British and Irish Lions Watch: Edition 5

Date published: April 5 2017

With the Six Nations now done and dusted, it is time to check who is making the plane to New Zealand for the Lions tour.

The big announcement is just two weeks away for those British and Irish players nervously waiting to see if they will make the cut.

Two weeks on from our last edition, the Champions Cup quarter-finals and performances of Leinster, Munster and Saracens will all have had an impact on Warren Gatland’s thinking.

Could we have a possible Irish bolter after dazzling against Wasps? And whose chances have been hit hard by a loss of form at the wrong time?

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: Stuart Hogg remains the number one bet here, but what about Joey Carbery? The young Leinster player was outstanding against Wasps, has beaten the All Blacks don’t forget last year in Chicago, and if selected to tour as a full-back still gives the Lions a third fly-half option for the midweek matches, allowing for an extra ball-carrying centre.

On standby: Leigh Halfpenny of course is a Gatland favourite, but his confidence looked off in the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat for Toulon. Jared Payne’s performance against England hasn’t been forgotten either.

Best make other plans: Mike Brown, Rob Kearney

WINGS

Pack that suitcase: Adding Carbery into the mix would reclassify Liam Williams as a wing, even though he is perfectly capable of playing full-back, and George North’s reminder of his class late in the Six Nations means he should also travel. Anthony Watson brings plenty of speed and Tommy Seymour’s efforts for Scotland in the Six Nations and for Glasgow this season should not be forgotten.

On standby: A number of quality options left in reserve here, from Tim Visser to Jack Nowell, not forgetting Simon Zebo who looked sharp against England and then Toulouse for Munster when he started at full-back.

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

CENTRES

Pack that suitcase: Top performances last weekend from Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose suggest both should be on the plane, with one of them likely to start in the Test side. Jonathan Joseph is another must given his quick feet and rush defence skills, showcased against Scotland. Leaving two further spots, one of which should go to Elliot Daly given his versatility and with 13 being his preferred position at Wasps. Another strong ball carrier is still needed, and there is no better centre in Wales at the moment than Scott Williams.

On standby: No room for now for either Jonathan Davies or Jamie Roberts, although given the lack of Lions experience in the above quintet don’t be surprised if one of those two find a way in. Alex Dunbar is the best of the rest.

Best make other plans: Ben Te’o, Matt Scott, Henry Slade, Luke Marshall

FLY-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: Bucking the recent trend of picking Owen Farrell as a centre, Henshaw’s performances in recent weeks suggest that the Jonathan Sexton-Farrell combo at 10 and 12 that has been highly talked about isn’t necessarily set in stone. Still, there’s no way both number 10s don’t make the cut.

On standby: Which leaves a supporting cast including Dan BiggarFinn Russell and George Ford. Biggar probably leads that trio, with Russell inconsistent and question marks lingering over Ford’s defence. All are quality operators though.

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

SCRUM-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: Same again, with Conor Murray the starter and Rhys Webb fighting it out for the reserve spot with Ben Youngs, a battle Webb should win given his speed and therefore potential impact from the bench.

On standby: Greig Laidlaw is sadly in a race against time, with Danny Care too similar a player to Webb. Ali Price did go well in the final weeks of the Six Nations for Scotland, but would be a real bolter.

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

NUMBER EIGHT

Pack that suitcase: And more consistency in the back row, where Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau offer a nice blend of power and experience. Vunipola’s performance against Glasgow was very special, bulldozing his way over the gain-line while adding in those familiar offloads, as he continues to regain match fitness. Faletau showed glimpses of his old self for Bath against Brive and is a winner from 2013 that Gatland will want around.

On standby: Nathan Hughes didn’t do enough in the Six Nations to convince that he could be a Lion, with Ross Moriarty probably the best next bet given he can cover eight and six. Time is against Jamie Heaslip, a standout Lion on the last two tours, who at 33 may miss out.

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

FLANKERS

Pack that suitcase: The odds shortening on Sam Warburton leading the Lions in New Zealand is no coincidence. Warburton did enough to convince he should start in the Test series during the Six Nations and should be heavily considered. CJ Stander at this point is a shoo-in, while Justin Tipuric was the only positive for the Ospreys out of that dire Challenge Cup exit to Stade Français. With two more spots available, Peter O’Mahony has hit form and can disrupt at the lineout. Hamish Watson wouldn’t be out of place in Super Rugby considering his frame and ability over the ball at the breakdown, so he goes as well.

On standby: Working his way into form but time may run out for Sean O’Brien. Chris Robshaw meanwhile is doing what he can for Harlequins but needs a monster man-of-the-match performance this weekend against Saracens and then the following week at home to Exeter. Looking for a bolter? How about Dan Leavy…

Best make other plans: James Haskell, John Barclay, John Hardie, Tom Wood, Josh van der Flier

LOCK

Pack that suitcase: The six-week injury layoff for Alun Wyn Jones shouldn’t affect his chances of touring, even if the captaincy looks to be slipping away from him at this point. Maro Itoje bullied Glasgow Warriors, restored to lock and looking right at home, and it was a shame his battle with Jonny Gray never got going after the Scotland lock went off early. Both will certainly tour. That leaves two spots, one for Joe Launchbury after his high work-rate in the Six Nations, when he should have been named Player of the Tournament. The fifth lock could be any one of a number of candidates, but for now we’ll stick with Iain Henderson.

On standby: George Kruis is right up against the clock and due to return the weekend before the squad is named. We won’t rule him out, given his ability at calling a lineout, but it’s touch and go. Donnacha Ryan had an immense Six Nations, as did Courtney Lawes.

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

HOOKER

Pack that suitcase: No change here with Rory Best arguably the Test frontrunner, ably supported by Jamie George as he prepares for busy season run-in both domestically and in Europe with Saracens. Ken Owens makes sense as the third and final option after his carrying in the loose and lineout work towards the end of the Six Nations.

On standby: Dylan Hartley still seems set to just miss the boat after a muted Six Nations campaign. His leadership with England is essential, but there is no lack of leaders heading to New Zealand.

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

PROPS

Pack that suitcase: Both Leinster props Jack McGrath and Tadgh Furlong continue to go from strength to strength, with Furlong in particular absolutely flying with his work in the set-piece and in the loose. Mako Vunipola stood out against Glasgow, while Dan Cole is coming off one of his best Six Nations for some time. Leaving out Joe Marler would be tough after his own fine Six Nations campaign, which leaves space for a final tighthead, filled for now by Zander Fagerson.

On standby: Kyle Sinckler’s ability in the loose will have Gatland intrigued, while Cian Healy has experience and is hot on the heels of his Leinster team-mate.

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


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