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Friday Jan 12, 2024

A way too early Rugbydump British And Irish Lions 23 for the first test

The sands of time hold back for nobody; thus, with the excitement of Rugby World Cup 2023 now firmly in the rearview mirror, the focus shifts to Rugby’s next big challenge in the British and Irish Lions.

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Unveiled as the man to lead the tour, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was as close to a fait accompli as one gets for the role.

A former Rugby League icon, Farrell was the clear-cut favourite, given his work with Ireland over the past four years. Inheriting a side that had gone from dizzying heights to devastating lows under former head coach Joe Schmidt, Farrell rebuilt the Irish psyche whilst crucially retaining all of the good work Schmidt had done.

Whilst there is no doubt their four-point quarterfinal loss to New Zealand will sting Ireland and Farrell, one could not simply throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget their sustained excellence for the forty-eight months prior.

During that spell, Ireland completed a series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, a Six Nations Grand Slam, and 17 consecutive victories.

Farrell’s ability to connect with his players was key to this run, a skill that will be crucial to his role with the Lions.

Whilst Farrell, will only leave the Irish camp at the conclusion of the 2024 November international series, he will already be casting an eye to potential members of his future Lions squad.

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Certainly, there is plenty of water to go under the bridge before any official squad naming but here is an early look at who could be in the Lions XV when they take to Suncorp Stadium (Lang Park) in Brisbane for test one of the series.

15. Hugo Keenan – Ireland: The stand-out candidate for the role, Keenan is arguably the best in the world at his position and is only just entering his athletic prime. Runner-up: Blair Kinghorn – Scotland

14. Mack Hansen – Ireland: The Australian-born magician is still 25 and would bring a creative spark as a second receiver and wide channels playmaker for the Lions. Runner-up: Darcy Graham – Scotland.

13. Ollie Lawrence – England: Somewhat of a projection here, given Garry Ringrose has been the stand-out 13 in the Six Nations for the past three years, but Lawrence appears to be ascending rapidly and should arrive in Australia in peak form; Ringrose’s versatility would be useful in the number 23 shirt. Runner-up: Garry Ringrose (Ireland).

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12. Bundee Aki – Ireland: The best inside centre in the world during 2023, Aki is a wrecking ball that would give the Lions a forward ball and allow Lawrence an inch of extra space to exploit. Manu Tuilagi would fill a similar role if fit, and it feels like the Lions could be a last hurray for both men. Runner-up: Manu Tuilagi – England 

11. Duhan van der Merwe – Scotland: The most physically dominant wing in international rugby, the Edinburgh flyer is the ultimate strike runner and would benefit from the front foot ball his two powerhouse centres create. As he has shown time and again, he can be a match-winner on his own and is the most likely player to create a “George North in 2013” moment. Runner-up: Mason Grady – Wales

10. Finn Russell – Scotland: The conductor of what looks set to be an all-time Lions orchestra, Russell is hitting his peak as a playmaker and will give the Australians fits and headaches with every play. Playing behind a dominant pack unlike any in his career, Russell could enter the realms of being unplayable. Runner-up: Owen Farrell – England.

9. Jamison Gibson-Park – Ireland: Possibly the position of least depth at the time of writing, JGP is a clear-cut first choice for this position. Operating as a key cog in Ireland’s dynamic and up-tempo attack, there is little doubt that he will form a sublime combination with Russell. Runner-up: Alex Mitchell – England

8. Caelen Doris – Ireland: Alongside Pieter-Steph Du Toit and Ardie Savea, Doris is one of the best backrow players in the world and an automatic starter. His ball-carrying prowess and creativity at the base of the scrum is exceptional, his line-out prowess is renowned, and he is gathering momentum as a leader. Runner-up: Ben Earl – England 

7. Jac Morgan – Wales: One of the toughest selections in the squad, the Wales Captain has an aura that is impossible to deny and edges out former World Player Of The Year Josh van der Flier for the seven shirt. It’s somewhat of a projection, but the 23-year-old has the IT factor. Runner-up: Josh van der Flier – Ireland

6. Ryan Baird – Ireland:  The next coming of Courtney Lawes, the Irish giant, is a dynamo with a diesel engine that never stops running. Like Morgan, this is with a view to what Baird will be in a year’s time, the 6’6″ utility forward now looks settled in the number 6 shirt and offers another key line-out option. In General play, few forwards in the Six Nations offer his rangy ball-carrying ability. Runner-up: Jamie Ritchie – Scotland.

5. James Ryan – Ireland: Overlooked for the last tour, the potential future Ireland captain is the stand-out number five available on the Islands. Quite clearly missed by Ireland against the All Blacks, Ryan’s presence (or lack of it in certain cases) has proven to be the difference for Leinster and Ireland in big moments. Had he remained on the pitch against New Zealand or La Rochelle, the two teams may be holding their respective trophies. Runner-up: George Martin – England 

4. Tadhg Beirne – Ireland: Yet another Irish player, Beirne is one of the best poachers in the game and would be key in combating the classy Wallaby breakdown experts. The big question is whether he plays in the second row or back row, but either way, he needs to be in the squad. Runner-up: Grant Gilchrist – Scotland.

3. Zander Fagerson – Scotland: The Glasgow Warriors Tighthead has continued his rise as top class front row and should hit the ground running in Australia. Operating as a dynamic ball carrier who is rock solid in the scrum and will be tasked with nullifying burgeoning Wallabies star Angus Bell. Runner-up: Tadhg Furlong – Ireland.

2. Dan Sheehan – Ireland: Alongside the Springboks Malcolm Marx, Sheehan is the best hooker in the world at the time of writing. Uber dynamic in the carry, a breakdown menace and a try-scoring phenom, Sheehan is in the new mould of hookers that are essentially backrowers. Runner-up: Dewi Lake (Wales)

1. Andrew Porter – Ireland: The most contentious position in this squad, Porter edges Pierre Schoeman and Ellis Genge for the number one shirt on account of his consistent excellence over the past two years. Currently, he is struggling with certain referees’ interpretations at scrum time, but this will be rectified. Simply put he brings too much around the park to not have in the side. Runner-up: Pierre Schoeman (Scotland).

16. Dewi Lake (Wales), 17. Pierre Schoeman (Scotland), 18. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 19. George Martin (England), 20. Josh van der Flier (Ireland), 21. Alex Mitchell (England), 22. Owen Farrell (England), 23. Garry Ringrose (Ireland)

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