Potential Lions XV: December 2012

Poring over a possible Test squad six months before it is due to take the field against Australia is something of a thankless task. Just about every call is contentious and certain to send toys flying out of prams across Britain and Ireland.

This latest effort was selected on simple criteria – not form, although performances during the autumn Test have been taken into account. Simply, these are the players I want to see taking on the Wallabies. Bear with me, there is plenty of room to have your say below.

Manu Tuilagi

15. Leigh Halfpenny
How this pocket battleship has managed to enhance his reputation as Wales crumbled to four dire defeats speaks volumes. Halfpenny has improved into an exemplary performer in all aspects of full back play, from defusing bombs to hitting dangerous running lines.

14. Tommy Bowe
A leading light in Ulster’s unstoppable surge this season, Bowe was a stand-out of 2009’s trip to South Africa and is sure to feature again. Strong, quick and skilful – he is a must-pick opposite Australia’s backs.

13. Brian O’Driscoll (captain)
Having already admitted that the 2015 Rugby World Cup is beyond him, O’Driscoll will be searching for a swansong worthy of his excellent career. A fiercely competitive man, it would take a brave to bet against him rallying those creaking joints for an attempt at finishing what he so gloriously started in 2001. With 126 Test caps, there will be composure enough to merit the captaincy.

12. Manu Tuilagi
As Stuart Lancaster has found, Tuilagi is a phenomenal attacking weapon that can strike fear into even the most experienced defenders. What is more, the Leicester Tiger will thrive on having dextrous ball-players surrounding him and should seize license to bulldoze the outside-half channel.

11. George North
Endured an undeniably flat pair of matches against Argentina and Samoa before succumbing to a hip injury, but is devastating at his best. At the tender age of 20, North could easily become a Lions legend.

10. Jonny Sexton
Leinster’s golden-boy has had this spot nailed down for a considerable amount of time, so much so that an injury – God forbid – would probably jeopardise a lot of Warren Gatland’s plans. Sizzling on the gain-line, Sexton unfurled his best against Argentina to give us a sumptuous taster. No stranger to the Heineken Cup pressure cooker, either, his place-kicking is very reliable.

9. Conor Murray
Perhaps the first to raise eyebrows, Murray’s selection is largely a result of manufacturing well-worn combinations in vital areas – his partnership with Sexton is growing into something special. However, his crisp service also beats the English pair of Ben Youngs and Danny Care, while the Munsterman also boasts sufficient physical presence to shackle the exceptional Will Genia.

1. Cian Healy
Put the fear of God into Australia when he met them during the 2011 World Cup group stage and deserves to build on that after an impressive autumn. Having shored up his set-piece work, he could thrive under the tutelage of Graham Rowntree.

2. Rory Best
An insatiable appetite for hard work sees Best pop up all over the paddock, making crucial contributions at every turn. Edges out Dylan Hartley and can offer vital leadership up front.

3. Dan Cole
Like Sexton’s inclusion, this is a no-brainer. Despite an annoying hiccup against the Wallabies at Twickenham last month, Cole is a pillar of power on the front line, genuinely at home among the best tightheads in the business. He is also developing a very happy habit of pilfering possession in the loose, which gives David Pocock another distraction.

4. Geoff Parling
Justifiably branded a “nerd” for his mathematical lineout nous, Parling showed everybody that his talents extend far beyond calling, jumping and catching with four strong displays at Twickenham. Unparalleled communication and cleverness can galvanize this pack.

5. Joe Launchbury
If you are good enough, you are old enough and this Wasp was simply sensational on the way to collecting England’s Player of the Series award for the QBE Internationals. As Tom Croft showed in 2009, youthful ignorance can be blissful.

6. Stephen Ferris
Must prove health after sustaining numerous niggles over the course of this campaign, but is a force of nature when fit and firing. A barnstorming carrier who is ferocious in defence, Ferris was on course for a Test spot against South Africa last time before a heartbreaking injury. Will not be denied this time.

7. Chris Robshaw
Impossible to ignore, even at the expense of a special Welshman and must have finally anaesthetised the debate surrounding ‘proper’ opensides. Regardless of whether Roshaws attributes – slick hands, physicality and huge industry – are suited to the traditions of this position, they are working. I want him in the seven shirt.

8. Toby Faletau
Earmarked to anchor the scrum since lighting up the World Cup, Faletau is a steadfast player with fantastic levels of consistency. Runs hard with the ball and tackles everything without it.


16. Dylan Hartley – Abrasiveness should make an impact from the bench.

17. Adam Jones – Horribly missed as Wales crumbled this autumn.

18. Alex Corbisiero – Improving all the time under Rowntree.

19. Richie Gray – Loses starting place to Launchbury, still an important part of the tour.

20. Dan Lydiate – So close to Ferris, may yet usurp the Ulsterman.

21. Danny Care – Sparky enough to thrive when Tests fracture at their finale.

22. Freddie Burns – The biggest ‘bolter’ in the squad, this might not look too outlandish after the Six Nations.

23. Alex Goode – Capable of adding another attacking dimension.

By Charlie Morgan — @CharlieFelix

Here is Jonathan Davies’ own selection for comparison:

46 thoughts on “Potential Lions XV: December 2012

    1. What an unusual comment. There’s a lot of talk of Warburton as Lions 7, and yet in this year’s tests Robshaw has beaten him for carries, metres run, tackles, turnovers, offloads and passes.

  1. Wood is a better no 7 than Robshaw. Faletau is over-rated and Kearney is the obvious choice at full back. Otherwise, I don’t disagree with you too much.

    1. When exactly has Wood been a better open-side than Robshaw? Surely he has hardly been tested at 7 in the international arena.

      Robshaw not only took on the contentious open-side role in a massively inexperienced team but also the captaincy at the same time – and all at the start of his international career.

      He has had constant brick-bats thrown at him by armchair pundits over decisions and whether he should be replaced by an ineligible player and yet he has consistently improved and consistently led from the front in stats and attitude.

      Given I think BOD is unlikely to make it, the Lions will have a shortage of captaincy material. Who better than Robshaw?

      1. ‘However, if he is reappointed captain, then this is most likely a short-term solution. As gifted a player as Robshaw is, a fully fit and in-form duo of Wood and Croft lay the foundations for a back row which can compete with any in world rugby, and as such, would get my vote for England in the long term. Do not be surprised if we see a new captain come the Six Nations – one who would likely take the team through to the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and beyond.’

        Alex Shaw Rugby Blog October 3

        Since then two games lost that might have been won but for Robshaw’s misjudgement and lack of authority. Some captain.

        1. Well, that’s a very nice quotation Brian. One pundit’s opinion though, so you haven’t answered any of my points or my question about Wood.

          Plus, in my opinion, anyone who wants Croft in this England team needs their head examined

          Two games were not lost by Robshaw. One man does not lose a test.

          His decisions vs Australia only looked poor in hindsight (refer to my comment about armchair pundits) and his decision vs SA was the right one and has been supported by god knows how many ex-players, including such luminaries as Sean Fitzpatrick.

          I do realise however that I may just be rising to a trolling bait

          1. ‘Plus, in my opinion, anyone who wants Croft in this England team needs their head examined’

            Who’s trolling whom?

          2. No trolling here Brian.

            If you want a back row who pretends he’s a winger and does none of the work a back row should do, then by all means plump for Croft

  2. Goode ahead of Foden and others? No thanks. He is good but not as good as the band wagon would have.

    Too often gets SO close but is uncompleted for the highball (at test level). He doesn’t make my top 3 English fullbacks nevermind Lions.

  3. My problem with this squad is that you pick certain players on strength of reputation, saying this is the team that you want to play and then someone like Launchbury on the basis of two starts, rather than Richie Gray, who if fit and playing well would be a shoe in for most sides.

    Centre, SH, Lock and Back row are the main talking points. Will BoD’s body break down again. Who will look good in 6N. Are you overlooking 2 or 3 Irish locks, and what sort of game does Gatland want his back row to play as this will affect who is on the plane and who starts.

  4. Best selection I’ve seen yet actually but would disagree with a few things. I would have a ‘proper openside’ (as you call it) to compete with Pocock and Hooper who are 2 of the best breakdown operators in the game. I would pick Warburton (I know he’s on poor form yes) or Rennie (Look at the stats). Also would have Gray in row and Davies 13

  5. I agree with almost all of the selection. Not convinced BOD will be up to it, so would probably have Davies in there with Tuilagi.
    Gray on current form is nowhere near even the bench, would have Ryan on the bench instead in my opinion.
    I would also have Youngs to start over Murray.
    Also, wouldn’t have Goode on my bench.

    My selection:
    1. Healy
    2. Best
    3. Cole
    4. Ryan
    5. Parling
    6. Ferris
    7. Robshaw (c)
    8. Faletau
    9. Youngs
    10. Sexton
    11. North
    12. Davies
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Bowe
    15. Kearney

    16. Hartley
    17. Corbisiero
    18. Jones
    19. Launchbury
    20. Lydiate (dependant on form returning from a long injury; O’Brien if not.)
    21. Care
    22. Burns
    23. Ashton

    Now I had not idea who to put in the 23 shirt, I almost went Stuart Hogg or Gilroy. But I do think Ashton can run the right lines which will be important, and he is a world class player.

    1. Jacob – I like your team the best so far, although I think that you need a more versatile player than Ashton at 23. For me the splash either starts or doesn’t play and on current form is down the pecking order. Kearney or Halfpenny – tough call at the moment, with Goode and Foden both in the chasing pack.

  6. I like that team, it seems well-balanced and exciting…

    Just one thing, would it be possible, with 6 months to go, for you to create a poll with all the potential Lions candidates in each position, just as you did for England before the AIs? It would be interesting to see what the majority choice is.

  7. I’d think about moving Robshaw to 6 and pray that Warburton has a good 6 Nations. Ferris hasn’t done anything since 2010 after having a storming tour in 2009. Or if Robshaw stays at 7, Lydiate has to start.

    Not a fan of the two second rows, I’d go with Richie Gray instead of Parling.

    1. Since 2010? What about the Rugby world cup? Heinekein Cup last year? Every time he plays for Ireland or Ulster? An amazing comment. He is injury prone but if fit….

      1. He had a good Lions tour in 2009 and took that form into the 2010 season. Since then he’s had countless injuries and I don’t think he’s done anything recently to merit a place in the test side.

        I’d take him on the tour because he may find his form in the midweek games and when he’s firing, he’s a great player. But at the moment I just don’t think he’s showing enough.

  8. George North has plenty of potential, but the fact is that he simply hasn’t shown decent form for some time now. With the likes of Alex Cuthbert, Andrew Trimble, Luke Fitzgerald (hopefully playing on the 21st) and maybe even young Gilroy pushing for selection, there’s no way North can take a spot. I wouldn’t even bring him on the plane.
    Conor Murray is not a very good player. That’s about it. His service is so slow, and his partnership with Sexton is very questionable. Danny Care looks to be No.1 at the moment, although I’d personally like to see Isaac Boss get a look in – or what about Paul Marshall?
    Faletau looks good but, regardless of whether or not he plays for England, Nick Easter is the best No. 8 in the Heineken Cup and domestic leagues right now. He has to be considered.

    Other than that, good team! Although I can’t see O’Driscoll surviving 3 Tests.

    1. I think George North is alright, but there’s always an issue when a new winger explodes onto the scene with a different style of play. When he gets found out, even if he’s doing a lot of good defensive work and setting up tries etc. he stops scoring and that’s all anyone notices.

      1. But does North have anything more than pace or size? Or is he just a slightly improved version of Banahan?

        1. Whilst i agree hes not a multi dimensional winger like habbana, Shane williams or Cory Jane (as comfortable at first reciever as they are finishing) the comparison with Banahan is quite unfair.

          I think the wing debate will be whoever finds the best form in the 6 nations. Cuthbert, North, Ashton, Visser, Bowe, Trimble and maybe even 1/2p could all step up. I see them all as players who have shown great promise and its just whoever is in form at the time. Also i see wing as a position that bolters can more easily come through like Gilroy or Wade maybe.

  9. I think this is very close to what the starting team may very well look like. I dont understand the gripes about robshaw. The form 7 across the Home nations (Armitage isnt playing for England).

    I have issues with North as I feel as highlighted by others in earlier comments, there are more viable candidates. However, if north has a good six nations, there is no ignoring him.

    Alex Goode as sub full back. Why would insult Rob Kearney (ERC Player of the year) by excluding him for Alex Goode who, although has had a few decent tests (namely against Figi), is not in the same league as foden, kearney or halfpenny. Come on man!

    Conor Murray should not travel (3rd best scrum half in Ireland) but love the inclusion of launchbury.

  10. Gavin Hastings!

    This man knows how to pick a team imo, and I’d wager it will not be far off Gatlands choice too, as I think Gatland also knows how to pick a team. Anyway, I think of Hastings could pick the team, we’d see a Lions performance unlike any seen before.

  11. Whilst I think this team will be close to what gets picked, it wouldn’t be the one I’d pick. I would rather have JJV starting at 13, despite BOD’s experience to lead the team.

    Conor Murray should not be in that team, Ben Youngs would be my preferred starting #9.

    I’d like to see how Adam Jones performs in the 6 nations as he could be a strong contender for the front row.

    Richie Gray should definitely be starting in the second row. Whilst Launchbury has had a great series, he’s still got to prove himself more to be brought into the Lions. The 6 nations may change it, but Gray would be the more sensible choice so far.

    I would much rather have Lydiate in at 6 than Ferris, I think this is the position I disagree most with in this lineup. He is an absolute machine and one of the most consistent players in the world.

    I also don’t think Robshaw should be starting at 7. He’s a great player but he’s not a real 7. It will largely depend on form in the 6 nations but I think if Warburton performs he is the obvious choice there.

    Looking forward to seeing how Burns performs too, he could be a serious game changer for England if he lives up to his potential.

  12. Lions v Wallabies 2nd Test tickets bought (the joys of being a Rebels season ticket-holder!). The tour is going to absolutely race around. COME ON LIONS!

    Is Sean O’Brien far down people’s back-row picks? I know Leinster lost at the weekend (and he got carded for some thuggish play) but he was so good when he first came onto the scene and i think he still has the potential to cement a spot before the squad’s announced.

  13. Looks like Bowe may well be out of contention after this weekend – a real shame as he’s a fantastic player

    O’Brien will be in the mix somewhere. He doesn’t play 8 does he?

  14. 1. Corbisiero
    2. Best
    3. Cole
    4. Lauchbury
    5. Parling
    6. Lydiate
    7. Robshaw
    8. Faletau
    9. Youngs
    10. Sexton
    11. North
    12. Roberts
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Visser (Bowe looks doubtful now)
    15. Halfpenny

    16. Hartley
    17. Jones
    18. Healy
    19. Lawes
    20. Warburton
    21. Care
    22. Burns
    23. Davies

    1. Not sure about the bench if Faletau or any of the back three get injured. One of the Irish back rows instead of Warburton, and someone to cover the back three rather than Davies as Burns can play centre. Quite like the idea of Healey as an impact sub, although probably still think he should be starting.

  15. A few comments of “still to prove himself” which is fair enough, but of course at this stage we still have half a season and a full 6Nations as a proving ground. Any one of the more popular choices of course could see a big dip in form, or an injury yet, so whilst most will go with the likes of Sexton, Best, Cole etc, they are only a Bowe-like injury away from disappearing from the lists.

    So, how about a selection of bolters (or long shots);





    1. To add to that list…

      Chris Henry
      Mike Brown
      S and D Armitage
      J Beattie
      Marshall (the nippy Ulster scrum half)

  16. I think the “starting 11 ” comment is probably down to Ian posting a comment on New Years eve more than anything else but interestingly enough Ryan Jones did consider a roundball career being a nifty goalkeeper until he took up rugby at the late age of 17 .I think he has had a bit of a second coming this season and last and would deserve a place on tour at least .

  17. 1.Sheridan
    13.BOD (C)life in the old dog yet!

    18.A Jones
    19.Ryan Jones

  18. 1. Cian Healy
    2. Rory Best
    3. Dan Cole
    4. Richie Gray
    5. Geoff Parling
    6. Dan Lydiate
    7. Chris Henry
    8. Sean O’Brien
    9. Danny Care
    10. Jonny Sexton
    11. George North
    12. Jonathan Davies
    13. Brian O’Driscoll
    14. Tommy Bowe
    15. Rob Kearney
    16. Tom Youngs
    17. Joe Marler
    18. Adam Jones
    19. Donnacha Ryan
    20. Chris Robshaw (Covers all 3 backrow postions)
    21. Owen Farrell (Covers 10, 12, 13)
    22. Manu Tuilagi
    23. Eoin Reddan

  19. Lions XV

    1. Healy
    2. Best
    3. Cole
    4. Launchbury
    5. Parling
    6. Ferris
    7. Wood
    8. Heaslip
    9. Murray
    10. Sexton
    11. North
    12. Tuilagi
    13. BOD
    14. Bowe
    15. Kearney

    16. Hartley
    17. Corbs
    18. A Jones
    19. Lawes (Lock or Back Row Cover)
    20. Lydiate
    21. Care
    22. O Farrell (same as David’s reasons)
    23. Halfpenny (kicker and back three cover)

  20. 1. lol Cicero
    2. Anger Management Hartley
    3. Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen
    4. lou reed, for a walk on the wild side
    5. Bradley featherweight davies
    6. James the brand Haskell
    7. Sam Warbuton.
    8. Nick “That’s 10000 down the toilet” Easter

    At nine the incomparable Mauro Bergamasco
    10. Toby “man walks into a bar” Flood
    11. George North
    12. Mike tindall. Mabye he can have a go at tossing Genia.
    13. Hair Bear Jones. Possibly more effective then Tindall
    14. David strettle
    15. Iain fucking Ballsup :-/

    That side looks reasonably competent. I think the centre combination will gel quickly, since they both have a similar style of play. Whilst it may seem strange at first, this combination does have the benefit of ensuring that Ballsup gets absolutely no ball whatsoever. I’m excited with the 8 nine 10 axis, with Bergamasco being very good at using his long pass to get the powerful strike runners at 13, 14 and 11 into the game.

    Then again, as long as Balshaw doesn’t recieve the ball, we might just hang in there.

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