Part one of the series started with the back three and the head coach. Now it is the centres turn. Come back on Wednesday for the half-backs, on Thursday for the back row and on Friday for the front five.
Disagree with Mick’s selections? Leave a comment to let us know who you would have picked and why.
13 – Jeremy Guscott
(England, 8 Lions caps, 1989, 1993, 1997)
Or should it be Brian O’Driscoll? No sooner does the mind settle on O’Driscoll, from his youthful exuberance in Australia in 2001 to his captaincy under duress in New Zealand four years later and on to his valour against the Springboks before bringing the curtain down on a significant output for the Lions back where it started in Australia in 2013, then images of Jeremy Guscott on the glide come stirringly to mind. Oh, bugger. Which one to choose? But relegating O’Driscoll to the bench we must.
It is a close call, of course, but Guscott, the Prince of Centres, a man with such languid skills allied to a keen relish for the fray, was a compelling presence for the Lions. It is in the red Lions shirt that he truly excelled. As an individual, he was a sublime talent with pace and swerve and vision. The thing about such innately gifted individuals is that it is easy to miss what really makes them stand out – their competitiveness and will-to-win. Think Lionel Messi. Or Roger Federer. Whatever it takes for them to come out on top, they will find a way to that end. A flick of the head or a caress of the tennis racquet. They get across the line come what may.
And, in a Lions context, that is why Guscott shades the vote over O’Driscoll. There are more upbeat moments on his Lions CV, be it the swing of the boot that brought about the drop goal that won the series for the Lions against South Africa in 1997 or the try against the Wallabies as an international rookie in 1989. The Lions had lost the opening test and Guscott, who had only made his England debut a few weeks before the tourists headed Down Under, was drafted into the midfield. It was a bold selection and Guscott did not disappoint, repaying the faith of head coach, Ian McGeechan, with a dink-through try, a mark of genius. There is also second test victory over the All Blacks in 1993 to take into account before that Durban coup de grace four years later. It is not to say that O’Driscoll did not also have serious pretensions to the shirt, right from the moment of the Waltzing O’Driscoll try against Australia at the Gabba in 2001, the young Irishman slaloming through the Wallaby defence. But Guscott gets the nod.
12 – Mike Gibson
(Ireland, 12 Lions caps, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1977)
Gibson was ahead of his time in so many ways: in the judgement of his play, in his decision-making, in his multi-layered skill set that brought the best out of those around him across an international career that spanned 15 years in the emerald colours of Ireland and encompassed a record-equalling five tours for the Lions, although Gibson did not add to his tally of Test appearances on those last two trips.
The man in the no.12 shirt on those tours was one Ian McGeechan, a notable candidate in his own right, playing in all eight tests, albeit once as a replacement in the third test in Dunedin in 1977. McGeechan can be considered the most lauded Lion in history given his contribution on the field of play allied to his prodigious coaching shifts. The Yorkshire-born Scot certainly punched above his weight on so many fronts, not the biggest but, as with Gibson himself, a man with a rugby brain beyond the scope of mere mortals.
Gibson was also a fly-half and those lovely wily, dextrous skills, a blend of intellect and imagination, enabled him to perform with such aplomb on those Lions tours, particularly on the époque-shaping one to New Zealand in 1971. Gibson earned praise the length and breadth of the country which is quite some accomplishment given that Kiwis are so discerning or begrudging (take your pick) when it comes to dishing out compliments about anything let alone rugby matters. Gibson, though, epitomised the 1971 Lions, a side shaped in the image of their coach, Carwyn James, the poet-philosopher who also had a razor-sharp, hard-nosed rugby mind, one who delighted in the primacy of individual thought but who also recognised the responsibility to others within the team. It was a musketeer’s philosophy – one for all, and all for one. The Kiwis have never had time for show ponies and Gibson’s rare skill was always subjugated to the good of the group. He was a player’s player in that regard.