British and Irish Lions Watch 2017: Edition 6

Date published: April 18 2017

With one day left until the squad is announced, it is time to check who is making the plane to New Zealand for the Lions tour.

Fully aware of the flurry of rumours circulating before Wednesday’s announcement, we’ve factored in that speculation and the performances of key players since our last edition two weeks ago.

The omens are not looking good for a number of England’s Six Nations winning side, while heat around other players has subsided the closer we get to the big reveal.

We have gone with 16 backs and 22 forwards (including six props). Your feedback matters in this process, so let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

FULL-BACKS

Pack that suitcase: Still no doubts around Stuart Hogg, but with Gatland more practical than people often care to remember when it comes to his selections, and given how vital goalkicking has proved to be on past tours, perhaps there is room for Leigh Halfpenny after all.

On standby: Taking the safe option with Halfpenny edges out Joey Carbery, although the Ireland youngster should definitely be keeping his phone on. Jared Payne seems set to miss out, as does Mike Brown.

Best make other plans: Rob Kearney, Alex Goode

WINGS

Pack that suitcase: Could we see an outsider here? George North and Liam Williams are both certain tourists and likely starters – even the Kiwis acknowledged how good Williams was last year – but what about the other two spots? Anthony Watson is another who can cover full-back and has the speed needed to break games open. Leaving one more spot… which having gone in 2013 we would vouch is heading Sean Maitland’s way.

On standby: Not far behind must be Chris Ashton and Tommy Seymour, while his Scotland team-mate Tim Visser and England’s Jack Nowell are all proven operators at Test level. Simon Zebo is enjoying a fine campaign, but might not have enough to disrupt the chosen four.

Best make other plans: Jonny May, Keith Earls, Alex Cuthbert

CENTRES

Pack that suitcase: More change here. Gatland is likely to want some Lions experience rather than a collection of rookies, which opens the door for Jonathan Davies. Good form should see Elliot Daly get on the plane, not forgetting his versatility, and Robbie Henshaw is ready to start in the Tests. That leaves two places. Based on Tuesday’s reports, one of them will not go to Jonathan Joseph, despite his many qualities. We would give Garry Ringrose a deserve chance. Finally, England’s hard-running Ben Te’o has momentum.

On standby: It feels phenomenally tough on Jonathan Joseph, who is much more than just an attacking threat. Jamie Roberts would be a shock but then has great history with Gatland. Alex Dunbar would be unlucky too.

Best make other plans: Matt Scott, Henry Slade, Luke Marshall

FLY-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: No change here with the pair of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell both taken, and still likely to feature as a 10-12 combination come the first Test barring injury.

On standby: The order of who is next in line out of Dan BiggarFinn Russell and George Ford is tough to read. Ford is well admired by Eddie Jones but has been inconsistent this season. Biggar would seem the best bet.

Best make other plans: Paddy Jackson, Duncan Weir, Sam Davies, Alex Lozowski

SCRUM-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: The easiest trio to guess with Conor MurrayRhys Webb and Ben Youngs all on the plane. Murray’s ongoing fitness is a mild concern as he continues to return from a stinger, while Youngs scored a superb try for Leicester against Newcastle on the weekend.

On standby: Greig Laidlaw’s hopes always looked slim after his injury in the Six Nations, while there is no room for Danny Care again as in 2013. Ali Price has had his moments this season, but the three frontrunners are all class operators.

Best make other plans: Gareth Davies, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, Henry Prygos

NUMBER EIGHT

Pack that suitcase: There’s no denying the class of Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau, with Vunipola now match-fit after missing most of the Six Nations and Faletau looking much more like his old self having shaken off various niggles and begun to hit form for Bath.

On standby: Jamie Heaslip has given so much to the Lions in 2009 and 2013 but it looks as though time has run out on the 33-year-old towards the end of his career. Nathan Hughes didn’t disgrace himself during the Six Nations but nor did he set the world alight either. Ross Moriarty must be close.

Best make other plans: Josh Strauss, Jack Conan, Ryan Wilson

FLANKERS

Pack that suitcase: The frontrunner to lead the Lions even with his recent six-week layoff, Sam Warburton is a certainty to make the trip. CJ Stander should help form a balanced duo on either flank of the scrum, and is a likely Test starter. Justin Tipuric should have plenty to offer when the midweek games open up given his speed and turnover ability, and Peter O’Mahony’s lineout skills have been rightly hailed. With time seemingly having run out on a couple of English candidates, we would still take Hamish Watson.

On standby: Sean O’Brien would be the next to New Zealand should any injuries occur, while the heart goes out to Chris Robshaw who was flying before his injury and impressed against Exeter last Friday. There is also no room for James Haskell.

Best make other plans: John Barclay, John Hardie, Tom Wood, Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy

LOCK

Pack that suitcase: Two certainties would appear to be Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones, whose Test combination will be fascinating to watch should both make it to June 24 at Eden Park unscathed. Gatland is understood to be a big fan of Iain Henderson, the Ulster workhorse who was spectacular against England, while the return to fitness of George Kruis just in time after his return against Northampton works in his favour, with Gatland keen to take both Saracens and England locks. Room for a fifth? It could be any number of candidates, with Courtney Lawes for now getting the edge who can cover six.

On standby: That leaves out a whole host of talented locks, not least Joe Launchbury, who should have been named Six Nations Player of the Tournament. Donnacha Ryan is another in fine form unlucky to miss out. And what about Jonny Gray, the talk of the town at the start of the year? This is a very rich, deep area for Gatland and none of those three should turn their phones off in June.

Best make other plans: Jake Ball, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Devin Toner, Bradley Davies, Luke Charteris

HOOKER

Pack that suitcase: Rory Best is a certainty here, but the decision on which England hooker to take to New Zealand is apparently set to go down to the wire. Dylan Hartley had an excellent game for Northampton against Saracens on Sunday, and his leadership and physicality seem to fit the Gatland mould for this tour. Ken Owens should get the nod too.

On standby: Tough on Jamie George who will certainly be next in line. There has been plenty of momentum in recent weeks for Richard Hibbard, a player Gatland knows well, but a lack of recent Test experience – last capped in the 2015 Rugby World Cup warm-ups – may hurt his chances.

Best make other plans: Ross Ford, Scott Baldwin, Fraser Brown

PROPS

Pack that suitcase: More or less picks itself at this final stage, with Jack McGrath, Tadgh FurlongMako Vunipola and Dan Cole all certainties. Joe Marler was absolutely outstanding for Harlequins last Friday and would appear to have done enough at this point to go as the third loosehead. That leaves room for a sixth prop, and if recent reports are to be trusted, then Kyle Sinckler’s all-action playing style has won Gatland over and he will tour.

On standby: Another promising young prop in Zander Fagerson therefore misses out, while Cian Healy is still in the battle to edge out Marler.

Best make other plans: WP Nel, Tomas Francis, Samson Lee


COMMENTS