By Dylan Goodman
With the Six Nations now over, England claiming a bittersweet title despite their loss to Ireland in the final round, heads are turning to the next major international event, the Lions Tour in June. The big question being, who should be on the team to face the mighty All Blacks? Whittling all the players from Britain and Ireland into a 37 man squad can be hard enough, not to mention picking the starting 15. Mr. Warren Gatland has a tough job ahead of him. But we’ll have a go ourselves.
The general consensus seems to be that Stuart Hogg should be at full back and George North should be at 14. Stuart Hogg has been, once again, one of the stand out players in this year’s Six Nations, as well as Scotland’s top try scorer. George North has been less convincing, his selection against Ireland was even questioned by Welsh supporters, but there is something comforting in having a 6’3” winger who has been known to pick large Australians off the ground when they attempt to tackle him. For his previous experience on tour, North deserves a place. There’s a number of options for the opposite wing, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Keith Earls were all in excellent form and deserve to travel, but Liam Williams would have to be the number 1 choice, as one of the top line breakers in this year’s tournament.
Jonathan Joseph is by far the favourite for the outside centre position. He was one of England’s top try scorers and is one of the most potent attacking backs on offer. Inside him at 12, Farrell and Scott Williams are options, but Farrell is better suited to 10 and we’ll have to go with Robbie Henshaw over Scott Williams. Henshaw is excellent in attack and defense, he can offer Sexton protection from any All Blacks who may wish to hobble him.
Jonny Sexton is the quintessential 10, and is tough as nails. Necessary, as he is bound to be targeted by New Zealand, perhaps even more so than he was by England in the final round. Rhys Webb is the only reasonable choice for scrum-half, his feistiness will be invaluable against New Zealand and his ball carrying ability puts him above Conor Murray, whose slow, forward-oriented style would better suit the final quarter, when the All Blacks step it up a gear, should the Lions have to close out the game.
The back row positions are sure to be fiercely contested. All eight Sunday papers chose Billy Vunipola as their number 8, but the GTI Gazette are going with our honorary Irishman CJ Stander. The South African born giant is a great ball carrier and hits the rucks harder than his English rival. The flankers are tough to call, Warburton and Itoje both deserve to travel, but Justin Tipuric is an ideal 7. He looked bright throughout the championship, he ended up as Wales’ top tackler and he won the most penalties at the breakdown. 6 is another tough choice, but we’ve always been a fan of Peter O’Mahony, and seeing him back on top form against England was fantastic.
Maro Itoje is another popular choice for the second row, but seeing as he’s still relatively inexperienced, he’s kept on our hypothetical bench for now. His England team-mate Joe Launchbury is a good, reliable choice, and was the Six Nations top tackler this year, with 85. Jonny Gray was close behind with 73 and is an amazing option to have, but as the team is currently lacking some leader material, we’ll go with the always consistent, 2-time tour veteran Alun Wyn Jones.
Speaking of consistency, Wales’ Ken Owens will have to get a place at No. 2, pursued closely by Jamie George, who should travel. At tighthead, Tadhg Furlong has an almost unanimous vote from the Sunday papers and seems the obvious choice. For a portly man, his stamina is incredible, regularly staying on the pitch well into the final quarter. Meanwhile, at loosehead, Mako Vunipola was delayed this year by injury but made his case with strong ball carrying and being the cornerstone of the English scrum.
15. S. Hogg (Scotland)
14. G. North (Wales)
13. J. Joseph (England)
12. R. Henshaw (Ireland)
11. L. Williams (Wales)
10. J. Sexton (Ireland)
9.R. Webb (Wales)
- M. Vunipola (England)
- K. Owens (Wales)
- T. Furlong (Ireland)
- A.W. Jones (Wales)
- J. Launchbury (England)
- P. O’Mahony (Ireland)
- J. Tipuric (Wales)
- C.J. Stander (Ireland)
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