Which Lions will roar?

By Ollie Godden

With the Lions selection only a week away, Ollie Godden looks at the options for Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad boarding the plane to New Zealand, as well as the likely candidates for the coveted starting jerseys in the first test in Auckland.


Props

An English pairing is likely in the prop department, Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola the outstanding candidates. Irishman Jack McGrath, Cian Healy and Tadgh Furlong will be hoping to make the squad after an impressive scrum show during the six nations. Rob Evans of Wales and Joe Marler will also be hoping to earn a spot on the plane to New Zealand.


Hookers

The selection for the number 2 shirt is an interesting one. In my opinion, if it weren’t for Dylan Hartley’s leadership qualities, Jamie George would be ahead in the English pecking order. However, Gatland has made it clear how highly he values leadership, claiming that that are 8 players in contention for Lions captaincy. Rory Best and Ken Owens are the other options in the position, both dependable options for Gatland, Best perhaps more so.


Locks

One of the most hotly contested positions in the whole squad. Maro Itoje is a must-have item in this Lions team and is an option at both lock and flanker, and where he will be utilised is not clear. Going into the Six Nations, Alun Wyn-Jones and Richie Gray would probably be seen as the favourites for the jersey. However, after some outstanding performances, Jonny Gray and Joe Launchbury will feel they have a great chance of a starting place. George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson and Luke Charteris provide solid back up options.


Flankers

Sam Warbuton, CJ stander and Sean O’Brian will be hopeful of claiming the number shirt, with the former the most likely, and favourite to be the captain. Peter O’Mahony’s performance against England means he will be expecting a seat on the plane. Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Justin Tipuric are in with an outside chance, but this position, as ever, is filled with quality.


 Number 8

Good luck choosing between these three monsters. Billy Vunipola, cousin Toby Faletau and Irishman Jamie Heaslip are in contention for this shirt. Vunipola was injured for the majority of the Six Nations with Nathan Hughes in his place, and this could put him at a disadvantage, but his impact for Saracens since coming back has been outstanding.


Scrum Half

Connor Murray is undeniably one of the best, if not the best, scrum-halves in world rugby, and his spot on the plan his assured. Gatland has a number of options behind Murray, he will likely go with only one of Danny Care or Ben Youngs, the latter perhaps the favourite thanks to current form. Laidlaw is battling back from injury to secure a sport, whilst Rhys Webb has an outside chance.


Fly Half

Dan Biggar’s relatively poor Six Nations has made Gatland’s starting selection at 10 slightly easier. Jonny Sexton will be the go-to man for the Lions, with the Irish half-back pairing being a key element in the selection process. Biggar may find he loses his spot to Scot Finn Russell, while reliable George Ford will be confident of a spot on the plane.


Centres

An all English-pairing will be hard to overlook. Farrell’s leadership and dependability combined with Joseph’s dynamism in attack looks like a dream pair. The Welsh pair of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, as well as Irishmen Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw, are in with a shout. Ben Teo’o and Elliot Daly add a direct option – inexperience may be the downfall for both but they undoubtedly provide something slightly different. There will be some disappointed individuals not selected in the midfield.


Wings

A plethora of options for Gatland, from pure pace to bulk and size. North has been in disappointing form but, again, he offers something different and will get a spot on the plane. Fellow Welshmen Liam Williams, in contrast, has been in outstanding form and has that bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’, similar to his to-be opposite number Nehe Milner-Skudder. Simon Zebo’s experience puts him in with a good shot, while Jonny May’s electric pace and Jack Nowell’s versatility provide food for thought for Gatland.


 Full Back

The most obvious selection in the team. Stuart Hogg, I would argue, would waltz into most teams in the world at the moment. He is superb going forward, defiant in defence, positionally excellent and is a fantastic leader. Few really come close to the Scotsman, but Liam Halfpenny will be hoping that reputation sees him picked, Rob Kearney and Mike Brown provide solid but unremarkable options.


Ollie Godden’s British & Irish Lions Team (vs All Blacks, Saturday 24th June 2014, Eden Park):

 

  1. Mako Vunipola
  2. Rory Best
  3. Dan Cole
  4. Alan Wyn-Jones
  5. Maro Itoje
  6. Sean O’Brian
  7. Sam Warburton ©
  8. Jamie Heaslip
  9. Connor Murray
  10. Jonny Sexton
  11. Liam Williams
  12. Owen Farrell
  13. Jonathon Joseph
  14. George North
  15. Stuart Hogg

 

  1. Cian Healy
  2. Jamie George
  3. Richie Gray
  4. CJ Stander
  5. Billy Vunipola
  6. Ben Youngs
  7. Elliot Daly
  8. Liam Halfpenny

 

Reserves:

 

  1. Jack McGrath
  2. Tadhg Furlong
  3. Ken Owens
  4. Courtney Lawes
  5. Joe Launchbury
  6. Peter O’Mahony
  7. Toby Faletau
  8. Greig Laidlaw (If fit)/Rhys Webb
  9. George Ford
  10. Jonathan Davies
  11. Robbie Henshaw
  12. Simon Zebo
  13. Jonny May
  14. Rob Kearney

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

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