I've not watched a great deal of rugby outside Wales and a few Heineken games so forgive me. Bit of Welsh bias maybe too. I prefer Steffon Armitage to Robshaw at 7, don't understand why Armitage ain't being picked by England. He's been outstanding for Toulon in the games i've seen. Warburton not up to it right now. Like Armitage, Tipuric should be starting ahead of him in 6N.
15 - Halfpenny - Kearney and Byrne (who's been in form for Clermont) more natural FB's but 1/2p goalkicking ability might give him nod.
14 - North
13 - J Davies - Don't think BOD is up for it from what i've seen of him this season. Struggling to stay fit.
12 - Tuilagi - He's got more about him than Roberts.
11 - Bowe
10 - Sexton
9 - Youngs
8 - Heaslip
7 - Armitage
6 - Lydiate (depending how he does in return)
5 - Gray
4 - Lawes
3 - A Jones - Best scrummager around.
2 - Hibbard - Would have said Rory Best but having watched a lot of the Ospreys, Hibbard has been outstanding.
1 - Corbisiero
Still a lot of rugby to be played, all can change again.
Might look like a very biased selection, and it is really but I'll try to explain... Kearney/Halfpenny at fullback could go either way and will depend on form but I think Kearney's aerial ability could swing it. He was ERC player of the year last season and although injuries have hampered him this term I'm sure he'll regain form in time. Zebo on the wing is my wild card pick. Bowe is currently injured but if he makes it back in time for the tour and is sharp he'll probably start but if not then Zebo has a great shot. He's the form winger in Europe so you could argue his selection even without injuries.
O'Driscoll was interviewed recently and his hunger for the tour is clear as day. Davies represents a fantastic alternative but O'Driscoll may want it more, not having won a Lions tour it's his last major box to tick off. I believe his form will improve sufficiently in time but if not there's no shortage of quality in reserve.
Phillips at 9 is debatable and Youngs has been the form 9 however like O'Driscoll I feel the motivation of it being Phillips last chance to win a Lions tour will see an improvement in his performances.
As for the forwards, the back row is extremely competitive and will be the area most hotly debated. It might look very biased picking two Irish out of three but I am leaving out the Irish captain in Heaslip. O'Brien simply has to play for me. He could well be they key man on the tour he's that good. Ferris is injured at the minute which may have an effect on his inclusion but it will take a heck of a player to leave Ferris out of the side. Robshaw offers a good balance at 7. He's a good all round player and a natural leader. However if Warburton comes into form in the 6 nations he will probably play, Robshaw could well play at 6 in that scenario. Either way I feel the captaincy will be between the two, with O'Driscoll having an outside chance.
Second row is very open and nobody has really staked a huge claim. Launchbury is being raved about but I haven't seen enough of him.
Any reasonable front row selection should have the edge on the Aussies in the scrum. My reasons for picking Cole and Healy are for their work around the field. Both very capable scrummagers too. Healy hasn't been mentioned much in relation to the Lions but he's an outstanding player who continues to improve.
A bit England heavy especially in the forwards but after the performance of Robshaw and Wood especially against New Zealand it's hard to leave them out. Picked Cole over Jones since I personally think he's the best tighthead in world rugby at the minute, great scrummager and brilliant at the breakdown. Couldn't think of many looseheads so just went for Corbisiero, Best picks himself imo, Lawes over Parling for his athleticism, Gray picks himself, can't remember seeing Faletau since the last Six Nations so picking him on his WC and 6N form. Went for Youngs since I think he's the most talented scrum half available even if he's a bit hit and miss, picked Sexton although think Farrell could force his way in with a good Six Nations. Tuilagi and O'Driscoll offer the best all round centre partnership, North and Bowe are the best two wingers and picked Kearney as I would trust him more under the high ball.
A lot of that team can change though, there's only 5 or 6 who I would be surprised if they didn't play. The good thing is there's a lot of talent available even if some players are struggling with form and injuries. I'm quite optimistic about this tour at the moment.
We talking about the same Dan Cole who was dominated by Aussies scrum in the autumn? I think he's overrated personally. Aussies scrum has improved in recent years too by the way, need best scrummagers, dominate them.
Didn't see the Australia game so couldn't comment. He did well against a massive Toulouse pack on Sunday and on the other occasions I've seen I can't remember him being dominated, both Cole and Jones will no doubt be on the plane but at the moment I would pick Cole for his superior work outside the scrum. No point dominating the scrum if the Aussies then take advantage of a lack of mobility and dominate the breakdown, Cole offers the best balance at the moment in my opinion.
Didn't see that game either. Haven't seen a huge amount of rugby this year which is probably the source of my biased selection. When I have watched Leicester or England though Cole has been very impressive, great at the breakdown. Him and Healy would be like two extra back rowers the way Healy can get over the gain line.
Sky have been doing a Lions index, with pundits rating players after each week. This is the current form selection: Lions Index | Sky Sports
From an Irish perspective, from what I saw, there are quite a few gone down the pecking order.
- Kearney has struggled for form since his injury, Halfpenny looks a cert for that 15 jersey at the minute. Alex Goode may well be ahead of Kearney also.
- Heaslip has really struggled for form, for a while now to be fair, and he didn't do himself any more favours in the last few games. Can't see him making the squad.
- Best's throwing has been very poor. From what I hear Hibbard sounds like he's really knocking on the door with his level of performances.
O'Brien, Murray and Cian Healy have acquitted themselves well in the games I saw but not sure they've done enough to stake a claim to start, I'd have O'Brien at 8 personally. O'Connell is back from injury so it's possible he may make a late push for a place.
Tipped Hibbard before the 6 Nations after his performances in the Heineken Cup, his performances in the 6 Nations games were nothing short of immense... a miss vs Ireland.
Still a long way to go but my team has changed a fair bit since January. It'll change again i'm sure.
15 - Halfpenny - Shown he isn't a weakness under high ball. Brilliant goal kicker. Defensively excellent, puts his body on the line.
14 - Bowe - For me, one of the best finishers in the game.
13 - Tuilagi - Gone with these 2 centres as they're brutal. One will miss out if O'Driscoll is fit and in form as he'd offer variation.
12 - Roberts - Centre is a problem area for me, think it's a weakness for us to be honest. Lack of playmakers.
11 - North - A must surely.
10 - Sexton - Farrell seemed to lack the big game composure last weekend, Sexton been there and done it on big stage.
9 - Youngs - Phillips had a great game v England, big game player but i'd be tempted to go with the pacier Youngs.
8 - R Jones - Experience at 8 would be good to have, unsure of it though as Ryan has not played at 8 for a few years now.
7 - Tipuric - Natural '7' a must down under in my opinion, Tipuric was great at breakdown v England and great in attack.
6 - Warburton - Not so sure about this but having 2 '7's vs Australia would be an advantage. With Pocock out, breakdown is an area we can exploit.
5 - Parling - Impressed by both him and Launchbury, more so with Parling.
4 - Alun-Wyn Jones - Potential captain for me, as he'd be 1 of my certs to start.
3 - A Jones - Missed just 1 tackle in 6N and will destory Oz scum, putting us on front foot. (see Wales-England game)
2 - Hibbard - An outstanding season so far.
1 - Healy - A few options, no stand out really. Don't think Jenkins is playing enough at club level to start but maybe he'll be fresher as a result, brilliant v England.
In front of Gatland the Irish lads did their cases no harm this weekend. Players who may be on the fringe of making the plane such as Gilroy, Murray, Zebo and O'Mahony, in particular, played very well. Players who needed to prove their fitness - O'Connell and Bowe - did that. O'Connell did more than prove his fitness with his performance and Bowe looked very dangerous when he came on. Little reminders and if fit both should start in the first test. Kearney, Healy and O'Brien did well for Leinster and should all be on the plane in contention for a starting place. Best let himself down again with his lineouts, Heaslip did alright but not sure if he's done enough in general this season to make the plane.
Christian Wade certainly gave a big nudge to Gatland as a wildcard pick with two brilliant tries against Leinster on Friday night. Absolutely lightning. Ashton scored a great try for Sarcacens also. I'd imagine 4 wingers will be picked - North and Bowe if fit will be certs, think Cuthbert could also be chosen if he proves his fitness in time which leaves a decision between Ashton, Gilroy, Zebo, possibly Wade and maybe Maitland for the final slot. Zebo's aerial and footballing ability could swing it for him but it will be an interesting one.
Farrell was flawless again for Saracens and pushes his claim. Robshaw however was anonymous for Harlequins. Prior to the Wales-England game in the 6 nations most would have had him as captain, a lot can change in a short space of time. Not long now until the squad is selected.
Backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Rob Kearney (Ireland), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Sean Maitland (Scotland), George North (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Owen Farrell (England), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Mike Phillips (Wales), Ben Youngs (England).
Forwards: Dan Cole (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Matt Stevens (England), Mako Vunipola (England), Dylan Hartley (England), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Tom Youngs (England), Ian Evans (Wales), Richie Gray (Scotland), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales), Paul O'Connell (Ireland), Geoff Parling (England), Tom Croft (England), Toby Faletau (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Sam Warburton (Wales).
Hard to argue with many of those decisions. Hooker is a very strange one for me though, Rory Best hasn't been playing well lately but he's probably the best hooker we have. He's a leader too. Hartley's form hasn't exactly been great either and Youngs is very inexperienced.
Robshaw being left out is very harsh I think. Like Best he would offer a lot off the field also. The back row is an area of real strength however and there was always going to be a big name missing out. Great to see Lydiate included, apparently been back to good form in recent weeks. The backs were a relatively straight forward choice, Maitland the only one I'd imagine there was some debate over with Ashton and Zebo offering competition. Interesting to hear that Wilkinson turned down the chance to go, wonder who he would have went at the expense of.
Hibbard for me, has been the best Hooker in Europe(!) this season, biased but I he was outstanding when Ospreys were in the Heineken Cup and was a menace against England for 50 mins. Does seem to be a bit injury prone though. Surprised Best not included over the other 2. Like the look of the props, Vunipola looked quite poor in 6N but impressed when seen him with Sarries. Not a fan of Stevens. Unsurprised there's no Robshaw to be honest, I don't think he's as good as people make out, great captain and puts in huge amount of hard work but no doubt for me that the back rowers in the squad are better. Some world class players in there. Agree with second rows, some may argue that Launchbury should be in though.
9's, yes agree, D Care the only other option but rightly not included after his cockups on and off the field. I can understand taking only 2 10's but to do that you need a utility back in the squad in my opinion, not many options there though (Hook, Twelvetrees, Henson!). So would have taken a 3rd, no standout for 3rd choice fly half though, Wilko would have gone but he doesn't think he said no plus the French rugby Top 14 final is the day the Lions leave I believe so seemed unlikely. When is Sexton back fit? Can see Wilko getting another call if he doesn't make it. Presume Priestland or Biggar are on standby after that, maybe even Hook, seems to be doing very well in France and as I mentioned, is versatile. Centre selection was quite clear before the 6N in my opinion. Hard to think of better centres in Britain outside those 4. Back 3, only surprise for me is Maitland, not really seen enough of him, when I have he's looked a threat though, big lad yet the shortest of Lions wingers. Think i'd have taken Tim Visser, seen him a lot and he's just a natural finisher.
From that squad i'd go: Healy, Hibbard, Jones, AWJ, POC, Lydiate, Warburton, O'Brien; Youngs, Farrell, North, Roberts, Tuilagi, Bowe, Halfpenny.
Sexton was back for the past two games, played a blinder against Biarritz at the weekend. Can see Halfpenny getting kicking duties regardless of who's at 10 though.
I'd have taken another 10 or even as you say a utility back, read today that there was a debate last night among the selectors between Twelvetrees, Hook and Madigan but I presume it would have came at the expense of one of the centres or fullbacks. I suppose none of the three there mentioned warrant a place ahead of the centres or fullbacks chosen so can understand the decision.
I'd select the same forwards you have above, hope O'Brien is at 8 allowing Lydiate in at 6 because neither Faletau nor Heaslip deserve to start in my opinion. Have a feeling Gatland won't share that view however and I can see either Faletau or Heaslip starting. Personally feel a back row of Lydiate, Warbiurton and O'Brien would have everything, such a formidable trio.
My back line would be: Phillips, Sexton, North, Roberts, O'Driscoll, Bowe, Halfpenny.
My replacements: Jenkins, T.Youngs, Vunipola(good impact player), Gray, Tipuric, B. Youngs, Farrell, Kearney
Didn't know that about Sexton. Think i'd probably go with him if he's fully fit and on form. Went with Youngs then at 9 because they have an understanding. Not sure Phillips style is suited to playing Aus mind. Think a quicker 9 would be better option. Loves a scrap and a big game does Mike, which is more suited against South Africa, he was brilliant in 2009. Would expect Gatland to go with him though. Still not sold on O'Driscoll starting. Best passing centre we have in the squad mind, there is a lack of passers in the position in Britain. Agree on Halfpenny as kicker, an area he's worked really hard on and when he misses one or two in a game, he's back in training the next day putting extra work in.
Yeah put O'Brien at 8. Really like Faletau though, was awesome down under for Wales last year as were Lydiate and Warburton. Problem is though, the Welsh players don't know how to beat the Aussies, played them a number of times recently and come close but can't quite get over the line. Don't recall England doing to well against them recently either. Ireland beat them in the World Cup when they didn't have Pocock. Scotland beat what was pretty much a second string side.
Wales players are heavily experienced in playing this Australia side, the players must have learnt something each time and know what they need to improve on, it's going to count in their favour in my opinion despite not having beat them.
Lions team v Barbarians: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Sean Maitland (Scotland); Owen Farrell (England), Mike Phillips (Wales); Mako Vunipola (England), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Richie Gray (Scotland), Paul O'Connell (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Toby Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: Tom Youngs (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Matt Stevens (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), George North (Wales).
This game won't give us much insight into how the summer will go. 2 sides who have only just been put together. Chances for many players to stake an early claim, a few there that are probably nailed on starters but still a lot up in the air, a lot can change.
Very impressed with Cuthbert the other day. Hibbard too. Farrell was poor but generally it was a good performance across the board. Barbarians gave in after half time though so hopefully we'll get a better judgement of the players and a better tussle in general against the Western Force.
One of the best finishers in the game in my opinion. Defensively a bit suspect though. Said before the 6N's that Hibbard was a contender for Lions #2 (as you can see above in my post from January), had an incredible season. Good confidence booster, sent a strong message out but this is where it really starts though, this will be a lot tougher. Looks a strong lineup, we'll see how they do together.
I'm glad Best has finally gone as he can offer competition to Hibbard, but if he throws as poorly as he has been then Hibbard will certainly start. Youngs looked shakey the other day. Just glad that plum Hartley is out of the picture altogether.