The historic, victorious 2013 Lions tour in Australia was one of the most memorable in recent history for any British or Irish rugby fan. The next challenge is the most demanding of all though, heading to New Zealand in 2017. With the Six Nations just past the half-way point, Oli takes a look at what the starting line-up would be, purely based on current form, if the Lions faced the All Blacks tomorrow.
Probable British and Irish Lions 2017
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
14 Anthony Watson (England)
13 Jonathan Joseph (England)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
11 George North (Wales)
10 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
9 Conor Murray (Ireland)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
7 Sam Warburton (Wales)
6 James Haskell (England)
5 Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
3 Mike Ross (Ireland)
2 Ross Ford (Scotland)
1 Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
This team is based purely on current Six Nations form. Reasoning behind selections:
|FullBack: Leigh Halfpenny|
|Stuart Hogg may find himself hard done-by after his consistently standout efforts for Scotland, and Mike Brown’s concussion rules him out. In terms of a reliable performer you can look no further than Leigh Halfpenny. |
An ever-present under the high ball and deadly kicking accuracy from the tee sees the Welshman nailed on for the 15 shirt. 16 points in the win over Scotland and 15 against France shows how important the 26-year-old is for Warren Gatland’s men.
|Wingers: George North and Anthony Watson|
George North hasn’t featured a huge amount after suffering concussion against England, but his return in Paris demonstrated why he would have to start with his sheer power, and he also became the youngest man to reach 50 caps at just 22.
Anthony Watson’s introduction to Six Nations rugby couldn’t have gone much better. The 21-year-old scored with a fabulous finish against Wales, and despite moving to full-back early on against Italy still showed defensive discipline.
|Centres: Jonathan Joseph and Robbie Henshaw|
Jonathan Joseph set the Six Nations alight with his performances against Wales and Italy. The footwork for his try in the win over Wales was special, and sheer pace shown with both scores versus Italy has made him one of the players of the tournament so far.
Robbie Henshaw’s first try for Ireland was worth the wait, an NFL-style catch on the line proved the ability of the 21-year-old, and some huge defensive efforts have limited teams to just one try against the Irish so far.
|Flyhalf: Jonathan Sexton|
|Perhaps the easiest decision in the entire team. You would have to go a long way to find a more in-form player in world rugby than Johnny Sexton at the moment. |
Almost faultless kicking accuracy from hand and the tee makes him stand out, but his organisation of the Irish defence has been hugely impressive, and if anyone was to doubt his commitment you only have to see his eye after the duel with Mathieu Bastareaud in the match with France.
|Scrumhalf: Conor Murray|
|Rhys Webb would be disappointed to be left out after his try against England and excellent dummy which led to Dan Biggar’s try in Paris, but the way that Conor Murray and Sexton have controlled matches would make them the perfect pair to start a Lions test. |
A trademark sniping try against Italy got them going in what was a tough match until then, and his kick for Henshaw’s try against England proved his kicking game is by far the best out of any of the other scrum-halves in the tournament.
|Number Eight: Taulupe Faletau|
|Taulupe Faletau has been the stand-out number eight from the home nations in the tournament so far. |
His pick-up from the back of the scrum to set up Rhys Webb’s try against England showed his immense skill set, and the forward dominance against France was the main reason behind their crucial win in Paris.
|Flankers: James Haskell & Sam Warburton|
|James Haskell’s return to form has been one of Stuart Lancaster’s main highlights so far in this years campaign. A man-of-the-match display in Cardiff where he was only denied a try by clattering into the post made his place in the English back-row alongside Chris Robshaw a certainty. |
Sam Warburton has been the catalyst for the Welsh comeback, which was summed up perfectly by Rob Howley: “When Sam plays well, Wales play well.”
|Second-Row: Alun Wyn Jones & Paul O’Connell|
Alun Wyn Jones has been one of the huge positives for the Welsh despite that opening day defeat, and his work at the breakdown and in the line-out is as always faultless.
You can’t get much better experience than these two in the second row. Paul O’Connell just seems to get better with age and the Ireland captain was monumental at the Aviva Stadium against England.
|Hooker: Ross Ford|
|The only Scottish influence in the squad, Scotland’s set-piece has been dominant but their discipline has let them down. |
Ross Ford has been integral in their line-out completion and also anchored the scrum to good effect in a team that has struggled for any confidence.
|Props: Gethin Jenkins & Mike Ross|
|Gethin Jenkins is not only a prop but his work at the breakdown virtually makes him like an extra flanker to the Welsh side. Hailed as one of the greatest of all time, he would certainly deserve a start after their crucial win in Paris. |
Mike Ross came in for criticism before the tournament, but the way that the Irish dismantled such a powerful England scrum shows that the 35-year-old is hitting form at just the right time.
|Coach: Joe Schmidt|
|Stuart Lancaster may have been early favourite after England’s win in Cardiff but Ireland’s recent form of 10 wins in a row means that Joe Schmidt’s side remain the only unbeaten team in the tournament. |
A tricky win in Rome was followed by convincing wins over France and England which means that they remain on course for their first Grand Slam since 2009.
Schmidt will face off with fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland when Ireland travel to Cardiff in round four.
There’s no doubt that facing the world’s number one team in their own backyard is a daunting prospect, but on the current form shown by this side alone, they would pose a serious threat to the All Blacks. With the likes of Sexton leading an attacking back-line and the brutally physical pack, this team may well be the most likely to get the Lions’ first test win in New Zealand since the game turned professional in 1995.
What do you think of this selection? Who would your captain be? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below as we’d love to hear a few different opinions.