Wednesday 6 March 2013

6 Nations Midway Lions Watch

With only two international games left before Gatland picks his touring squad, these are the players that have been putting their hands up, and where there are spots still up for grabs.

Loosehead. I'm assuming three will travel, two of which are Cian Healy, and Gethin Jenkins; who seems to be returning to something resembling top form. The last spot is between Ryan Grant (Scotland), Joe Marler, Paul James and Andrew Sheridan, with replacements from Ireland and Scotland not impressing. Vunipola won't go unless he usurps Marler between now and the end of the competition. Much was expected of Ryan Grant, but he hasn't impressed as much as in November. The doubts for Andrew Sheridan emanate from his lack of internationals recently, and whether Toulon will release him in time for the tour. Paul James is an outside bet after Jenkin's injury.

Safe: Healy, Jenkins. Next in line; James, Sheridan, Grant, Marler

At hooker, Rory Best has cemented his place with some great performances around the park, aside from his dodgy throwing in the first half of the Scottish game. He brings the sort of leadership that will be invaluable on tour. One of Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley will travel, and possibly both, with Ross Ford and Richard Hibbard the only other contenders. Ford is showing glimpses of why he was a Lion before, and Wales are calling for Hibbard's inclusion in the test team, but I've yet to be convinced. Richardt Strauss is a very left field selection, but would point to Gatland emphasising the break-down as an area of importance. Safe: Best; Next, Youngs, Hartley, Hibbard, Ford, Strauss

Tighthead, where again I'm assuming three, of which Dan Cole and Adam Jones are miles ahead of everyone. With no Sunday games, and a decent showing of form, Euan Murray is ahead of Mike Ross, who offers little else other than the scrum.

Safe; Cole, Jones. Next in line; Murray, Ross

Second Row is difficult as there doesn't seem to be a current world class star amongst the ranks. Launchbury and/or Parling may develop into world class standard, but they aren't there yet. Both are likely to travel. I've been impressed with the Scottish lineout and how it dismantled Ireland's, but it was more Jim Hamilton in particular and Ali Kellock than Richie Gray catching my eye. Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy have been good this year, but it's hard to say whether either have been Lions quality. With Wales's second row stocks shallow, AW Jones's return will be welcome. Nathan Hines is in the same boat as Andrew Sheridan, but there is less competition for Hines, and Hines has shown before his willingness to leave his Top 14 club to play for the Lions

Contenders: hines, Parling, Launchbury, Ryan, Jones, Hamilton, Kellock, Gray, Lawes, McCarthy

Back Row

There are a number of contenders in the backrow. Jamie Heaslip is in danger of not travelling unless he shows up in a few games. Sean O'Brien is a certainty. Dan Lydiate needs to come back from injury as he will be needed in Australia. Warburton's place is under threat, and Tipuric has to be a traveller too. Faleatau is approaching form and all the Welsh near form are in with a shout with Gatland as head coach. I think Kelly Brown would be a smart pick and a great tourist. Johnnie Beattie has been in good form in France and for Scotland too and is in with a shout. Tom Wood and Robshaw are pushing hard for calls too. Ryan Jones is another outside bet, who might get there after impressing after a long run of no form, especially as he can cover 2nd row. Armitage is another Top 14 player that the English want included, but I don't think he's good enough to make it. Tom Croft is coming back from injury and has the potential to go aswell

Safe: O'Brien, Next: Robshaw, Tipuric, Warburton, Lydiate, Brown, Faletau, Beattie, Wood, Heaslip, Croft, Morgan, Jones


Seems a wide open race. At the very least the scrumhalves seem to be playing better than in November when all tried to play themselves out of the race. Laidlaw has been very good for Scotland, but I think he is a better outhalf than scrumhalf. His versatility is likely to earn him a spot at least. Like the English hookers one or both of Youngs and Care are likely to go, and it seems a direct choice between Phillips and Murray for a bruising type of scrumhalf which could help in the breakdown in Australia. Gatland is a fan of Phillips and his Lions experience would give him an edge.

Contenders, Laidlaw, Youngs, Care, Phillips, Murray,

Outhalf; I'm backing Sexton to be first choice, and Farrell seems to be the next in line. There aren't too many others, which suggests that anyone who plays for any of the countries is in with a shout. For England there'll be Toby Flood and Freddie Burns, Scotland will have Ruaridh Jackson, Wales have Biggar and Hook and Ireland will be showcasing Paddy Jackson and Madigan. First off, it won't be either Jackson or Madigan. Hook has a chance due to his versatility. Gatland doesn't seem to like Biggar even though he seems good to me. I think he'd prefer to take a gamble on Priestland's fitness rather than go with Biggar. Which leaves either Flood or Burns. Personally, I'd like to see Burns have a go. I think he's a fantastic talent and capable of something extraordinary. Flood has never seemed international standard, and has just been keeping the jersey warm for the youngsters to come through. He's made the most of his ability and fair play, but he isn't Lions material.

Safe: Sexton, Farrell, Next in line; Priestland, Biggar, Hook, Flood, Burns.

Inside Centre

Jamie Roberts is leading the race, but hasn't done enough to be considered a certainty for me. Matt Scott has had an industrious campaign, and is in consideration, and Brad Barritt has also done well and is a likely contender. Billy Twelvetrees and Luke Marshall are two young bolters who have both had one impressive game. More impressive gametime for either might get them a nod as they can offer alternative skills to Roberts and Barritt. It's unlikely that both Marshall and Twelvetrees would go though, and either would still be a left-field call.

Contenders: Roberts, Barritt, Twelvetrees, Marshall, Scott

Outside Centre

Brian O'Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi seem to be the frontrunners and have left Jonathan Davies behind. It's unlikely 3 will travel, so Davies might miss out. Hogg is able to cover 13 if necessary anyway.

Safe: O'Driscoll, Tuilaigi; Missing out: Davies


Wingers are judged on ability to score tries, work ethic and defensive capibilities. There are a great mix of wingers available to Gatland. In Scotland Maitland and Visser are pushing for selection without being fantastic, Maitland is an intelligent player, and Visser is a finisher. In England Ashton is a poacher who needs work done for him. He is almost in direct competition with Visser even though they play opposite sides. Ashton's form isn't great though. In Wales Eli Walker hasn't got a look in and must be discounted, leaving Cuthbert and North as main challengers. Cuthbert is a tryscorer, and North is probably the most certain of all wingers being pacey and strong. The Irish wingers seem to have been struck down by various injuries. Bowe and Zebo could be included, but probably won't be fit in time. Gilroy is another outside bet as he offers something a little different to the other wingers. Fitzgerald hasn't gotten a look in, but would be good enough, while Earls and McFadden aren't good enough.

Safe: North; Contenders: Cuthbert, Visser, Maitland, Gilroy. Ashton, Bowe, Zebo

Full back.Leigh Halfpenny has been outstanding for 4 years now. He is as certain as anyone could be. Stuart Hogg is pushing hard too. Rob Kearney went from being a certainty to being close to not travelling. He has enough about him to get there, but hasn't fully rediscovered his form since returning from injury. If he finds it any time from now until the team announcement, he'll be on the plane. Alex Goode, Ben Foden and Mike Brown are all in with a shout, and with most of these players able to cover other positions, don't be surprised if as many of these as possible are selected.

Safe: Halfpenny, Contenders; Hogg, Kearney, Goode, Foden, Brown

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