit form or even second gear on this tour, his attacking instincts and flair will certainly be missed. Head coach Warren Gatland would have made many plans with the Scottish International in mind. He was many pundits first choice as the starting fullback for the first test. His ability to create tries from nothing in the back-field was a constant menace for Scotland this season, however every injury creates an opportunity.
Last Word on Rugby writer James Kimber looks at the squad options for the number 15 shirt.
Top 5 Lions Candidates to Fill Vacant Stuart Hogg Fullback Position
Everybody knows what Halfpenny brings to the table – Mr Reliable. Brave and ferocious in the tackle, rock solid under the high ball, and a long-range kicking option to boot. May not have the same attacking instincts, running lines or pace of old, but Halfpenny is certainly in with a shout.
His knowledge of Gatland and Howley’s structures will put him in the frame to claim the test spot, and a more spritely attacking performance in his next appearance could well nail it down. The ‘safe’ option as Halfpenny won’t let anyone down.
Likelihood – 7/10
Another option that is very very solid. Though a few handling errors against the Highlanders may have led to suggestions that he may not be 100% fit, Payne also made some crucial cover tackles and organised well from deep.
Not a major attacking option but with the incredibly dangerous cross-kicking ability of Beauden Barrett so key, his defensive skills could well be called upon by Gatland.
Likelihood – 7/10
The young England and Bath flyer is fresh after missing the first half of the season with injury, and it shows. Watson was superb off the bench against the Crusaders in his preferred fullback position (see main picture), with his power and dazzling feet causing all sorts of problems. He was also one of the few bright spots with some excellent kick-chasing and a tidy finish in the opening game against the NZ Provincial Barbarians.
Whilst Watson has a far superior attacking game to the previous two options, his defensive game does let him down. Has a superb leap on him to counteract high bombs, and has bulked up considerably in the past year. Though it may be a surprise to some, he stands at a surprisingly lofty 6ft 2 and a bulky 94kg. Probably the holder of the test 15 shirt on current form.
Likelihood – 8/10
It’s a mystery to many of us why Liam Williams has been picked primarily as a winger. The former Scarlet is a master under the high ball and adds sharp running lines and a jinking step to any backline. Though he may not have had the best start to his Lions career with a match-changing yellow card against the Blues, Williams is without doubt a superb back-three player.
Back-to-back European Champions Saracens are known for their intense scouting of players, and his move to London ahead of the 2017-18 season shows his worth. It remains to be seen if Gatland will change his mind about seeing Williams as a winger or fullback, but he will still be in the running.
Likelihood – 6/10
Elliot Daly or Jack Nowell
More of a wildcard choice – Daly seems to have been picked due to his versatility, and is in with a good shout of claiming the number 23 for the tests due to his ability to cover both the midfield and the back 3. In spite of this, he hasn’t played fullback at professional level for a number of years now, having first broken into the Wasps team as a teenager in that position when they were short on injuries.
Though Jack Nowell has yet to hit form on this tour, he initially broke through the professional ranks as a fullback. He was a part of the winning the U20 World Championships and scoring in the final, wearing the 15 shirt. Though both unlikely, each are at least outsider options at this point.
Likelihood – 4/10
Stuart Hogg Fullback Position Must Be Filled with a Quality Player
Overall, it will be very intriguing to see who Gatland picks at fullback for the first test at the end of June. Though it seems likely Halfpenny will get the shirt; due to his solidity, Watson has some of the quickest feet in the Northern Hemisphere and for LWOR ‘deserves a shot’ on current form.
Who do you think should start? Are there any we’ve missed out?
Let us know in the comments section below.
“Main photo credit”