There are plenty of people who are sure they know who will be wearing the Lions No. 9 jersey in the Tests against South Africa this summer — and it isn’t Gareth Davies.
Ireland’s Conor Murray is the choice of many to start against the Springboks. His performance against England in March was rightly judged the most complete by a home nations scrum-half in the Six Nations.
Before Warren Gatland even named his Lions squad to tour South Africa, writers from a London newspaper picked their three nines for the trip. Every one of them opted for Murray, with no-one else close to receiving the same level of support.
But over at the Scarlets they are singing a different tune.
Interim head coach Dai Flanagan quietly expects a strong challenge for the Test shirt from the region’s 62-cap Welsh international Gareth Davies, with the former fly-half detecting significant improvements in his game of late.
“He’s not going there to make up the numbers,” said Flanagan.
“What Gareth has really developed lately is his game-management.
“You look at when he played for Wales during the tail-end of the Six Nations and how he controlled matches.
“We all know what he can do in open field — there’s no-one better.
“He’s a game-changer and it’s it’s important for a matchday squad to have one of those in their 23 or in their 15.
“But Gar’s game-management has also been outstanding for Wales in big games. I’m sure Warren Gatland has taken note, and that’s why Gar’s on the flight.”
Davies was due to be involved for the Scarlets in their Rainbow Cup encounter against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium this weekend, only for the match to be called off after four home players tested positive for Covid-19.
The news will be disappointing for Flanagan, who had said of Davies just hours before the news came through from Belfast: “If you watch him train and look at the shape he’s in, and the yards he’s putting in, I’m quite looking forward to seeing how he goes on Saturday,” continued Flanagan.
That’s not going to happen now.
But let’s see how the bigger picture pans out for Davies.
In a Rugby World interview at the turn of the year, he nominated a fear of heights as his number one phobia. He’ll need to conquer it if he’s to rise above Murray and Ali Price for the Test berth in South Africa.
But with his creativity and ability to snaffle tries from nowhere, allied to his defensive bite, Davies is a player who could quietly be one to watch.
Who should start at scrum-half for the Lions – Conor Murray, Gareth Davies and Ali Price? Have your say in our comments section here.
While Davies will feature in some capacity this weekend, a team-mate who won’t be on duty for the west Walians is Dane Blacker.
The young scrum-half has been significantly backed to receive a Wales call this summer after a number of bright performances for the Scarlets, with his support play and opportunism catching the eye.
However, a foot injury has left him on the sidelines for the final knockings of the Rainbow Cup pool stage.
“He’s compressed a bone or something,” Flanagan said.
“It’s really unusual. Dane’s been down with it, but he’s a positive human and getting him back on the horse will be key.”
The Scarlets face Edinburgh on June 13 in their final game of the season and Flanagan was asked if Blacker could be out of the Wales’ frame because of his injury.
“No — as far as I’m aware he’ll be in contention potentially for the Edinburgh game; if not, it may be a week or two later,” he said.