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.
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.
Here is Jonathan Davies’ own selection for comparison: