Lions Watch 2017: Edition 1

Date published: December 13 2016

Internationals done, Christmas looming… as we edge closer to the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour now is the time to see who is on the plane.

Every fortnight we’ll return to the laboratory to chart who has improved their chances and who has slipped down the pecking order, doing our best to help Warren Gatland settle on who should make his squad for the tour in New Zealand.

If a superstar player is missing, that is likely down to a major injury or suspension rather than preference. And matching the 2013 squad, we have gone with 16 backs and 21 forwards.

Your feedback matters in this process, so let us know what your thoughts with in the comments below.

Lions Watch 2017: Edition 1

FULL-BACKS

Pack that suitcase: The youngest Lion in 2013 is now the frontrunner to start at full-back based on his brilliant form for Scotland. We would be very surprised if Stuart Hogg doesn’t start in the Test series, with the dangerous Liam Williams offering competition. Leigh Halfpenny is playing his way into form since recovering from injury and his goalkicking was vital in Australia. If Owen Farrell starts though, do the Lions need him as much? He will definitely tour.

On standby: Rob Kearney has looked back to his best in recent weeks and may push hard down the stretch. Mike Brown seems set to miss out.

Best make other plans: Alex Goode, Tiernan O’Halloran

 

WINGS

Pack that suitcase: Going off their respective performances in November, both Simon Zebo and Jonny May would make the plane if it was taking off tomorrow. George North and Anthony Watson are far less certain; North because of his health, Watson given he is only just returning to injury. The latter pair however would offer a nice balance of power and pace. North could well be asked to cover 13 too as Tommy Bowe has done in the past.

On standby: Were there a spot for a fifth wing then Tommy Seymour would take it. Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe and Jack Nowell are too far down the pecking order. Nowell however is very versatile and could pop up elsewhere.

Best make other plans: Alex Cuthbert, Marland Yarde, Andrew Trimble

 

CENTRES

Pack that suitcase: Plenty depends here on what balance England are looking for, and whether Gatland views Owen Farrell as a fly-half or a centre. Based off November it might be the latter, which could mean he pairs up with Jonathan Joseph again except in red. Robbie Henshaw is the more straightforward inside centre pick, while Jonathan Davies, so good four years ago, offers experience.

On standby: Very tough and for now Alex Dunbar and Garry Ringrose, have time to force their way into contention. Jamie Roberts has work to do to make a third tour. Huw Jones shouldn’t be discounted.

Best make other plans: Manu Tuilagi, Scott Williams, Henry Slade, Jared Payne, Elliot Daly

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 15: during the match between the NSW Waratahs and the British & Irish Lions at Allianz Stadium on June 15, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

FLY-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: Farrell went as one of two fly-halves in 2013, but assuming he is viewed four years later as a centre then expect George Ford to tour. The other slot is essentially open to four players and despite the experience of the other candidates, Paddy Jackson was phenomenal during November for Ireland. There might just be a shock in store here.

On standby: All strong contenders; Dan Biggar and Finn Russell would certainly be competent, but unlikely to start in the Tests. Jonathan Sexton not making the plane would be a stunner, but his health and the rise of Jackson for now sees him miss out.

Best make other plans: Joey Carbery, Danny Cipriani, Gareth Anscombe, Duncan Weir

 

SCRUM-HALVES

Pack that suitcase: Straightforward enough here, one of Conor Murray or Ben Youngs will start, and currently we are leaning towards the Irishman. The third scrum-half slot is wide open, but Gatland and the coaching staff may turn to Greig Laidlaw as an ideal player to lead the mid-week side given his status as Scotland captain.

On standby: Recapture the form he showed before his serious injury and Rhys Webb could be a contender. Kieran Marmion and Danny Care offer something different with their pace, but have work to do.

Best make other plans: Ali Price, Lloyd Williams, Henry Pyrgos

 

NUMBER EIGHTS

Pack that suitcase: Three leading contenders here but only two number eights went to Australia, and this time around we expect Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau to make the plane. Vunipola will miss most of the Six Nations but a late season run with Saracens and his displays in 2016 should be enough. Faletau meanwhile is a Gatland favourite.

On standby: Jamie Heaslip misses out by a hair, but that could certainly change. Ryan Wilson, Nathan Hughes, Josh Strauss and John Barclay for now will be staying at home.

Best make other plans: Dan Baker, Ben Morgan

 

FLANKERS

Pack that suitcase: Dan Lydiate’s season-ending injury ended his chances and has opened the door at blindside flanker, although CJ Stander in all likelihood was the frontrunner anyway given his great form. Chris Robshaw missed out four years ago but has been integral in England’s unbeaten year and should tour. Justin Tipuric offers a pacier option, Sean O’Brien brings physicality and Sam Warburton great leadership.

On standby: Tom Wood, James Haskell, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier might find it tough to break up that quintet, although the young Irish openside certainly has a chance.

Best make other plans: Ross Moriarty, Magnus Bradbury, Teimana Harrison, Hamish Watson, James King

 

LOCKS

Pack that suitcase: Gatland will be thrilled to see a number of in-form options in this position as the Lions set out to target the All Blacks up front. Maro Itoje offers plenty with his ability to cover blindside flanker. Jonny Gray and Devin Toner both enjoyed outstanding Novembers. Alun Wyn Jones, a frontrunner to captain the side, is in Test contention. George Kruis gets the nod as our fifth lock for now.

On standby: Maul destoryer Luke Charteris, the versatile Iain Henderson and the ever-impressive Joe Launchbury are all right in the hunt.

Best make other plans: Ultan Dillane, Richie Gray, Courtney Lawes, Donnacha Ryan

 

PROPS

Pack that suitcase: Six props again for Gatland with the Ireland and England starters all in excellent form. Were the Test tomorrow then Mako Vunipola and Tadgh Furlong would have to start. Jack McGrath and Dan Cole are snapping at their heels, and that’s before looking at WP Nel and Cian Healy, who offer great depth. Very strong area.

On standby: The depth left in home isn’t bad either. Joe Marler and Zander Fagerson would be the next best two options off the taxi rank, following by Rob Evans and Samson Lee.

Best make other plans: Gethin Jenkins, Finlay Bealham, Tomas Francis, Kyle Sinckler

 

HOOKERS

Pack that suitcase: After a strong showing from both a playing and leadership perspective for Ireland, the ever-industrious Rory Best is a strong contender for the Lions jersey having missed out four years ago. Dylan Hartley… look, he seems likely to make the trip, but his captaincy claims lie in tatters after that red card against Leinster. The likely third choice could well be Saracens front-row Jamie George in a surprise move.

On standby: Ken Owens, Sean Cronin and Ross Ford waiting at home with a pre-packed suitcase sat by the door as in case of a surprise mid-tour call-up. All three hookers have had a great season, with Ross Ford the most likely candidate for a call-up.

Best make other plans: Fraser Brown, Scott Baldwin, Luke Cowan-Dickie

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