Potential Lions XV to play New Zealand in 2017

With the 2013 Lions tour of Australia in the books, the mind does invariably wander to the Lions’ next excursion, a trip to New Zealand in 2017. The yet to be named head coach, his personal game plan, and the emergence of young talent throughout the next four years will all have a great bearing on who lines up to face the first Haka of the series in just under four years time, but here’s some extremely early speculation on who those 15 men may just be…

1. Alex Corbisiero – England
It would take a brave man to bet against Corbisiero, Cian Healy and Mako Vunipola being the three loosehead props on the plane to New Zealand, but providing he can stay relatively injury free over the intervening years, Corbisiero could well be in pole position for the starters jersey. If Vunipola’s scrummaging develops over the coming years, it could be one of the hottest contended position battles of the 2017 tour.

2. Tom Youngs – England
The Leicester Tiger should be hitting his peak in four years time, and will likely see off competition from the likes of Dylan Hartley and Richard Hibbard, the latter of whom will be 33, and possibly beginning to decline. Richardt Strauss or Sean Cronin could also be in the mix, depending on who emerges as Ireland’s long-term replacement for Rory Best, whilst youngster Luke Cowan-Dickie has a decent chance of joining them, providing he can continue his impressive development with the Exeter Chiefs.

3. Dan Cole – England
As much as we would all like to see Adam Jones once more destroying Southern Hemisphere scrums, the Welshman will be 36 in 2017, and almost certainly out of Lions contention. Cole, an already formidable tighthead, will be 30 at the time of the tour, and should be hitting his peak. There are not too many other potential prospects currently playing at an international level in the home nations, and the Lions could well end up replying on some young prospects to push Cole for the starting jersey.

4. Richie Gray – Scotland
Gray was unlucky to come into this year’s Lions tour on the back of a disappointing season, which was marred by both injury and poor form, and likely contributed to his lack of appearances in the first two tests. His potential however is phenomenal, and you would expect his lineout ability to improve over the next four years and reach the same kind of proficiency he has already displayed with his ball carrying. Geoff Parling could also tour, and provide cover from the bench, especially if the Lions endure the same lineout struggles they have had this year.

5. Alun Wyn Jones – Wales
Hard to leave out a victorious Lions captain, especially when he will still only be 31 in 2017. Young England and London Wasps’ star Joe Launchbury is unlucky to miss out on a starting position, but could well force his way ahead of both Gray and Jones in the next few years if he continues to impress, as could Courtney Lawes if he can become more consistent.

6. Peter O’Mahony – Ireland
The Munsterman faces stiff competition from Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien, Tom Croft and Tom Wood for the blindside slot, but narrowly beats them out on the potential he offers. He’s a Munster and Ireland captain in waiting, and there seems to be no weak link to his game, despite the fact he is still just 23. Arguably the most talent rich position amongst the home nations currently, this position battle could well turn out to be the fiercest of the 2017 tour.

7. Sam Warburton (C) – Wales
Much of the criticism that surrounded the announcement of Warburton as captain this year was due to the fact people considered Warburton to be out of form, and that his place in the team was not guaranteed thanks to emergence of Justin Tipuric. That being said, when both players are on form, Warburton is still the better player in my mind, and his experience of captaining the Lions this year will be vital in New Zealand. A host of young English sevens such as Will Fraser, Matt Kvesic and Sam Jones could all be in with outside shots too.

8. Stephen Ferris – Ireland
Without doubt the riskiest selection in the team, but if Ferris can upset the odds and stay fit, he could be a difference maker on the tour. If it were not for injuries, Ferris would be a veteran of two Lions tours, and would have had a very good chance of being a test starter on both of those tours. Toby Faletau is the obvious choice if Ferris cannot stay fit, although he could be pushed close by the English duo of Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola.

9. Ben Youngs – England
Youngs may have, on reflection, been outperformed by Conor Murray on this year’s tour, but the Leicester Tiger has a more well-rounded game than Murray, and an extra four years experience could well see Youngs as the premiere scrum half in Northern Hemisphere rugby. Greig Laidlaw and Danny Care could well tour, but may struggle to challenge Youngs and Murray for the starter’s jersey.

10. Jonathan Sexton – Ireland
Without doubt the toughest decision in the team, but ultimately caution won the day, and I stuck with the tried and tested Sexton. Both Ian Madigan and Owen Farrell were extremely close to pipping Sexton to the starting spot, but given the quality of the opposition the Lions will face in New Zealand, Sexton’s experience won through. To see Madigan oust Sexton from Ireland’s fly half spot would not be overly surprising during the next four years, whilst Farrell seems to have picked up a lot from this year’s Lions tour, and could well quiet the calls of ‘Freddie Burns for England’ during this upcoming season.

11. Simon Zebo – Ireland
Zebo electrified on this year’s tour following his call up as injury cover, and you’d expect him to go from strength to strength over the next four years. Concerns over Zebo’s similarity to the other winger in this squad could see Alex Cuthbert take his place, particularly if Cuthbert’s defence improves over the coming years.

12. Manu Tuilagi – England
The centre was unlucky to not feature more in the tests this year thanks to an injury he picked up in the warm up matches, but could well make this position his own for 2017 and beyond. Jamie Roberts will still certainly be in the mix in four years time, but Tuilagi’s dynamism could well give him the edge.

13. George North – Wales
Another risky call, and one that relies on North seeing game time at 13 for his new club, Northampton. Playing expansively, although not an alien concept to the Saints, is certainly not Northampton’s ‘Plan A’, and North could see time in the centres in an effort to get him more involved in the game. In this scenario, North would have to see off competition from national compatriot Jonathan Davies, as well as the ever improving Elliot Daly.

14. Christian Wade – England
Although Wade didn’t have the impact on the tour he would have liked this year, the experience should have benefitted the winger greatly, and he could well be ready to set the world alight come 2017. As mentioned in regards to Zebo, there may be concerns over playing two wingers so similar, and the likes of Tim Visser and Marland Yarde could also come into contention.

15. Leigh Halfpenny – Wales
The Welsh full back could yet earn himself a reputation as the greatest Lion of all time. Halfpenny earned himself the ‘Man of the Series’ accolade on his second Lions tour, at the young age of 24, and should have another two tours in him if he can stay healthy. It’s hard to see anyone ousting him from a position which he has made his own, but Stuart Hogg will certainly give it a good shot.

We’re aware of just how speculative this is – but who would you like to see appearing in a Lions jersey in four years time? Who do you back to emerge as contenders?

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

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84 comments on “Potential Lions XV to play New Zealand in 2017

  1. So looking at past tours I’ve looked at the amount of players retained in each position etc and this is the squad that potentially could travel.

    Looseheads: Alex Corbisiero, Cian Healy, Mako Vunipola
    Potential: Ryan Bevington

    Hookers: Tom Youngs, Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie
    Potential: Richard Hibbard

    Tightheads: Dan Cole, Craig Mitchell
    Potential:

    Locks: Alun Wyn Jones, Joe Launchbury, Richie Gray, Courtney Lawes, Lloyd Peers
    Potential

    Back-Row: Sam Warburton (c), Matt Kvesic, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau, Jack Clifford
    Potential: Stephen Ferris (although apparently he has no fluid left in his knees), Steffon Armitage, Ross Rennie, Justin Tipuric

    Scrum Half: Conor Murray, Danny Care, Gareth Davies (he’s in the Mike Phillips mould and will in my opinion get capped soon. Watch his space).
    Potential: Ben Youngs, Greig Laidlaw

    Outside Half: Freddie Burns, Jonathan Sexton, Rhys Patchell
    Potential: Iain Madigan, Owen Farrell

    Centres: Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Manu Tuilagi, Luke Marshall, Elliot Daly
    Potential: Billy Twelvetrees, Ashley Beck

    Wings: George North, Simon Zebo, Christian Wade, Eli Walker
    Potential: Alex Cuthbert, Craig Gilroy

    Full Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg

    Some gaps can be filled like at tighthead. I think Craig Mitchell will develop nicely in a great tighthead. He did well in the 2011 Six Nations and although his progress has been hindered by moving to Exeter Chiefs he will be there in 2017. I guess we’ll see…

    My team:

    1. Cian Healy
    2. Ken Owens
    3. Dan Cole
    4. Alun Wyn Jones
    5. Joe Launchbury
    6. Dan Lydiate
    7. Sam Warburton (C)
    8. Jack Clifford
    9. Conor Murray
    10. Jonathan Sexton
    11. George North
    12. Jamie Roberts
    13. Jonathan Davies
    14. Simon Zebo
    15. Leigh Halfpenny

    16. Tom Youngs
    17. Alex Corbisiero
    18. Craig Mitchell
    19. Courtney Lawes
    20. Sean O’Brien
    21. Danny Care
    22. Freddie Burns
    23. Manu Tuilagi

  2. First XV: 1.Healy 2.Hartley 3.Cole 4.AWJ 5.Launchbury 6.Lydiate 7.Warburton 8.Faletau 9.Murray 10.Sexton 11.North 12.Roberts 13.Davies 14.Cuthbert 15.Halfpenny

    Bench: 16.Youngs 17.Corbisiero 18.Wilson 19.Gray 20.O’Brien 21.Youngs 22.Farrell 23.Tuilagi

    Reserves: Vunipola, Andrews, Strauss, Lawes, O’Mahoney, Tipuric, Morgan, Care, Madigan, Scott, Wade, Zebo, Hogg

  3. 1. Alex Corbisiero (Adam Jones had almost a loosehead equal to his scrimmaging artistry in the final test, and as saw from that game the scrum is the key platform for all other play)
    2. Tom Youngs (although I think Hibbard is the better player, Youngs offers huge potential, and Hibbard will have faded by 2017)
    3. Henry Thomas (one of England’s biggest hopes for the future)
    4. Joe Launchbury (diversely talented in the extreme, with huge potential)
    5. Alun Wyn Jones (would be in the World XV let alone an all-star northern hemisphere side like the Lions)
    6. Dan Lydiate (unbelievable defensive ability and a chop tackle that halves the difficulty to find turnovers from the jackal)
    7. Sam Warburton (C) (unfairly criticized and a world class 7 on his day)
    8. Toby Faletau (majestic player at the top of his game)
    9. Conor Murray (got to say I didn’t think much of him before the tour, but my opinion of him has flipped)
    10. Jordan Williams (very speculative but Williams’ attacking skillset harks back to the great Welsh halfbacks of the 70s, and he will be world class if managed properly)
    11. George North (another player who would likely be included in a World XV, with a complete set of skills and considerable physical prowess)
    12. Jamie Roberts (so much more than just a battering ram, although it is easy to see why he is labelled as such. Roberts has hidden skills that Gatland’s use of him doesn’t bring out, but tactics that promote a more expansive game would bring out the best in him)
    13. Kyle Eastmond (another long shot, but after having watched him against Argentina it is clear there is little rival for his flair in the midfield. Another 3 or 4 years and he should have truly settled into Union)
    14. Christian Wade (there has been no replacement for Shane Williams’ step and acceleration in world rugby, but Wade has the phenomenal potential to be his Lions’ successor)
    15. Leigh Halfpenny (should definitely win World Player of the Year. Outstanding in the autumn last year despite Wales losing every match they played against Australia, Player of the Six Nations, and Lions Player of the Series. He is truly world class, and while his attacking attributes are not as explosive as, say Israel Dagg’s, his all round game will almost certainly be unmatched for years to come.

  4. Just a few points in favour of us Irish, our club teams are performing brilliantly and our national team has simply extremely underperformed under Kidney. Also, at the U20′s world cup we lost a close match to NZ 31-26 I think, with our best player injured (Tom Daly). Also Stuart Olding and Robbie Henshaw were touring with the senior squad, two of the best U20 Irish players. Just saying.

  5. Now i love a bit of armchair selection but i doubt any of us even got this year’s lions squad exactly correct before it was announced, so guessing who will be selected in four years time is pretty impossible i’d say. Sure we can say which players have potential but so much rests on the international coaches and who they select over the next four years, and how the world cup goes in between now and then.

  6. All this talk makes the appetite whet for england vs wales in the rwc!! What a game that is going to be! At the moment (as an englishmab) i would say wales edge it

  7. This May be a bit biased from a Scotsman but
    1.Corbisiero
    2. Youngs
    3. Cole
    4. Gray
    5. Launchbury or AWJ
    6. O’Mahony
    7. Fusaro
    8. Vunipola
    9. Youngs
    10. Sexton
    11. North
    12. Scott
    13. Davies
    14. Wade/Yarde
    15. Halfpenny

    16. MacArthur?
    17. Grant
    18. Thomas
    19. Lawes/ J Gray?
    20. Warburton
    21. Murray
    22. Hogg
    23. Tuilagi

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