British and Irish Lions watch: Ben Youngs has still got it

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With the 2020 Six Nations eventually signing off over the weekend we took a look at who impressed Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions coach. In truth, the quality came in the France/Ireland match. Wales and Scotland played out a dour contest in a windy Llanelli and England were distinctly rusty in Rome against the Italians. However, there was a Lions’ veteran and a few new guns who put their hands up.

Wales v Scotland: Jamie Ritchie and Adam Hastings

There was no lack of talent on show in Llanelli but in difficult conditions, this encounter became a slugfest upfront. This was a day to roll up the sleeves which Jamie Ritchie did all day long. He has been on the radar for the Lions for the last 12 months and deservedly so. Where the ball is, Ritchie is. Whether it was making a line break, a rarity on Saturday, or in the tackle Ritchie was man on point. He is a no-nonsense type of player that Gatland will need in South Africa.

Adam Hastings was another one who made the most of his opportunity when Finn Russell came off injured. Unfortunately, Hastings went off injured himself but not before putting Scotland on the front foot. Hastings and Russell will fight it out over the fly-half jumper for the next ten years which can only be a good thing for the Scots. He has that priceless ability to look like he has time on the ball and space to move in. On Saturday he frequently got over the gain line himself and was the one dangerous back on the field. Hastings could be a useful backup to probables Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

Wales’ run of losses continues and there are a number of Gatland’s favourites who are struggling for form. Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams are sure to be on the plane but they are no longer certain starters. There is plenty of time to regain confidence particularly with the aforementioned players but Gatland will surely be concerned about Wales’ demise.

Italy v England: Ben Youngs and Tom Curry

England really struggled to put away a spirited Italian side on Saturday evening. A bright opening which saw England race into 10-0 lead then turned into a succession of errors and penalties. A better second half ensured that England had one hand on the trophy and it was primarily thanks to three men: Ben Youngs, Maro Itoje and Tom Curry. On his 100th cap, Ben Youngs showed that he is still the premier scrum-half for Eddie Jones. He scored two tries, the second a beauty and kept England on the front foot. With the Welsh scrum-halves struggling for confidence at the moment, Youngs has put himself back into contention.

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Maro Itoje and Tom Curry stepped up in the second half with their leadership and actions. Curry did not stop for eighty minutes despite conceding a couple of needless penalties. He hits way above his weight in the tackle, does the necessities as a back-rower and is a nonstop force of energy around the field. Curry has surely booked himself a ticket to the Republic next summer.

Other hopefuls like Henry Slade, Anthony Watson and Jonny May had little opportunity to shine given England’s infuriating fascination of kicking away decent possession.

France v Ireland: James Ryan and Robbie Henshaw

Ireland against France was by the far the best match of the weekend and the Irish weren’t far off. The pack were industrious and presented a number of opportunities in France’s twenty-two to make it an almighty uncomfortable viewing for the watching England team in Rome. But, they couldn’t execute at the lineout and France took their chances. James Ryan is the coming man for the Lions and he was again industrious and physical. Maro Itoje and Ryan would be a justifiable starting second row for the Lions if the team was picked tomorrow.

Robbie Henshaw who was on the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 scored a brilliant solo try to remind us of his talents. He has had a tough few years with injury but against France, he was incisive and busy. At his best Henshaw is the archetypal modern-day centre with pace, power and a step on him. Rather like Adam Hastings and Ben Youngs, he will have to join the queue in his position but he is now back on the radar.

With the Autumn Nations Cup up next, there will be plenty more opportunities for players in form and out of form to put themselves at the forefront of Warren Gatland’s plans.

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