Lions Series Bolters
Jamie Ritchie (Scotland). 23. 105kg. Flanker. 18 Test Caps.
What is there left to say about Jaime Ritchie that has not already been said by far more astute minds than my own? Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan recently named Ritchie in his Lions starting line-up – and rightfully so! While all the talk has been about Tom Curry and Sam Underhill – the ‘kamikaze twins’ as Eddie Jones likes to call them – Ritchie has outplayed them both this year.
An imposing and defensively stalwart flanker, Ritchie is exactly the type of player you want in your side to front the Springboks’ tsunami of physicality. His performance against France (in which he helped put to bed any chance of a Grand Slam for Les Bleus) was characteristically dogged and emblematic of what fans have come to expect of the man from Dundee.
Ritchie is growing in stature with each international performance and is becoming impossible to ignore. A menace at the ruck, a monster in the tight-loose and a workhorse around the park – Ritchie could be just the man the Lions need to bring some extra grunt.
Jordan Larmour (Ireland). 23. 87kg. Full Back. 24 Irish Test Caps.
Larmour is the archetypal ‘edge-of-your-seat’ player. With ball in hand there is always a feeling that he can make something out of nothing. Fans of Irish rugby will have become accustomed to seeing his dazzling footwork open up defences. When Larmour is on the attack he doesn’t so much run as glide past defenders – such is his balance and speed.
The victim, perhaps, of an Irish setup with a host of quality options on the wings and at full back, the Leinsterman has had to bide his time. Finally though his star is beginning to shine and one can expect his meteoric rise to continue.
So often a curse for backline players, Larmour’s versatility may actually work in his favour as he has the ability to cover any position in the back three. His quality of vision has seen Leinster often employ him at first receiver in their attacking patters, testament to the man’s ability to put others into space as well as find his own. Though up against stiff competition in Elliot Daly, Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams, don’t write off Larmour just yet.
Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland). 25. 106kg. Wing. 0 Test Caps.
Let’s talk statistics. In this year’s Pro14 van der Merwe has made 73 carries beating 61 defenders – the most of any player in the tournament. He has made 27 clean breaks (tournament leading), 756 run metres (tournament leading) and has seven tries to his name (third in the competition). When one talks about the best wingers in Europe, he has to be in the discussion.
Van der Merwe qualified to play for Scotland on residency earlier this year and coach Gregor Townsend has since made it clear that an international call-up is a matter of when not if. Indeed, were it not for his lack of test experience to date one feels he would be all but a shoe in for Lions selection.
Another southern hemisphere exile and winger – James Lowe – has been similarly highly regarded, though this time by Irish coach Andy Farrell. Lowe and van der Merwe will have the opportunity to make their mark and stake their claims for Lions selection when the Six Nations resumes later this year. Though both extremely talented wingers, the physicality and aggression van der Merwe offers is unmatchable and may set him apart from the rest of the cohort of Lions contenders.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images