Summer Tours in a Lions season: Where the home nations are touring and which players can take advantage

The Lions year is always an unusual one in the rugby calendar, as each of Britain and Ireland’s international teams take second-string squads abroad halfway through a World Cup cycle. For many, it is an opportunity to put their name in contention for continued international honours and for some, it may be their only chance of getting international recognition. Pleasingly though, it also points to the squad depth of our international squads in the northern hemisphere and shows we can still compete with international rivals, even when the cream of our players are in the Antipodes, or South Africa. This summer, Ireland are playing Japan, England face Argentina, whilst Wales and Scotland travel to the South Pacific and Oceania. It is to be hoped that it will be a summer of shocks and revelations, with lesser-known players stepping up in foreign environments and the Tier Two teams giving the established giants a run for their money.

 

Scotland: Tour Schedule

V Italy (10 June)

V Australia (17 June)

V Fiji (24 June)

In his first tour as Scotland coach, Gregor Townsend has selected three new caps and is missing Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Grieg Laidlaw to the Lions. Those three new caps are centre Nick Grigg, hooker George Turner and tight-head prop D’Arcy Rae. He will also have the benefit of the return of Willem Nel and Peter Horne from injury after they both missed the Six Nations and has relative experience across the board due to the lack of Lions absentees. What should Scotland set out to achieve on this tour? Two wins out of three as a minimum, playing Australia in Sydney may well be a stretch too far, but wins against Italy in Singapore and Fiji in Suva are a must in order to build on a very encouraging Six Nations campaign. Of those selected, the Gray brothers need to ensure they recapture their form of a couple of seasons ago to keep themselves in contention should any injuries befall the Lions squad and Finn Russell will be looking to prove Warren Gatland wrong. Of those who could really make a name for themselves, Ali Price should have free-reign at scrum-half with Laidlaw not available whilst Ben Toolis and Zander Fagerson may well catch the eye.

 

Wales: Tour Schedule

V Tonga (16 June)

V Samoa (24 June)

Only a two-game tour for Wales this summer (not including a warm-up game against RCF 1404 in Colwyn Bay), but it will provide a true touring experience for the Welsh players  whom Robin McBryde is expected to name tomorrow. Gethin Jenkins has already been ruled out due to a knee injury, but it would be a surprise not to see established names such as Scott Williams, Luke Charteris and Samson Lee in the squad considering the number of players selected for the Lions tour. In particular, McBryde will need to reconstitute a back-row that is missing four major stars to Gatland’s team and at full-back, with both Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny unavailable. This could be the tour for Thomas Young, Jake Ball, Tomas Francis and Sam Davies to really make their mark in the Wales jersey and give Gatland, Howley and co. something to think about before the visit of Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa in the autumn. Following his selection in the Pro12 team of the year, James Davies is also likely to make the squad as are Dan Baker and Rory Thornton. For Wales, anything other than two victories will be considered a backwards step on this tour, although they do have form in this department, having lost one of their two test matches to Japan this time four years ago.

 

England: Tour Schedule

V Barbarians (28 May)

V Argentina (10 June)

V Argentina (17 June)

Probably the most difficult tour schedule of all the home nations, even though the Barbarians game will be more a festival of rugby than a truly competitive test-match. Eddie Jones was very quick following the Lions squad announcement to name his selections for the tour and includes fifteen uncapped players in a thirty-one man touring party. The most eye-catching of the newcomers include London Irish winger Joe Cokanasiga, Bath flanker Sam Underhill, Sale winger Denny Solomona and Harry Mallinder of Northampton. There are also some surprising omissions in the form of Christian Wade and Semesa Rokodoguni, but the squad still contains established talent in the form of Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown even with Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje missing, amongst others.  The match against the Barbarians will be an opportunity for the uncapped players to get accustomed to the England jersey before the flight to South America but expect players such as Danny Care, Henry Slade and Tom Wood to get the nod over Jack Maunder, Sam James and Nick Isiekwe during the tests themselves.

 

Ireland: Tour Schedule

V USA (10 June)

V Japan (17 June)

V Japan (24 June)

A competitive tour schedule awaits Ireland as they return to the US to face the Eagles for a single test before they journey to Honshu to play two successive tests against Japan. With the second largest contingent in the Lions squad, the Irish management will need to welcome several new faces to the touring party alongside established stars such as Simon Zebo, Garry Ringrose, Paddy Jackson and Devin Toner. This tour will be particularly exciting for the new generation of Irish backrowers competing for the position, especially Dan Leavy and Jack Conan who were both named in this year’s Pro12 Team of the Season. Joey Carbery will also get the opportunity to replicate his sterling domestic form in a green jersey with Jonny Sexton’s absence, whilst for others such as Zebo, it will allow them to work on their game following the disappointment of being overlooked for the Lions. The opening game will likely see an established team taking the pitch with Schmidt exercising increased flexibility as the tour goes on. Expect to see three wins, or questions will be asked.

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