As 2016 draws to a close, we have decided to give our first jab at what we think Warren Gatland should be picking as his 2017 Lions squad.
FRONT ROW: Jack McGrath (Ireland), Mako Vunipola (England), Gethin Jenkins (Wales); Dan Cole (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), WP Nel (Scotland); Rory Best (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Scott Baldwin (Wales)
The Lions don’t have the same riches at loosehead as perhaps they did in years gone by but with Jack McGrath at their disposal they at least have a world class starter. Dylan Hartley’s stupidity and thuggery should see him miss out on a spot for Saracens’ number two Jamie George while the tightheads pick themselves.
SECOND ROW: Alun Wyn-Jones (c) (Wales), Maro Itoje (England), Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), George Kruis (England), Jonny Gray (Scotland).
Both of England’s indestructible locks have their fights booked on that plane following a stellar season but supreme quality is spread throughout the nations. Alun Wyn Jones and Johnny Gray have proven themselves as stalwarts of their countries making themselves equal certainties while Donnacha Ryan is our choice as the fifth lock to bring that bit of bite to the table.
BACK ROW: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), James Haskell (England), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Sam Warburton (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland), Billy Vunipola (England),
Versatility and class. The Lions backrow is incredibly competitive. While the picks at flanker were straight forward, number eights Jamie Heaslip and Taulupe Faletau lose out here to the elite duo of CJ Stander and Billy Vunipola.
HALF BACK: Conor Murray (Ireland), Ben Youngs (England), Rhys Webb (Wales); George Ford (England), Dan Biggar (Wales), Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Conor Murray and Ben Youngs lead the way at scrumhalf where Rhys Webb just edges Gareth Davies and Greig Laidlaw. At ten, the high standards of George Ford, Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton sees Finn Russell lose out.
CENTRE: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Owen Farrell (England),
Rory Scannell (Ireland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Huw Jones (Scotland)
Robbie Henshaw and Owen Farrell bring a tidy contrast to the table here but options outside aren’t quite as impressive. Jonathan Joseph’s gliding runs that see England split so many defenses apart cannot be doubted but the next in line Jonathan Davies has not shown signs of his best form in a Welsh jersey for quite a while now. As a wildcard, we’ve picked Scotland and Stormers 22 year old sensation Huw Jones to cover both positions.
BACK THREE: George North (Wales), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales), Simon Zebo (Ireland). Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
George North and Anthony Watson are two wingers that are probably nailed on for the squad but we have teamed them with Liam Williams and SImon Zebo – natural athletes that can excel at both wing and fullback – who will certainly challenge for a spot. Behind them should be 2013 player of the series Leigh Halfpenny and the bullet that is Scotland’s Stuart Hogg. Mike Brown, Tommy Seymour, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Johnny May and others may count themselves unlucky here.
01) Jack McGrath
02) Rory Best
03) WP Nel
04) Maro Itoje
05) Alun-Wyn Jones (c)
06) Peter O’Mahony
07) Sean O’Brien
08) CJ Stander
09) Conor Murray
10) Johnny Sexron
11) Liam Williams
12) Owen Farrell
13) Jonathan Joseph
14) Anthony Watson
15) Stuart Hogg
16) Jamie George, 17) Mako Vunipola, 18) Tadhg Furlong, 19) Johnny Gray, 20) Billy Vunipola, 21) Ben Youngs, 22) George Ford, 23) Simon Zebo