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British & Irish Lions watch: Edition 6

20th February 2013 11:46

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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 bringing you our sixth British & Irish Lions watch!

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: Competition for the 15 shirt has become so intense that rather than take two full-backs, we have opted for three. Leigh Halfpenny is still out in front after a man-of-the-match performance for Wales against France in Paris, but his flexibility in the back three could see him selected on the wing. Rob Kearney continues to work his way back into form and his best games are ahead of him, while his experience from 2009 is useful. The eye has been well and truly caught though by Stuart Hogg - with the Scotland full-back racking up two long-range tries in two games. Continue that form through the rest of the championship, and he may win a starting spot.

On standby: Lee Byrne, Alex Goode

Best make other plans next June: Ben Foden, Felix Jones.

WINGS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Following his match-winning try in Paris, George North offered a timely reminder of what he can do on the biggest stage. It means that North slots back onto the plane, at the expense of the injured Simon Zebo, whose injury rules him out for now despite his audacious bit of skill against Wales. Chris Ashton retains his spot after a hard-working opening to the Six Nations so far, with the flying Dutchman Tim Visser also coming in to claim his plane ticket. That leaves Mike Brown, whose contributions so far in the Six Nations for England have been outstanding. Alex Cuthbert remains on the fringes, as does new Scotland winger Sean Maitland after impressing for Scotland in his first two Test matches.

On standby: Alex Cuthbert, Sean Maitland, Eli Walker, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe

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

CENTRES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: No changes to the centre collection from last time out. Jamie Roberts was another Welshman to rediscover his best form against France, excelling on his 50th cap. Brian O'Driscoll produced a rather subdued performance against England - it has been quite a busy morning for Ireland's most capped player with the birth of his daughter - but he was electric against Wales and must not only travel, but also start. Manu Tuilagi is yet to leave his mark on this year's championship following injury, but is still a powerful weapon and could prove so against France this weekend. Brad Barritt's qualities continue to go unheralded but he is a coach's dream given his work-rate. That leaves Jonathan Davies, who despite seemingly forgetting how to pass against Ireland, clings on to travel. Billy Twelvetrees is on the radar, as is Matt Scott.

On standby: Scott Williams, Matt Scott, Billy Twelvetrees

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: Injury has provided a temporary setback for Ireland's Jonathan Sexton, but the new Racing Métro recruit is still the best option. Hot on his heels though is Owen Farrell, who simply continues to improve with every Test he plays after a fine kicking performance in the win over Ireland in Dublin. The closer we edge towards the first Test in Brisbane, debate over who must direct the Lions will intensify and the gap between these two players is currently a lot closer than people expect. Dan Biggar silenced some critics against France and is undoubtedly talented, but will face competition from a resurgent Toby Flood, whilst Jonny Wilkinson's Lions chances appear to be fading. Ruaridh Jackson is another to catch the eye.

On standby: Toby Flood, James Hook, Ruaridh Jackson

Best make other plans next June: Jonny Wilkinson, Rhys Priestland, Ronan O'Gara, Rhys Patchell, Charlie Hodgson, Greig Laidlaw, Paddy Jackson

SCRUM-HALVES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Danny Care and Ben Youngs are as difficult to separate when it comes to selection for England as they are far the Lions, with Care landing the most recent blow with a stunning try against Leicester for Harlequins. Youngs though is seen as the preferable option given his all-round abilities. Mike Phillips will also travel behind the pairing, with Ireland's Conor Murray likely to challenge him for the remaining spot.

On standby: Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Paul Marshall

Best make other plans next June: Tavis Knoyle, Issac Boss, Richard Wigglesworth, Lloyd Williams, Lee Dickson, Henry Prygos

NUMBER EIGHTS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Jamie Heaslip had an afternoon to forget against England, the first black mark on new Ireland captain's report card so far. It will no doubt spur him on to better performances over the next couple of months, but Toby Faletau is making a real impression and in many minds right now is the frontrunner to start at number eight against the Wallabies. Last but not least, Scotland captain Kelly Brown can operate at the back of the pack and is making his case on a weekly basis with high tackle counts. Ben Morgan's injury has been come at a time when he was starting to show promise.

On standby: Ben Morgan, Thomas Waldrom, David Denton, Billy Vunipola, Johnnie Beattie

Best make other plans next June: James Coughlan, Jordan Crane, Nick Easter

FLANKERS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Two games in and Chris Robshaw has gone from having a seat on the plane to being the leading contender to start at openside flanker and possibly even captain the Lions in Australia. Not far behind him is Ireland's Sean O'Brien who is in fine form after returning from injury, a nightmare to contain and possessing the kind of power that can swing matches. The battle for the openside flanker position in Wales for now has been won by the Osprey Justin Tipuric, who will certainly travel - fitness permitting - if he continues his rich vein of form. Injury for now though rules out a spot on the plane for Stephen Ferris along with Dan Lydiate, with England's Tom Wood taking the remaining place given his flexibility to play across the back row. That leaves one more spot, which for now is taken by the resurgent Ryan Jones. His return from injury as Wales captain could not have gone better in Paris, and he has the key experience of two Lions tours on his record meaning he will not only travel, but possibly start. Sam Warburton must find a breakthrough.

On standby: Sam Warburton, Stephen Ferris, Ross Rennie, Dan Lydiate, Peter O'Mahony, Tom Croft, Steffon Armitage

Best make other plans next June: Tom Johnson, John Barclay, Alasdair Strokosch, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson, James Haskell

SECOND-ROWS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: England's Geoff Parling continues to edge closer to a Lions starting spot, something that would have been dismissed 12 months ago when he made his Test debut, with Scotland's Richie Gray putting down a marker for club and country in recent weeks too as he discovers some form. Donnacha Ryan should be his main contender for the number four slot - another great athlete who never fails to produce impressive tackle statistics. The final second row place goes for now to Joe Launchbury, who is taking to Test rugby with surprising ease. He edges out Nathan Hines, whose lack of involvement in the Six Nations following international retirement has not helped his cause. The chasing pack is headed by Alun Wyn Jones, who is named on the bench for Wales this weekend and if fit - when it comes to selection - should squeeze in.

On standby: Nathan Hines, Ian Evans, Alun-Wyn Jones, Jim Hamilton, Courtney Lawes, Andrew Coombs

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

HOOKERS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: The same trio from last time out should all travel bar injury. Rory Best is still out in front, although his throwing has been a tad wayward in recent weeks, with Dylan Hartley apparently now set to start for England against France this weekend, offering him a chance to issue a reminder of his experience. That leaves Tom Youngs, who for now holds the edge over the injured Richardt Strauss and Welshman Richard Hibbard at hooker.

On standby: Richard Hibbard, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss

Best make other plans next June: Ross Ford, Matthew Rees, Mike Sherry, Ken Owens

PROPS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: It has been an interesting couple of opening games in the Six Nations for Cian Healy. After a brilliant performance against Wales, Healy was wild against England and his stamp on fellow Lions prop Dan Cole has seen him consequently suspended. He will certainly travel, but the incident has raised doubts over his temperament. Cole is another who will definitely travel and is playing well, edging out the challenge of Lions veteran Adam Jones for now in any case. Gethin Jenkins' domestic woes continue and he has looked off the pace in the opening games so far, with Paul James hot on his heels for Wales. The final spot goes to Mike Ross, but Mako Vunipola is starting to make an impression for Saracens and England. With the bolter tag now around his neck, he could make a late surge.

On standby: Mako Vunipola, Paul James, Ryan Grant

Best make other plans next June: Alex Corbisiero, Euan Murray, Andrew Sheridan, Tom Court, Joe Marler, Dave Kilcoyne

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_