Starting with an apology for the lack of articles over the 6 nations, I would like to get in a quick “movers and shakers” update on my predicted Lions squad.
As the primary northern hemisphere competition, the six Nations is as good a barometer as any of judging a players ability at the top level and therefore their performances in said competition gives a good guideline of where they currently are on form.
As always starting off up front these front rowers I believe have lost their place on the plane to New Zealand.
It may come as little surprise given the controversy surrounding the man, even when I originally suggested him, but my first man off the plane is Dylan Hartley the England captain.
He was consistently outplayed by George coming off the bench which was shown at its most extreme in the Italy game when completely stumped by their tactics and was unable to show any leadership qualities to pull his team through. I feel that Hartley took a back seat as others took matters into their own hands. He was also subbed off very early in the Wales game showing he has become much more expendable in the current England side. In the squad he is to be replaced by Ken Owens, consistently one of Wales’s top performers, who prides himself on the set piece first but also offers a threat around the park.
My next pick is more a man who has played his way in than the incumbent playing themselves out, Joe Marler played so well over the 6 nations that he kept 2013 Lion and previous first choice Mako Vunipola out of the side after his return from injury. His defence and set piece were immense all the way through and he offers a much more solid option than the other 2 looseheads. Cian Healey therefore misses out, it’s tough on a fan favourite but he was shown in the 6 nations to be slightly off the pace in comparison to his barnstorming self of old taking a back seat to McGrath.
Given the relatively equal game time of the 2 Welshmen, and the fact that neither of them could nail down the starting berth or stand out as a clear contender, I believe neither of them will now go to New Zealand. This is one of the toughest decisions for me to make as I still believe on his form in 2016 WP Nel would be my starting test tighthead, however with little info on how his injury rehab is going it’s hard to put him on the plane right now.
If he is fit then for me he goes, however given the length of time he has been missing this season it may be one of the younger options who go. Either the set piece solidity of Fagerson or the wildcard ball carrying of Kyle Sinckler, for me Sinckler offers a different skillset to current options and would be my choice to give the Kiwis another threat to worry about.
Another who played himself out of the running by being unable to hold onto his starting berth is Devon Toner, his logical replacement would be Henderson, the man who ousted him, and his ability to play equally well at international on the blindside makes this a very tempting option. However I will go for a man who, almost single handed at times, dragged England to a second title with some stellar performances. Joe Launchbury was back to his very best this 6 nations and will put down a big marker to keep one of Itoje or Kruis out of the England team moving forwards.
While others may argue Kruis may not go given his injury however I believe Borthwick will fight his corner and make sure he is given his opportunity to shine. If this is not the case I would back Henderson to take this slot.
My final 2 changes in the pack are at flanker. I feel Robshaw’s untimely injury may count against him and it’s likely he will lose out to Scotland captain John Barclay who rarely had a bad game and, England game excluded, was part of the reason Scotland were able to get their exciting backs quick ball in space.
The other position is a straight swap of Irishmen as my last change in the pack, Sean O’Brien did not show much of what he is capable of in the 6 nations whereas his fellow countryman Peter O’Mahony came in for 1 game and was deservedly man of the match. I feel that O’Mahony perfectly fits the game plan we will need to beat the All Blacks.
I believe only one change will be made from my original pick for the backs and it is that Elliot Daly. A phenomenal run of form has seen him develop into one of the most dangerous international backs in the world – the problem is where do you play him? I believe he needs to be on the tour somehow. My personal choice is not what I think Gatland will do so I have dropped Nowell from my original squad in favour of England’s rising star.
Hookers: Ken Owens, Jamie George, Rory Best
Looseheads: Mako Vunipola, Jack McGrath, Joe Marler
Tightheads: Tadgh Furlong, Dan Cole, WP Nel/Kyle Sinckler
Second rows: Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Jonny Gray, Joe Launchbury
Back rows: Ross Moriarty, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Justin Tipuric, John Barclay, Billy Vunipola, Toby Faletau
Scrum Half: Connor Murray, Ben Youngs, Rhys Webb
Fly Half: Jonathan Sexton, George Ford, Owen Farrell
Centre: Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Gary Ringrose
Back 3: Elliot Daly, George North, Anthony Watson, Simon Zebo, Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny
My Test 23 (based on personal opinion not prediction)
- Jack McGrath
- Ken Owens
- WP Nel (if fit)/Tadgh Furlong
- Joe Launchbury
- Jonny Gray
- C J Stander
- Justin Tipuric
- Billy Vunipola
- Connor Murray
- George Ford
- Liam Williams
- Owen Farrell
- Robbie Henshaw
- Anthony Watson
- Stuart Hogg
- Jamie George
- Mako Vunipola
- Tadgh Furlong (if Nel fit)/if not Sinckler
- Maro Itoje
- Peter O’Mahony
- Rhys Webb
- Gary Ringrose
- Elliot Daly