My British & Irish Lions 23
Who I think will be picked to take on the All Blacks in Auckland
15 Lee Halfpenny
Every point matters in a test series and the Welsh and Toulon Full-Back has shown himself to be the most reliable when kicking for goal. Solid under the high ball and with the Lions looking to play a tight game what Halfpenny lacks in counter-attacking flare won’t be of too much concern to Gatland.
14 Anthony Watson
Watson’s size and strength are his biggest attributes and he was one of the few outside backs who hit the ground running for the Lions in NZ. He has caused his opposite numbers problems in every game he has played in and will chase Conor Murray box-kicks until the cows come home.
13 Jonathan Davies
Came into his own against the Maori. his strength and directness of running has always suited him to a Warren Gatland side in attack. He and his inside man will likely have their hands full with a bloke named Sonny Bill in defence so a more physical centre paring was always the most likely selection.
12 Ben Te’o
A player who many people wondered if he should have been selected to tour has quickly become the first name on the teamsheet. Te’o has consistently gotten over the gainline and been the Lions most natural looking off-loader. He has good feet but lacks out and out pace. However power is of the essence in this position in Warrenball. Much has been made of Te’o inexperience, a reminder here that another Rugby League converts first start in a test came for the Lions, one Jason Robinson OBE. If you’re good enough, you’re good enough.
11 George North
The form book says North shouldn’t have even been on the plane. With Nowell, Daly & Williams all putting in strong performances against the Chiefs this selection will have caused Gatland and his staff a lot of headaches. But the potential of George North and his tendency to save his best performances for the big moments means he has to start the first test. If North could find his potential more consistently he would be talked about as one of the greatest wingers to ever play the game. As it is you’re taking a punt on putting him in your starting XV but successful Lions tours are about taking risks.
10 Owen Farrell ©
A resurgent Jonny Sexton notwithstanding only injury was going to prevent Farrell from starting the first test in my mind. His work in an England jersey put to one side for a moment where he has played at 12. This is a team built to play more like Saracens than England. For the best club side in Europe Farrell has been running the show with aplomb for going on three seasons at 10 and this tour he has elevated the play of his team around him. He commands the back-line with skill and certainty giving his teammates the confidence to do their own thing. Returning to England where Farrell is vice captain, armed with the experience and natural leadership qualities Farrell is my number one choice for captaining the first test team.
9 Conor Murray
Murray is my standout player on the tour. He is perhaps the only Lions player who would break into the starting Kiwi XV as it stands. The accuracy of his box-kick has the potential to be match winning so long as the Lions chase is up to the same standard.
8 Taulupe Faletau
The loss of Billy Vunipola before the tour got started seems to be felt less and less with each minute Faletau is on the pitch. His ball carrying, Line-out jumping and ability to rescue a backwards marching scrum (if he has to demonstrate this last talent too often in the tests then the Lions truly have no chance) make him the one and only option for Number 8.
7 Sean O’Brien
Not bad over the ball, a solid defender and great ball carrier with Lions pedigree to boot O’Brien has done just enough to keep Justin Tipuric from starting the first test. If He can get the Lions over the gain-line with the same regularity with which he has on the tour so far then they will be in business.
6 Peter O’Mahoney
The twists and turns of fate have taken O’Mahoney from Irish outsider to, for me, Lions starter. I honestly believe that had Jamie Heslip not gotten injured before the Ireland v England game in the last round of the 6 nations which resulted in O’Mahoney getting to start and delivering the performance of his life he would not have even gotten on the plane. But that is typical of Peter O and he has taken his chances on this tour as well. A player who has played himself into selection by the virtues of his actions on the pitch. Show me 15 Peter O’Mahoneys and I’ll show you a winning team. 14 more of this guy please.
5 Maro Itoje
He carries like a demon, tackles like satan and gets under the Kiwis skin. The biggest compliment you can pay Maro is that the New Zealand rugby public have heard of him. Last time he played in the land of the long white cloud he was captaining the 2014 England U20s to World Cup success. Success is Itoje’s middle name, he wins, wins, wins.
4 George Kruis
Found by Lancaster, grown by Jones, Kruis is a must have and the player the rest of the pack is built around. 2nd row has been a hugely competitive area of selection, some great players will miss out on the test 23, but Kruis was always the man in the four jersey with the others fighting for the second birth. A dominant figure in the line-out and can take it to the likes of Retalic and Whitelock.
3 Tadgh Furlong
furlong is picked at tighhead to do one job, scrummage. He has to get the Kiwi pack moving backwards. If he doesn’t do that, the Lions will lose and they may have to turn to more versatile options who offer more in the loose. A coming of age moment for a young pretender who has been coming of age for some time now.
2 Jamie George
George must hit his marks at the lineout. His natural flair as a ball playing hooker comes second at test match level. Simply put, every lineout has to be won on the lions own throw, that is how fine the margins are.
1 Mako Vunipola
Mako is my wildcard in the front row. A player, where his work in the loose and work rate in defence totally mitigates his relative weakness at scrum time. Lions fans will be hoping Furlong’s mighty shoulders can bare this burden for Mako and get the pack moving forward.
16 Ken Owens
has acquitted himself well but lacks the dynamism of George in the loose. Nothing will be lost in the line-out when he does come on which couldn’t be said with any certainty in the case of the other hooker Rory Best.
17 Joe Marler
Good at scrum time, must keep his head as discipline will one of the keys to success.
18 Kyle Sinckler
By all reports a great tourist and cut from the Peter O’Mahoney cloth; Sinckler has taken every chance he has been given. Great around the park with tremendous stamina Kyle would surely to have an impact coming on in the last 20.
19 Cortney Lawes
The player who would be most unlucky to not start. He can cause havoc to oppositions line-outs, can give out thunderous tackles and has been carrying very well. Concussion has put him behind Itoje but I think he will be a Lions starter before the tour is concluded.
20 CJ Stander
Has grown into the tour as the games have gone on. Versatile which gives him the nod over Tipuric for me.
21 Rhys Webb
So long as Murray stays fit Webb is unlikely to get much game-time such is the Irishman’s class. Will likely be the backup for all 3 tests as Laidlaw has looked every bit like the 42nd player chosen to tour.
22 Johnny Sexton
Bound to feature at some stage it’s a real comfort to know Sexton looks like he is back to his best. However, at this moment, Farrell’s best is a little bit better.
23 Liam Williams
The hardest selection for me was the last. Nowell and Daly both put their hands up at last against the Chiefs but for me they’re one week away from being in contention. Their time may well come but for now Williams, whose brilliant outside fade lead to Nowell’s first try vs the Chiefs, his perfectly timed pass led to the Exeter mans second and his break and offload set-up Payne’s score, and his ability to play wing and full-back to international standards should give him the nod for the first Test.
Not fit and not playing well, I’m not sure what he is doing here other than to field media questions about why he may not play in the tests.
Alun Wyn Jones
Picked to tour for his not insignificant presence but in the 2nd row, with it being so competitive, the standard is set a little higher than that.
The only man of these three who, based on his play on the pitch, would be unlucky to not make the squad.