British & Irish Lions
Crunch time brings mixed news for Gatland
May 13, 2013
Leicester's Tom Croft was not holding back in his side's Premiership semi-final victory over Harlequins on Saturday © Getty Images
Over the course of the season we have brought you our choice of the form British and Irish players on a weekly basis with our Lions Watch feature.
And now is no time to stop. Here we give you the latest form guide as the focus now switches to the fight for a place in team for the opening Test against Australia.
The race for both Premiership and PRO12 glory reached the final four at the weekend with three fantastic clashes and one not-so-thrilling encounter. All four semi-finals featured Lions tourists although no-one was taking it easy with domestic honours within their grasp.
No one was in better form than Leicester flanker Tom Croft who delivered a sensational display in his side's Premiership semi-final victory over Harlequins at Welford Road. An outstanding try-saving tackle on Quins' Danny Care in one half and a blistering turn of pace for a try in the second period were just two highlights of a performance that will have brought a smile to the face of Lions coach Warren Gatland.
In Dublin, Jamie Heaslip offered further evidence that he is nearing a return to his best form with a crucial try and ruck-hungry performance in his side's PRO12 semi-final victory over Glasgow. Leinster prop Cian Healy was another to catch the eye in the loose where he made some big gains with ball in hand and also produced 11 momentum-sapping tackles.
The tense encounter at the RDS also saw Glasgow fullback Stuart Hogg shaded his duel with Leinster and Lions rival Rob Kearney. Hogg racked up almost a 100m with ball in attack and chipped in with five points with the boot but failed to nail the conversion that could have tied the scores in the closing moments.
The action kicked off at Ravenhill on Friday night, where Ulster winger Tommy Bowe grabbed a try in his side's victory over the Scarlets. Northampton wrapped up the semi-final action with a commanding Premiership semi-final victory over Saracens where Saints' Australia-bound hooker Dylan Hartley was at the heart of a brutal showing from the visitors.
Causing a headache...
Leinster centre Brian O'Driscoll limped out of his side's victory over Glasgow after just 13 minutes with a back spasm. Fears over his fitness have since been allayed with the veteran set to line-up for his side's Challenge Cup final clash with Stade Francais on Friday night but his injury served as a reminder that the Lions will have to treat him as precious cargo.
There was further cause for concern with flanker Sean O'Brien a late withdrawal from the Glasgow game with a calf injury while the form of fly-half Jonathan Sexton will have raised eyebrows with a series of kicks sailing wide of the mark.
Glasgow winger Sean Maitland also failed to complete 80 minutes at the RDS with the Scottish side opting to withdraw him on the hour mark. The Kiwi-born winger oozes game-breaking ability but not on this occasion with team management describing his substitution as a tactical move that may not fill the player with confidence.
And the rest...
A fired-up Northampton dominated the clash at Allianz Park where Saracens props Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens struggled to make an impact. Owen Farrell was another with little answer to the Saints' onslaught.
While Gatland will now rest a little easier safe in the knowledge that the season is now over for Saracens, Scarlets and Glasgow, Leinster move on to their Amlin Challenge Cup final clash with Stade Francais on Friday night. They will then contest the PRO12 title with Irish rivals Ulster the following weekend on the same day Leicester tackle Northampton for the Premiership crown.
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