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On Thursday, Warren Gatland will name his Lions squad for Saturday's first Test against South Africa and in the process will have to make some of the toughest coaching calls of his entire career.
One man, however, who has blasted into Test contention is Exeter and England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. Before the tour began, many across Britain and Ireland would have had the 28 year-old as third choice behind the more established pair of Jamie George and Ken Owens.
But Cowan-Dickie has emerged with serious credit in the bank from the tour warm-up matches (which, incidentally, have come to a conclusion depressingly soon in the tour). And in the Tests against the might of the Bokke, it is the all-action physicality and animalistic strength of Cowan-Dickie which has been turning heads.
Below is a snapshot of his stats against the Stormers. He made more turnovers than any other player (more on that later), eight tackles (only Jonny Hill and Hamish Watson made more in the Lions pack) and, crucially, his lineout percentage win was 100 per cent from eight throw-ins (again, more on that later).
Here are the three areas in which Cowan-Dickie excelled on Saturday...
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Cowan-Dickie's three turnovers against the Stormers were the joint-most of any player on tour to date. The hooker's effectiveness on the floor will not come as a surprise to anyone who has regularly watched Exeter this season, where Cowan-Dickie has been making jackal turnovers for fun.
In a 15-minute spell either side of half-time, Cowan-Dickie was a menace on the floor. He won his three turnovers in this quarter-of-an-hour period.
One of the perceived weaknesses of Cowan-Dickie's game has been his throwing at the lineout. That is one of the principal reasons, among others, why Jamie George has been the first choice with England for so long. Cowan-Dickie has 31 caps for England - but just six starts.
Below, however, Cowan-Dickie takes a hammer to those perceived weaknesses and bludgeons them to a pulp. The camera angle is shoddy, but in the clip you will see the hooker finding his club team-mate Jonny Hill with pinpoint accuracy at the tail of the lineout. Hill is not unopposed, either - it is a tremendous throw.
Each of the three hookers have started two games apiece thus far for the Lions in 2021; only Cowan-Dickie has had 100 per cent lineout success on both starts.
Speaking of tremendous throws, how about this for one of Cowan-Dickie's last acts before leaving the field for George. He launches a throw over the top of the lineout, perfectly into the path of wing Josh Adams who does not even have to break stride.
Muscle on both sides of the ball
While Cowan-Dickie's game has become synonymous with brutish brawn, his defensive workrate should not be overlooked, either. Here he is, early in the match on Saturday, as a sole chaser in midfield, dynamically chasing one of Marcus Smith's early testers.
And here is a trademark chop, one of eight tackles he made during the game. Cowan-Dickie has been caught on the wrong side of the officials with these sort of chop-tackles in the past, but sanctions against him for not wrapping the arms are now becoming rarer. In terms of stopping the Springbok heft dead in its tracks, there would be no one better suited.
Cowan-Dickie's quick-tap penalties close to the line have become a defining characteristic of Exeter Chiefs' style of play. It is interesting that the Lions have chosen to mirror that approach, too, often spurning the option of three points in favour of the driven try. The tourists have attempted this several times when Cowan-Dickie has not been on the field, but the results have not been anywhere near as successful.
Early in the match against the Stormers, Cowan-Dickie was doing what he does best close to the line. A marginal double-movement decision prevented him scoring what would have been the first of his two tries, but the damage he can cause in a close-range carry is irrefutable.
This was impressive in the midfield, too. Smith ships the ball out to Cowan-Dickie on the back foot, well behind the gainline, but he has the strength to not only get the Lions back on the front-foot, but actually get beyond the original gainline, too.
It was all rounded off with a superbly-taken try towards the end of the first half, where Cowan-Dickie shrugs off one defender at the back of a maul before cantering to the line to finish.
All footage from Sky Sports
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