With the excitement building ahead of 2013's visit to Australia, we decided to pump up the volume by bringing you our fifth Lions watch!
With the excitement building ahead of 2013's visit to Australia, we decided to pump up the volume by bringing you our fifth 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.
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Wales and Cardiff Blues full-back Leigh Halfpenny remains the front-runner for the position, having continued to perform for his region. Halfpenny receives plenty of attention for his excellent goal-kicking but he is also a threat with ball in hand and strong under the high ball, making him the perfect candidate. Rob Kearney's return from injury is a positive sign for all Lions fans and if he stays fit will absolutely travel. Harlequins' Mike Brown is not far behind the leading duo and could travel as a full-back/winger option.
On standby: Mike Brown, Lee Byrne, Alex Goode
Best make other plans next June: Ben Foden, Stuart Hogg, Felix Jones.
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Tommy Bowe's injury sees him drop down the pecking order, with Heineken Cup showman Simon Zebo rocketing up our squad ranks. Chris Ashton is another who comes back into the fold after some strong performances for Saracens, whilst Craig Gilroy keeps his spot ahead of what could be a breakthrough Six Nations for the Ulster winger. Finally, a shootout between two Welsh giants sees Alex Cuthbert edge out George North to take the final spot. Two standby contenders include the returning Luke Fitzgerald, who has shone in his two matches back, and Osprey Eli Walker.
On standby: George North, Eli Walker, Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Tim Visser
Best make other plans next June: Liam Williams, Ugo Monye, Christian Wade, David Strettle, Sean Lamont
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: England powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi remains near the top of the list after his heroics against New Zealand. Jamie Roberts has shown enough in recent weeks to suggest he is nearing a burst of form ahead of the Six Nations and could form a strong partnership with Tuilagi in midfield. Brian O'Driscoll is easing back into playing following injury and with the Ireland captaincy no longer his, expect a burden-free O'Driscoll to shine over the next two months. That leaves Brad Barritt as a defensive lynchpin and Welsh centre Jonathan Davies to fill the other seats travelling to Australia.
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
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: The competition is as fierce as ever between Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell, with both players showcasing their skill sets during the Heineken Cup. Sexton is the front-runner and will not let being courted by Racing MÃ©tro distract him during the Six Nations, whilst Farrell produced a remarkable kicking performance against Racing to stake his claim. Behind them a third candidate is unclear, with Jonny Wilkinson struggling against Montpellier, Rhys Priestland ruled out for some time and Toby Flood's form being scratchy at best. In a battle between Freddie Burns (knee scan dependent), Dan Biggar and Flood, we'll take Biggar. Rhys Patchell and Charlie Hodgson are on the radar.
On standby: Jonny Wilkinson, Freddie Burns, Toby Flood, James Hook
Best make other plans next June: Rhys Priestland, Ruaridh Jackson, Ronan O'Gara, Rhys Patchell, Charlie Hodgson, Greig Laidlaw, Paddy Jackson
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Danny Care and Ben Youngs are both strong candidates to start after illustrating their individual qualities recently. Care remains as sniping and tricky to defend as ever, whilst in the blizzard against Toulouse the busy Youngs' tactical kicking was outstanding. Behind the pair of them, Mike Phillips leads a strong Irish trio of Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray and Paul Marshall, with Scottish nine Henry Prygos an outside bet.
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
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Jamie Heaslip is most definitely the number one number eight playing in Britain and Ireland right now. His performances for Leinster this past month have been superb and he increases his positional lead over his tour rivals because of that. Nick Easter continues to play well for Quins but is unlikely to go so our two other eights this time around are Toby Faletau and Kelly Brown, who would make a great midweek skipper.
On standby: James Coughlan, Thomas Waldrom, David Denton, Ben Morgan
Best make other plans next June: Jordan Crane, Nick Easter
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: And so we arrive to the Lions strongest position. Take your pick really as decisions may be made for us during the Six Nations. While Sam Warburton is Wales captain, the form of Justin Tipuric this past month has been outstanding and it will be interesting to see whether the Osprey gets game time in red. Chris Robshaw seems to be assured a place on the plane (we feel maybe not as a starter) so the other spots are heading toward Stephen Ferris (almost back) and Sean O'Brien. Tom Wood and Peter O'Mahony will be pushing hard along with Tom Croft and Dan Lydiate later on. The wildcard is, of course, 2013's non-international player and Toulon star openside Steffon Armitage.
On standby: Ross Rennie, Dan Lydiate, Tom Wood, Peter O'Mahony, Tom Croft, Steffon Armitage
Best make other plans next June: Tom Johnson, John Barclay, Alasdair Strokosch, Chris Henry, Ryan Jones, Iain Henderson
Kiss the wife and kids goodbye: Just the one change here after another solid month of Heineken Cup rugby from Geoff Parling, Nathan Hines and Donnacha Ryan. That trio has a good balance of workrate, skills and grunt that will be needed against James Horwill and Sitaleki Timani. Our final lock spot is going to Richie Gray, who gets in ahead of Joe Launchbury, with both hoping for a strong Six Nations to boost their hopes of travelling.
On standby: Paul O'