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British & Irish Lions watch: Edition 4

11th December 2012 10:36

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Lions Watch

2013: Who will make the plane?

With the excitement building ahead of 2013's visit to Australia, we decided to pump up the volume by compiling our current British & Irish Lions squad.

Every three weeks or so Planet Rugby will update its leaderboard for who should pack their bags, who should keep the diary open and who should stock the fridge with a few beers, pizzas and ice creams for soaking up the tour on the couch, as the most coveted of selections fast approaches.

We must stress that long-term injuries have been taken into account for our calls. However, those nearing a return to action are accommodated.

Here we go - make sure to give your feedback.

FULL-BACKS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: For now, the number 15 jersey belongs to Leigh Halfpenny who was the stand-out player for Wales during the end-of-year internationals. His accuracy from the tee will no doubt be utilised Down Under, whilst his heroic defence has already been noted by the Wallabies. But we won't write off Alex Goode just yet. The England full-back also proved to be hugely effective for his country throughout the November Tests, and whilst he doesn't possess Halfpenny's boot, Goode's breaks certainly provided plenty of go-forward.

On standby: Rob Kearney, Lee Byrne, Simon Zebo

Best make other plans next June: Ben Foden, Stuart Hogg, Rob Miller, Delon Armitage

WINGS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Warren Gatland is spoilt for choice in this department, with usual suspects Tommy Bowe and Alex Cuthbert once again proving to be a huge threat on their respective wings. Andrew Trimble is promoted from last week's standby list thanks to some excellent touches for club and country, whilst full-back cum wing Mike Brown proved he can cause plenty of damage out wide. Craig Gilroy is the new face who leaps ahead of Tim Visser, who revealed some defensive lapses playing for Scotland, and George North.

On standby: Chris Ashton, Tim Visser, George North

Best make other plans next June: Liam Williams, Ugo Monye, Christian Wade, David Strettle, Sean Lamont

CENTRES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: If Gatland was still debating on whether to play Manu Tuilagi in the B&I Lions' Test or midweek side, his mind was surely made up after the England centre's barnstorming performance against New Zealand. Tuilagi's partner in crime Brad Barritt also proved his worth, though we believe Jamie Roberts still has the inside track for the number 12 jersey with veteran Brian O'Driscoll also a certainty despite playing no part in the November internationals - his wealth of experience is just too much to leave behind. Jonathan Davies squeezes onto the plane Down Under as our fifth centre.

On standby: Scott Williams, Jonathan Joseph, Keith Earls

Best make other plans next June: James Downey, Anthony Allen, Darren Cave, Gordon D'Arcy, Ashley Beck

FLY-HALVES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Now here's where it gets a whole lot tougher. The battle for the number ten shirt is beginning to really heat up between Ireland pivot Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell, who was on our standby list as a centre last time out. But it's Sexton's consistency that will in all likelihood win him the nod, as Farrell followed up his dominant display over All Blacks star Dan Carter at Twickenham by missing four out of seven penalties for Saracens a week later. Toby Flood drops to our standby list, and Rhys Priestland falls out completely after suffering an injury setback so go for Jonny Wilkinson.

On standby: Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw, Toby Flood, James Hook

Best make other plans next June: Rhys Priestland, Ruaridh Jackson, Ronan O'Gara, Danny Cipriani, Charlie Hodgson, Freddie Burns

SCRUM-HALVES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: With Mike Phillips battling for form, we could see an Englishman pulling on the famous red jersey if Danny Care and Ben Youngs continue doing what they did for their country for their respective clubs. Greig Laidlaw continues to be a dark horse though, as he can fill in at nine or ten.

On standby: Conor Murray, Danny Care, Tavis Knoyle

Best make other plans next June: Eoin Reddan, Richard Wigglesworth, Lloyd Williams, Lee Dickson

NUMBER EIGHTS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Leinster number eight Jamie Heaslip remains the top contender here, after leading Ireland to that thumping victory over Argentina. Thomas Waldrom topped England's stats against Australia but was dropped for Ben Morgan, whose efforts against South Africa and New Zealand put him on the plane. Despite his national and club sides struggling, Scotland's David Denton clings on to his seat, but James Coughlan and Nick Easter are on the radar after impressive performances in the Heineken Cup.

On standby: James Coughlan, Toby Faletau, Kelly Brown

Best make other plans next June: Peter O'Mahony, Jordan Crane, Nick Easter, Andy Powell

FLANKERS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Tom Wood moves into contention after impressive outings in the November Internationals, with England captain Chris Robshaw alongside him. The two remaining spots are a battle between three players - Stephen Ferris and Sean O'Brien are currently battling back to full fitness and Sam Warburton is hinting at a return to form. For the moment, O'Brien is just edged out.

On standby: Justin Tipuric, Ross Rennie, Sean O'Brien, Dan Lydiate

Best make other plans next June: Tom Johnson, John Barclay, Alasdair Strokosch, Chris Henry, Tom Croft, Ryan Jones, Iain Henderson

SECOND-ROWS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Geoff Parling dropped out of the squad in Edition 3 but comes back in following November. Lions experience however is essential, so Clermont's Nathan Hines travels, along with Alun-Wyn Jones. Much like his Irish team-mates, the longer Paul O'Connell stays sidelined the more his chances diminish. Richie Gray like Denton is stuck in a losing rut with club and country. The final spot is a shootout between Donnacha Ryan and possible bolter Joe Launchbury, with the Irishman edging it.

On standby: Paul O'Connell, Richie Gray, Joe Launchbury, Jim Hamilton, Courtney Lawes

Best make other plans next June: Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Al Kellock, Donncha O'Callaghan, Ian Evans, Mike McCarthy

HOOKERS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: With all of the focus on Leinster's duo at hooker, Rory Best returned from injury with a bang against Northampton and secured his spot. That being said, Richardt Strauss will still travel. As for Dylan Hartley, a ban could be on the horizon after yet another citing against an Irish player which could deny him of more valuable game time. Tom Youngs and Sean Cronin are both over his shoulder.

On standby: Tom Youngs, Sean Cronin, Matthew Rees

Best make other plans next June: Ross Ford, Richard Hibbard, David Paice

PROPS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Cian Healy currently has the jump on Gethin Jenkins after some strong performances for club and country in recent weeks, whilst Dan Cole's performance against Tony Woodcock hands him the edge over Adam Jones. All four are definities, all four are world-class. Mike Ross should also travel.

On standby: Ryan Grant, Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola

Best make other plans next June: Paul James, Euan Murray, Andrew Sheridan, Tom Court, Joe Marler

By Ben Coles and Dave Morris
@bencoles_