It hasn’t yet reached the point where Warren Gatland is thinking of asking Mike Phillips if he’s free for a few weeks this summer — an enquiry that would doubtless be met with a positive response even before Gatland had time to finish the question.
Being Phillips, a man never plagued by a lack of self-belief on a rugby field, he’d fancy his chances of not just doing a job for the Lions but also making the Test side and giving Faf de Klerk a run for his money in the Tests against South Africa.
All a month or two shy of his 39th birthday.
In your dreams, Warren.
But the clock is ticking for an outstanding No. 9 option to emerge for the Lions. From somewhere, Gatland has to find three high-quality scrum-workers for his squad. If we say it’s going to be a challenge, let’s stress we are not dealing in wild exaggeration.
No-one has truly put his hand up in this Six Nations to fill the key role.
We look at the claims of those Gatland will mull over in the coming weeks.
What’s not to like here?
He’s been a match-winner for Ulster over an extended period, scoring tries and winning games with his clever play.
One start for his country does not truly reflect his Cooney’s ability.
Another scrum-half in the PRO14 recently picked him out as the No. 9 he most admired. It’s not hard to see why. The Dubliner is quick, alert, has rugby intelligence and a decent kicking game.
Ulster supporters would also no doubt advance his claims.
But ex-Ireland coach Joe Schmidt didn’t truly buy into Cooney as a starter and nor has current team boss Andy Farrell.
Well, he’ll want to know why Cooney hasn’t been playing Test rugby, and the chances are he’ll listen intently to what Farrell, defence coach with the Lions in 2013 and 2017, has to say.
He’s fallen back since being chosen among the 10 best players in the world by a New Zealand media outlet in 2019.
Selection hasn’t fully gone his way with Wales and when he has played he hasn’t quite found the form he showed in the early games of the last World Cup.
But it’s far from all over for Davies.
Gatland likes his defence and he values the searing pace and anticipation that have helped the Scarlet score so many interception tries.
A good performance against France this weekend could put him right in the reckoning.
But it’ll need to be good.
Who would have thought this guy would come through to challenge for the Lions, having been uncapped at the start of the season?
Some in the Emerald Isle still have their doubts.
But not Andy Farrell, it appears.
He kept Gibson-Park on for the full 80 against Scotland last weekend, clearly enjoying what he was doing.
JGP likes to keep play at a high tempo, but he maybe overdid the box-kicking against the Scots and he doesn’t have the physical presence of his Irish rival Conor Murray.
But he’s done little wrong in this Six Nations.
A bright performance against England has put him in the selection picture.
In front of Gatland, he looked quick and alert, thinking a split-second before opponents who weren’t shy of experienced players.
But fate intervened in the shape of a hamstring injury that’s sidelined him since.
Gatland would probably have wanted to see more from him.
His chances have receded then.
But you never know.
He was Gatland’s first-choice scrum-half for the Lions in New Zealand in 2017, and he remains probably the best box-kicker in the world. He’s a physical specimen who can run a game and he has vast experience.
There have been grumblings about him in Ireland for a while and he’s started just one Test in this Six Nations, with a hamstring injury ruling him out against France and Italy. Last weekend, he was one of only two unused replacements against Scotland.
The call for Gatland is whether to place his faith in a player who has never let him down or whether to take current circumstances and form into account.
Will he factor in that his defence coach on the last two Lions tours, Farrell, has been picking someone else?
The Scot had been quietly building a case for himself, looking quite the part against Wales, but two big mistakes against Ireland, when he gave away a costly penalty just before half-time and then had a kick charged down before Johnny Sexton’s match-winning penalty at the end, have left him with much to do.
Will Gatland think Price is right?
We can’t be sure.
But don’t bet the farm on it.
The New Zealander was at Murrayfield and he isn’t a man who forgets mistakes easily.
Has looked the part during appearances as an England replacement.
But securing a Lions Test place tends to involve more than a few bright shows against tiring opponents.
An England start or two would have helped.
It’s not looking good for Webb, who’s out for the next two months after undergoing surgery to correct a painful injury he picked up while on Ospreys duty recently.
He’d been playing well, too.
Gatland rates him and likes his attitude. Had Webb been dressed in red at Rorke’s Drift he’d have fancied his chances of coming out on top, 4,000 Zulus or no 4,000 Zulus.
But his injury is untimely.
It’s going to take a leap of faith from Gatland for Webb to make the squad.
There used to be a point with Wales back in the day when a player’s stock would invariably rise when he was sidelined. The national team went through spells, after all, when they struggled to beat an egg, with the search for answers as to why Wales were so bad almost becoming a national past-time.
Anyone not involved in the set-up at a given time had to be better than those who were playing, the thinking often was: “There’s a bloke who’s playing well for Pontyflanker Thirds — get him in the side.”
It was all nonsense, of course.
Anyway, what of Tomos Williams?
He’s been out injured for a while, so is he benefiting from the very process outlined above? Or is he the real deal?
Probably the latter.
Injuries have bedevilled him, but he has a lot of skill and makes as many breaks as pretty much any scrum-half on the Test scene. Indeed, Opta came up with a stat last August to show that of the No. 9s to play 300+ minutes in Test rugby since the beginning of 2019, Williams was the only one to average 2+ clean breaks per 80 minutes.
In attack, he’s dynamite. In defence, he’s still a shade unproven at Test level.
But he’s a serious candidate, no doubt.
Gatland named him in his original squad to tour New Zealand in 2017 before Youngs had to pull out for family reasons, so it’s clear the Kiwi likes him.
Like most of his scrum-half rivals, he’s been up and down.
But he was tidy against France last weekend and has a lot of experience. When he’s on song, he’s capable of holding his own in quality company.
There isn’t a crystal ball on earth that could help here.
But let’s be bold and see if we can suggest the three scrum-halves most likely to tour.
Conor Murray, Ben Youngs and Tomos Williams, anyone?
None of those names are written with total confidence, and maybe all or none of the three will be in Gatland’s squad.
But on the basis that he has long rated Murray highly, had faith in Youngs four years ago and would have had time to evaluate Williams’ considerable potential during his time with Wales, those three are maybe just ahead of the pack.
Don’t rule anything out, though.
Even at this stage.