As the year of the Lions rolls around the makeup of the squad has unsurprisingly become one of the main topics of debate on social media and clubs across the UK. As such I thought it time I waded in on the subject to try and add some kind of sense to it.
We start with some research looking into the composition of the last 2 tours. Unsurprisingly, considering the continuity of coaching staff, both tours took a squad of 37 players with an almost identical split between positional groups.
The first table below shows the player split for the 2013 tour to Australia by both position and Nation. As repeatedly mentioned at the time there was a large Welsh presence on the tour. The large presence likely attributed to the Welsh coaching contingent and Wales winning the 6 nations that season.
The second table shows the player split by position and nation for the 2009 tour to South Africa, perhaps surprisingly there was again a large Welsh presence on the tour but a stronger presence from the Grand Slam winners of the 6 nations that season, Ireland.
LIONS TOUR TO AUSTRALIA 2013
LIONS TOUR TO SOUTH AFRICA 2009
So to start with, ignoring the make up by nation, it can be seen that there was an almost identical split by position both years. The only change was an extra front row was brought in place of a half back in 2013, that’s likely due to two things: the extra front row substitute now to be used in each game and the fact a player such as Stuart Hogg (and latterly Billy Twelvetrees when he joined the party), could fill in at Fly Half if needed. In fact this tactic seemed to work well for the Lions as shown by Hogg with aplomb in the Combined Country match.
For the sake of thoroughness I have also included the 2005 split below, but as the squad size was much larger, the matches were much less evenly contested and the there was no coaching continuity between the tours I will be largely ignoring this tour from here on.
LIONS TOUR TO NEW ZEALAND 2005
Now, to the part which causes the most debate amongst Lions fans. The split by nation.
The standard pattern over the last 2 tours has generally seen a small Scottish contingent and a fairly even mix of the other 3 nations with a slight skew towards the in-form team of the 3.
In 2013 Wales won the 6 nations with Ireland taking the Grand Slam in 2009, as previously mentioned this was reflected in their representation – this bias towards form is prevalent in most Lions squads of recent memory, 1997 showed similar tendencies with only 2005 in recent memory being the anomaly (a fourth placed England contributing nearly 50% of the playing squad).
With this statistic in mind it will be difficult to pick an accurate 37 man squad this far out without knowing:
- who the best team in the 6 nations will be in 2017
- The form players and bolters who could potentially shine and force their way into contention.
But over the next few days that is exactly what I am about to attempt. Before starting I want to state this is what I think we will see not necessarily what I would like to see.
LIONS TOUR TO NEW ZEALAND 2017
The table above is my prediction at the split between the nations and positions for this year’s tour, the exact breakdown of this will be my next few articles so watch this space.
With the main Coaching team identical to the 2013 tour (Gatland, Farrell, Howley) I've again opted for a 37 man squad and with Wales struggling to find form in the Autumn Internationals and Scotland not quite finding the consitency that their potential offers, the main bulk of the split is between what I consider to be the best two Home Nations sides right now, England and Ireland.
The key to any succesful Lions tour squad is balance and even if the 2017 Six Nations shows a drastic change in results I expect the composite make up of the squad to remain largely unchanged.
In the next article we'll look at and predict the make up of the Forwards of the squad.
Author: Michael Bolton
Player/Analyst Michael Bolton splits his time between providing professional analysis for various English University sides and U20 County teams.
You can follow him on Twitter.