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British & Irish Lions watch: Edition 7

26th March 2013 14:06

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British and Irish Lions watch

Almost time: Lions selection

With the excitement building ahead of 2013's visit to Australia, we decided to pump up the volume by bringing you another British and 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: The first man on the plane has to be the 2013 Six Nations Player of the Championship, Leigh Halfpenny. Outstanding with the boot and a rock under the high ball, Halfpenny's award is richly deserved but his versatility could see him put out on the wing. That would open up a spot for Stuart Hogg at 15, with the young Scot impressing once again in his second season in the Six Nations. Hogg's speed and attacking threat would make him a smart choice on the hard ground in Australia. That leaves Rob Kearney, who endured a frustrating Six Nations campaign as he continues to look for his best form after returning from injury. Kearney was one of the standout backs in 2009 and has key experience, putting him ahead of the other challengers.

On standby: Lee Byrne, Alex Goode, Mike Brown

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

WINGS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: After persistently improving as the Six Nations wore on, George North is the prime candidate for either the 11 or 14 shirt. The 20-year old has showcased his talent once again on the biggest stage and this tour could prove to be the making of him as a Test winger. One player who has plummeted out of the reckoning is Chris Ashton, with the Saracen short on confidence but high on frustration. In his place is two-try Wales hero Alex Cuthbert, the giant Blues winger making his mark against England despite a hamstring strain - which shouldn't rule him out of the tour. The flying Dutchman Tim Visser is also on our list, adding another score to his tally against France as Scotland finished third in the table. That leaves one more spot, which in a shootout between Sean Maitland, Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy is currently edged by the Ulsterman. Ashton may regather his form and there is still the likes of Tommy Bowe to return from injury, but right now the Lions seem well stocked out wide.

On standby: Chris Ashton, Sean Maitland, Simon Zebo, 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: Same again for our pride of Lions centres, although the same candidates have seen spikes and dips in form. Jamie Roberts was at his most effective for Wales against England, making the metres and sucking in defenders that underline what he has to offer in midfield. Brian O'Driscoll toiled through a tough championship where he looked jaded and weary as Ireland struggled for cohesion - his stamp against Italy an out-of-character action from a player who has more to give. Manu Tuilagi is another who can do better - his knock-on against Wales a sign of things to come. The game-breaking ability he has showed in the past however cannot be ignored. Brad Barritt appeared dull in attack but his defence keeps him in as a coach's favourite. Last but not least, Jonathan Davies is knocking on the door to make the trip after he grafted through another title-winning championship. Billy Twelvetrees though is applying pressure from the reserves.

On standby: Scott Williams, Matt Scott, Billy Twelvetrees, Luke Marshall

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: A frontrunner in the fly-half jersey is no longer clear given concerns over Jonathan Sexton's injury that ruled him out of the remainder of the Six Nations, with the new Racing Métro recruit still being selected in many people's Lions XVs. Owen Farrell performed well throughout the championship until he arrived in Cardiff, suffering the same fate as his England team-mates when his normally accurate boot missed a couple of penalties. Still a contender to start in the Test series, Farrell's age may count against him given Sexton's Heineken Cup pedigree. That leaves Dan Biggar, who deserves plenty of praise for guiding Wales to a Six Nations title after being on the end of such harsh criticism for so long. Still only 23, Biggar has put his hand up to start and will provide a good option throughout the tour. On the edges are Toulon veteran Jonny Wilkinson for his experience, and Irish upstart Paddy Jackson.

On standby: Jonny Wilkinson, Paddy Jackson, Greig Laidlaw

Best make other plans next June: Toby Flood, Rhys Priestland, Ronan O'Gara, Rhys Patchell, Charlie Hodgson, James Hook

SCRUM-HALVES

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Back in the last Lions watch, Mike Phillips was trailing the England duo of Ben Youngs and Danny Care by some distance. How things change. Phillips has now stormed to the front of the queue after his rumbustious performance against England in Cardiff, with Youngs hot on his heels. Care's form has dipped slightly in recent weeks, giving Conor Murray a sniff behind him.

On standby: Conor Murray, Paul Marshall, Lloyd Williams

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

NUMBER EIGHTS

Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: The first number eight to make our squad is Toby Faletau, whose Six Nations showings improved by the round. Jamie Heaslip stays in the mix despite leading an Irish side to one of their worst championships to date. Our only change to the trio sees Tom Wood swap his flank spot for this section while Kelly Brown goes in the other direction. One wonders though if the injured Ben Morgan will sneak in.

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: We stick with three of the five from our most recent edition as Chris Robshaw, Sean O'Brien and Justin Tipuric remain on the plane. Kelly Brown is now almost a certainty to make the trip and we reiterate that he would make an ideal midweek captain in Australia. Our final name included is Sam Warburton, who put in a top effort against England that's seen him become favourite for the captaincy.

On standby: Ryan Jones, 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: Despite being on the losing side in Cardiff, Geoff Parling continued to be one of the stand-out locks this Six Nations and should make the trip with his England colleague Joe Launchbury. Whether or not they will be the starting duo in the Tests remains a grey area as Richie Gray is joined by Alun-Wyn Jones, who pips Donnacha Ryan to our fourth spot. Ian Evans is also pushing hard for a ticket.

On standby: Nathan Hines, Donnacha Ryan, Ian Evans, 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: Barging his way into the selection headache comes Wales hooker Richard Hibbard. Both he and Ken Owens have been very good of late and at the moment the Osprey is pushing Rory Best hard for the starting jersey. The dynamic Tom Youngs remains ahead of Dylan Hartley.

On standby: Dylan Hartley, 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: Once again the nailed on quartet of Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Dan Cole and Adam Jones are on Planet Rugby's list but there is one change to the fifth spot. Mako Vunipola is that inclusion in place of Mike Ross following an exceptional performance for Saracens against Harlequins on Sunday. His dynamism and power could be a welcome option off the bench so we feel he is worth taking.

On standby: Paul James, Ryan Grant, Mike Ross, Matt Stevens

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

By Ben Coles and Adam Kyriacou
@bencoles_ and @PlanetRugbyAK