With the RBS Six Nations done and dusted for another year, thoughts are already turning to the Rugby World Cup in just a few months. But we’ve always been forward-looking here at The Rugby Blog, and so we’ve been reflecting on a potential Lions XV to take on Australia in 2013.
In the front row, Cian Healy is continuing to mature at loosehead, and his performance against England was particularly impressive and smacked of Lions potential. Alongside him, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones have already proved their Lions credentials – admittedly, there is a nod to previous form in this selection, particularly in the case of Rees. Dan Cole should be in the mix, as well as Mike Ross of Ireland.
In the engine room, Richie Gray is a standout candidate after impressing in a most unimpressive Scotland outfit, and Bradley Davies just gets better and better, particularly in the loose where his ball-carrying is usually superb. If injury hadn’t ruled him out, Courtney Lawes would have been a contender, whilst Alun Wyn Jones is another candidate.
As always, competition in the back row is looking fierce. Sean O’Brien is a shoo-in for me with his strength with ball in hand, as well as defensively at the breakdown. Sam Warburton of Wales is a similar call at openside, and he was consistently one of Wales’ best players. Tom Croft should give them a run for their money, and with the likes of Stephen Ferris and John Barclay also in the mix, things are looking good for the Lions.
Then at Number 8, Jamie Heaslip gets the nod as a marauding back rower and as a leader, and could even be captain potential.
At number 9, Ben Youngs will learn from his schooling in Dublin, and should be the better player for it. There’s no denying that he’s a livewire that can cause Australia problems behind a dominant pack.
Each of the home nations is having a debate about which is the best fly-half, but Jonny Sexton gets the nod in my team, with youth on his side and an obvious ‘big-game’ temperament which will serve him well over the next few years. Toby Flood briefly emerged as a contender, until he reminded us all of his tendency to wilt under pressure, whilst James Hook could be in the mix if he plays at 10 for the next few years.
In the centres, Jamie Roberts hasn’t quite hit the heights of his previous Lions form, but I’d still want him in my side at 12. Jon Davies was occupying that position for Wales, and could be a contender, but otherwise there aren’t many standout candidates in this position on current form.
Joe Ansbro‘s star continues to rise at outside centre, and having tipped him on this site nearly three years ago, we’re still backing him, and he deserves the jersey at the moment. James Hook could be an option here, but trying to work out how the Welsh midfield will line-up between now and then is not easy.
On the wing, Chris Ashton is top of the list as a deadly finisher at the moment, and as defences work him out, he should be able to adapt to continue beating defenders. On the other side, Tommy Bowe, who made an impact on the tournament despite only playing a couple of games. Two deadly finishers and I’m getting excited about the tour already.
Then at full-back, Rob Kearney and Lee Byrne will be in contention again, but Ben Foden gets the jersey at the moment – he’s a dangerous runner, deceptively strong and safe as houses under the high ball.
A strong team, I think you’ll agree, made up of three Englishmen, five Irishmen, two Scotsmen and five Welshmen.
Who else do you think will be in contention? What would your first-choice line up be and why?
Lions XV 2013 to take on Australia:
1. Cian Healy
2. Matthew Rees
3. Adam Jones
4. Richie Gray
5. Bradley Davies
6. Sean O’Brien
7. Sam Warburton
8. Jamie Heaslip (c)
9. Ben Youngs
10. Jonny Sexton
11. Tommy Bowe
12. Jamie Roberts
13. Joe Ansbro
14. Chris Ashton
15. Ben Foden