With the Six Nations going into the weekend without a game, there is still time to think about what this action might mean for the British and Irish Lions teams.
We will soon find out more about where and if the planned series of tests against South Africa will go ahead.
But in the meantime, a few hands went up for Warren Gatland’s team selection.
Is Louis the king of the wings?
Last week ended with the fateful announcement that a few more such attempts by Louis Rees-Zammit and Gatland would be forced to note. The Lions coach had a lot on his mind.
Rees-Zammit, who turned 20 this month, was a real asset in the win over Scotland. He scored the first try for Wales with a lovely soft boot into Darcy Graham’s pocket, set up the second try with a lovely line and unloading, then scored the winning try with an absolute gem, rounding Stuart Hogg for the touchdown.
The winner of the game could have come from the other side. With the red clock released Scottish wing Doohan van der Merwe to be hacked down by Owen Watkin. South African Van der Merwe went even further than Rees-Zammit (103 off 61) in another powerful and difficult performance.
And England’s Anthony Watson, who was in the starting line-up at the three Lions Tests in New Zealand four years ago, is back in form. Coach Eddie Jones admitted Watson’s form has been erratic this fall, but he amassed more yards than any other player this weekend, as an interception attempt helped him to 160 yards. But probably even more impressive was the way he passed the Italian defense to score his first goal.
With his teammate Johnny May also showing his athletic talents on the track, the competition gets fiercer. It is possible that Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale, named the world’s best winger two years ago but currently absent due to a knee injury, will be missing from the Gatland squad.
Is the price correct?
If moments that change the game are the key to selection, then Ali Price set a gem on the first try at Murrayfield. The Scottish scrumhalf cleverly broke through the Welsh defence, allowing Graham to cash in and score. This skill can be very useful against a quick and shallow Springbok defense. And if Finn Russell is to start in place 10, then their partnership – against Glasgow and Scotland – could be a big advantage for Gatland.
Conor Murray, the ninth pick in the 2017 first round, has been lacking form and power of late, possibly paving the way for another first round pick.
Dan Robson brought energy and initiative to the game after England brought him off the bench, setting up a try for Jack Willis that lasted from kick-off to the final whistle.
The man at the Wasps has made all nine Test appearances on the England bench, but as Jamie George revealed in 2017, Gatland was already working to turn England players into Lions test-takers.
Taulupe Faletau has been a strong player for Gatland.
He took part in all three tests in New Zealand and was one of the Welshmen sent to Australia for the third test in the series four years earlier.
The 30-year-old also made a strong impression in the win over Scotland. He had more yards (63), more carries (11) and more tackles (19) than any of his teammates.
But Matt Fagerson hasn’t suffered in comparison. The 22-year-old, now in his eighth international cap, is the man who gave Scotland a boost. He showed statistics similar to Faletau’s (61 yards on 14 carries and 12 tackles) and distinguished himself with his intent. After an impressive performance in the win over England, he is doing well.
Englishman Billy Vunipola would have done well to put Faletau in the starting position in 2017 had he not been ruled out of the Tour due to a shoulder injury.
However, it has long since ceased to exist in this attractive and comprehensive form.
Saracens’ man came into action in the 59th minute against Italy and collected 31 yards with eight carries and seven tackles. He may be doing the dirty work at the moment as Eddie Jones develops England’s style, but it could well be the ball game that wins it against South Africa.
If Gatland’s eye fell on a smaller stage, he might also have noticed the form of Sam Simmonds. Exeter’s No8 and European Player of the Year scored two more tries in his club’s victory over London Irish. He now has 11, more than twice as many as any other Premiership player this season, and has made more runs than any other Lions forward in the English Premier League.
His last appearance for England was almost three years ago, in March 2018.