Ahead of the British and Irish Lions’ Test series vs the Springboks this summer, live on Sky Sports, we look at who is impressing as the window to catch Warren Gatland’s eye gets ever smaller. This week, we look at Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, George Ford and Jack Conan
Lions watch: George Ford, Robbie Henshaw and Duhan van der Merwe impressed in games over the weekend
We take a look at who impressed from the weekend’s club and Test scene, viewing players through the spectre of potential British and Irish Lions tour selection…
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster and Ireland)
Shortlisted for Six Nations player of the year, Henshaw has already displayed over the last couple of months his immense talent, power and impact. In the PRO14 final in Dublin on Saturday, the centre was sensational once again.
Robbie Henshaw displayed his fantastic qualities again over the weekend, this time for Leinster vs Munster in the PRO14 final
Against Munster at the RDS, Henshaw broke the gain-line at will and put his hand up for 16 carries – no back on the pitch from either side made more. He also carved out 74 metres in a highly attritional arm-wrestle of a contest – a figure unmatched by anyone on the day.
He contributed seven tackles – many if not most of which were dominant – earned a turnover, and beat four defenders going forward.
A Lions tourist to New Zealand in 2017, Henshaw departed early due to a shoulder injury then and in any case had seemed to drift out of the Test reckoning owing to Warren Gatland’s preferred ploy of starting Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell together as a dual-playmaking 10 and 12.
The 27-year-old is playing the rugby of his career at present, however, and showed during the Six Nations that he is equally adept at performing at both 12 and 13.
Henshaw is in the form of his career currently for Ireland and Leinster
Henshaw took the opportunity of the weekend to put himself firmly in the frame to face the world champion Springboks. In fact, he is playing well enough to be in the Test side at present.
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh and Scotland)
There was just one Test fixture over the weekend, as Scotland stunned France in Paris to pick up victory in the final play, and with it a first win in the French capital for 22 years.
A standout for the Scots was South African-born wing Van der Merwe, who, it is perhaps not too presumptuous to suggest, has all but booked a Lions tour place such has been the calibre of his displays.
Duhan van Der Merwe enjoyed a brilliant Six Nations campaign for Scotland
The 25-year-old’s two tries at the Stade de France – which included the late winner – pushed him to five tries in the championship, landing him the top try-scorer award – never before had a Scotland player finished as outright top try-scorer in the Six Nations.
Not since Brian O’Driscoll in 2000 (30) has a player beaten more defenders either – Van der Merwe’s 31 claiming a 21-year championship record.
Van der Merwe scored two tries in Paris on Friday evening, as Scotl and stunned France
Van der Merwe only made his international debut in October 2020, but has taken to Test rugby like a duck to water. His marvellous combination of supreme power and outright pace mark him out as a huge prospect.
George Ford (Leicester Tigers and England)
For all his talents, his intelligent rugby eye, international honours (four) and 76 England caps, a curious aspect to George Ford’s career is that he has not been a Lion, and to a large extent, not truly been spoken about as a potential one.
George Ford shone for the Leicester Tigers as they picked up victory over Newcastle on Sunday
The 28-year-old was passed over in 2017 as Sexton, Farrell and Dan Biggar toured, while Finn Russell was later called up as one of the infamous Geography Six.
Yet, unlike that quartet, Ford has started a Rugby World Cup final at 10. Squad selection at out-half for the Lions is sure to throw up a talking point whichever way Gatland decides to go in 2021. One, if not two very talented players will be left at home.
On Sunday for Leicester, the out-half was in superb form as he kicked 16 points as part of a Premiership victory over Newcastle Falcons, moving the Tigers within range of Champions Cup qualification in the table.
Can Ford force his way into the Lions out-half reckoning?
All Ford can do is continue to try and perform to the best of his abilities at club level now. England’s disappointing 2021 Six Nations has hardly helped his cause, but he was an eye-catching performer over the weekend.
Jack Conan (Leinster and Ireland)
While Henshaw was superb for Leinster in the PRO14 final, it was No 8 Jack Conan who took the official man-of-the-match award.
The 28-year-old was outstanding as Leinster secured a record fourth domestic title in succession, scoring the only try as part of a 16-6 victory over rivals Munster.
Jack Conan was named man of the match on Saturday as Leinster secured the PRO14 title
Conan made 20 carries, 56 metres with ball in hand, 12 tackles, plus a clean break and lineout take in Dublin.
Like Ford, Conan has not represented the Lions before, and he has struggled to force his way into the Ireland picture due to a combination of repeated injuries, Leinster’s production-line of depth and talent at back-row and the presence of one CJ Stander.
Stander, who has announced he will be retiring at the age of just 31 at the conclusion of this season, has been one of Ireland’s most consistent and durable performers since debuting in 2016, racking up 51 caps in that time-frame.
The Munster No 8 toured as a Lion in 2017 too, making an appearance off the bench in the third Test draw vs the All Blacks.
His departure will open the door for the likes of Conan and Caelan Doris (currently out injured due to concussion) to pick up the mantle, albeit Stander’s is a hard act to follow.
Conan has been a real standout for Ireland and Leinster at No 8 over the last few weeks
Against England a fortnight ago, Conan started at 8 with Stander on the blindside, as the Leinsterman got over for one of Ireland’s two tries in victory. Conan then backed up his impressive Test display a week on for his province.
The back-row, and No 8 specifically, is a position in exceptionally rude health for the Lions. If Conan is to enter the conversation for tour selection, he would be up against Billy Vunipola, Taulupe Faletau and Stander, while Scotland’s Matt Fagerson has looked very good too.
Conan scored for Ireland as they beat England two weeks ago
Based on the weekend, Conan will have been noticed though, and he has another chance to press his claims when Leinster face Toulon in the Champions Cup on Friday.