That’s it then – another Six Nations Championship comes and goes. If the excitement of the title race, culminating in that thrilling evening in Cardiff, wasn’t already enough to get rugby fans going, this year the forthcoming Lions tour to Australia provided an intriguing sub-plot.
Each time the cream of British and Irish rugby took to the field, they will have been aware that they were taking part in a very public audition. So – who has impressed, and who has done their hopes irreparable damage?
Today I’m going to put myself in Warran Gatland’s shoes. I’m not going to name the starting XV for the first test; instead I’m going to go through who I would take on the plane Down Under.
Ross Ford (SCO), Richard Hibbard (WAL), Ken Owens (WAL), Dan Cole (ENG), Cian Healey (IRE), Gethin Jenkins (WAL), Adam Jones (WAL), Andrew Sheridan (ENG)
No-one can deny the performance of the Welsh set piece throughout the tournament means they have earned a decent representation in the front three. Rory Best’s erratic lineout throwing has cost him a place in my squad; and I’ve included experienced loose-head Andrew Sheridan despite being overlooked for England.
Ian Evans (WAL), Richie Gray (SCO), Alun Wyn Jones (WAL), Joe Launchbury (ENG), Geoff Parling (ENG)
Alun Wyn Jones’ emphatic return from injury mid-way through the championship helped prove to the world what a valuable player he is. England’s second row pairing have also done enough to both justify a call-up.
Ryan Jones (WAL), Dan Lydiate (WAL), Chris Robshaw (ENG), Justin Tipuric (WAL), Sam Warburton (WAL), Tobi Faletau (WAL), Jamie Heaslip (IRE)
The two flanker positions must be the source of the most conflict in Lions discussions. Whichever way you pick them, Robshaw, Tipuric and Warburton have all had immense championships, and all have to be included in the squad. Dan Lydiate, player of the tournament in 2012, cannot be overlooked on his return from injury. Ryan Jones should come along to provide experience and versatility.
Conor Murray (IRE), Mike Phillips (WAL), Ben Youngs (ENG), Dan Biggar (WAL), Owen Farrell (ENG), Jonathan Sexton (IRE)
Ben Youngs was slightly hot and cold – just look how he played in Cardiff – but overall he is good enough to tour. Conor Murray was one of the few consistent performers in a green shirt this year, and in my opinion is pushing Mike Phillips close for the number nine shirt, but he’ll have a job to take it off the 6’3” Welshman’s back. Sexton’s Six Nations was unfortunately cut short by injury – and it’s now a real three-horse race for the outside half spot.
Jamie Roberts (WAL), Jonathan Davies (WAL), Brian O’Driscoll (IRE), Manu Tuilagi (ENG)
Probably the second biggest talking point after the open/blindside pairing. Veteran Brian O’Driscoll is a virtual shoe-in to tour, but will he start? Moreover, will he be named captain? Elsewhere, Jonathan Davies has continued his good form both with and without the ball, and has staked a serious claim to the thirteen shirt.
Tommy Bowe (IRE), Alex Cuthbert (WAL), George North (WAL), Tim Visser (SCO), Leigh Halfpenny (WAL), Stuart Hogg (SCO), Rob Kearney (IRE)
The four wingers I have chosen may sometimes be accused of not having a complete game, but they do what wingers should – score tries. In fact, between them, they have 53 tries in 113 international appearances. As for the full-back slot; in my opinion Leigh Halfpenny should have full-back shirt nailed to his back after his Six Nations Despite this, there are still voices out there calling for him to return to his former position on the wing, with Hogg or Kearney at full-back.
So there’s my 37-man squad. Eight English, Seven Scottish, Four Irish and 18 Welsh. I am well aware that I will be accused of bias, but I have reviewed my selection a few times, and there is not a single Welshman on that list who I wouldn’t take. Bring on the Aussies!
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