Welcome to the first of our test squad predictor articles. Over the course of the next week or so, we’ll be analysing each position and giving our thoughts on who is likely to feature in the first test. At the bottom of each article is a poll for you to have your say, and next week we’ll publish a Readers’ Test XV based on the results. First up, it’s the gatekeepers at the back.
Player of the Six Nations, Halfpenny has had his name pencilled in at fullback for the tests for some time now. With Kearney’s injury his case has only been strengthened, although Hogg has started to show some good form. No one can fault his kicking – 100% from all areas of the pitch against the Force is testament to this – and in the test arena the margin between winning and losing can often be the width of the post. For this reason he has become indispensable to Wales, and the same now has to be said of the Lions. He has started to add a bit more attacking flair to his game, which is good to see after being given a bit more of a chance to run with the ball than he gets with Wales. His finish against the Combined Country XV was beautiful.
Verdict: nailed on test match starter
Hogg is the young pretender, undoubtedly the most exciting talent to come out of the Scottish rugby set-up for quite some time. He has pace, vision and dazzlingly quick feet, all of which make him easily the most potent counter attacking threat the Lions have from the back. Unfortunately for him, he has only just had his breakthrough year and does not have the consistency of performance or maturity that Halfpenny shows. His versatility in being able to cover wing and, as we saw with an excellent performance against the CC XV that belied the fact he had not started there since his school days, fly-half means he is a valuable asset for the Lions and one which is likely to be utilised at some point during the test series.
Verdict: on the bench for the first test
Desperately unlucky to suffer an injury so early on, unless he can pull something miraculous out of the bag in the next week he will be too late to make the first test. It is a shame, because he offers something different to the other two and the battle – not to mention the further headache it would have given Gatland – would have been fascinating. He is the most experienced and solid of the three options, with a booming left boot and a deceptive turn of pace that means he can play for territory and counter attack equally well. With such a large Leinster contingent in the squad as well, he would have felt very settled and could have recreated some of the form that saw him end up one of the finds of the 2009 tour.
Verdict: unlikely to feature in the tests, unless he can recover fitness and form in the next week or so
Now it’s your turn – vote in the poll below, and leave your justification in the comments section.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43