It’s that time of the month again; here is November’s Lions selection. With the dust settling on the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup and Autumn Internationals, what do you think of our latest line up? We’ve donned our hard hats in preparation, so let fly with your thoughts.
1: Cian Healy
As of now it seems to be a straight shoot-out between Jenkins and Healy for the loose head position, and Healy’s form over the past month or so has probably just about lifted himself above the Welshman, who has struggled to start for Toulon. Healy didn’t enjoy the best time against the South Africans at the weekend, but looked strong for Leinster in the Heineken Cup and is never afraid to get involved. Marler and Corbisiero could play themselves into contention with a strong run of form for England, but for now it’s Healy.
2: Richardt Strauss
There’s always a bolter in Lions teams, and Strauss has as much chance as anyone of being that unexpected inclusion. Hooker is not an area of great strength for any the home nations. Ross Ford and Matthew Rees have the experience but rarely look better than average in Scotland and Wales shirts respectively; Hartley and Rory Best have been struggling with injuries recently. If Strauss can nail down the shirt for the AIs and possibly the Six Nations, he has a great shot at being on the plane next summer.
3: Dan Cole
Cole vs Jones seems to be emerging as the battle for the tight head shirt, and with the Welshman suffering injuries and Cole getting better by the game, the Tigers man probably edges it at the moment. Not only is he a ferocious scrummager, he offers a lot at the breakdown and is as good as any prop at winning the ball on the floor.
4: Richie Gray
A poor domestic campaign for Sale has not done the giant Scotsman any favours but Gray has already proven himself as one of the best locks in the business. A huge physical presence with effective marauding runs means Gray is a very strong candidate for the Test XV.
5: Geoff Parling
People will argue that he won’t put the fear into opposition packs, but that’s not why Parling is so vital. With Gray in the other lock position looking to get around the park and cause havoc in the loose, Parling’s lineout prowess will be indispensable. It is this that has made him so key for the Tigers, and he is becoming that way for England too. He’s no slouch in the loose either, with good hands and a high work rate.
6: Chris Robshaw
Robshaw at 6 is a bit of a controversial one, but at the moment injuries dictate that he is the best option. If Lydiate can get fit and find the form he showed in last year’s 6 Nations he will be hard to ignore, while Croft and Ferris have both struggled with injuries over the last year. For now, Robshaw’s leadership qualities and work ethic get him a place in the team. One thing that you can be sure of is that he will give his all for the Lions. He can also cover 7, leaving a bit more flexibility with who gets picked on the bench.
7: Justin Tipuric
The calls for Tipuric can be ignored no longer. Such is Sam Warburton’s fall from grace that he has gone from talismanic captain and first name on the team-sheet, to a man clinging desperately to his starting berth. Tipuric, however, has been in insatiable form for the Ospreys in the RaboDirect and Heineken Cup, and showed enough in 5 minutes off the bench against Argentina at the weekend to suggest he should start. A tough call for Howley et al, but if he gets a run of games at international level he could become the favourite for the Lions no.7 shirt.
8: Toby Faletau
The youngster has a tendency to raise his game on the big stage. Faletau has been consistent for the Dragons this season and offered one of Wales’ few positive performances at the weekend. Provides the all-round package from the back of the scrum.
9: Danny Care
Care’s form over the past month has lifted him above the other contenders for this shirt. His rivalry with Ben Youngs could develop into one of legendary status, and could even be repeated at Lions level if both stay fit. With unstoppable acceleration and an eye for a gap around the fringes, the biggest barrier to his development remains himself: can he stay out of trouble?
10: Jonny Sexton
Eleven years ago the Lions’ fly-halves included Neil Jenkins, Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara. It is fair to say that this time around we are not blessed with such depth, but Jonny Sexton offers a deadly boot and marshals the backline better than his competitors.
11: Tim Visser
The Flying Dutchman has been scoring tries for fun in the RaboDirect PRO12. Some questioned whether he would be able to deliver on the international stage and he quietly responded with two tries against the All Blacks. A fine finisher playing with huge amounts of confidence.
12: Manu Tuilagi
His tactical game may not be the finished product but Tuilagi compensates with some of the most devastating charges in world rugby. The youngster has an eye for the try-line and he can be the Lions’ most dangerous asset if provided with the right service.
13: Jonathan Davies
The right centre combination is perhaps the biggest cause for concern in a potential Lions team at the moment. At outside centre, Jon Davies, although struggling with a niggle at the moment, has a solid turn of pace and good hands to go with an awareness of space that is vital when playing with the bruising Tuilagi. To be honest though, this position may come down to who is injury free and playing well at the time of selection – O’Driscoll has been hampered with injuries, but his experience could help out in a position that, with Tuilagi slotting in at 12, doesn’t have anyone head and shoulders above the rest.
14: Chris Ashton
An Ashton/Visser combination on the wings could be deadly. Both arch-finishers with exceptional try scoring rates, if put in space they will score tries. Neither are afraid to go looking for the ball either. Welsh giants North and Cuthbert would have expected to do a lot better against their diminutive Argentinian opponents last weekend, and will have to work hard to get back on top in a position that is bound to leave some high quality players at home.
15: Leigh Halfpenny
Injuries to Kearney and Foden have left Halfpenny as the current frontrunner for the full-back berth. Watch out for Alex Goode, who could put his hand up if given a run of international games, but for now he is too green and it is the Cardiff man in pole position. Strong under the high ball, with rapid acceleration and a booming boot that is invaluable should other kickers have an off day, Halfpenny has all the attributes of a great Lions full-back.