Lions 2013: Who are the early contenders for test spots?
With the World Cup well and truly over, it is time to look forward to the next time the home nations go en masse to the Southern Hemisphere: the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.
Having narrowly lost the test series to South Africa in 2009, the 2013 Lions will be after their first test series win since 1997. That tour to the newly crowned World Champions, South Africa, was the first one of the professional era, and a memorable one thanks to the “Living with the Lions” documentary.
However the home nations haven’t won since then. They certainly have the quality of players to go to Australia and win, but will they?
Foresight is a wonderful thing, so provided everyone is fit, which they probably won’t be but we can dream a little, here is who I reckon will make that first test XV, based on past performances.
15. Ben Foden
He may have had a quiet World Cup but the creativity that we know Foden has is in there somewhere waiting to come out once more. James Hook was another option but Foden is more of an out and out full back.
14. Tommy Bowe
Having impressed in 2009 with the Lions, Bowe is given another chance for his attacking prowess. George North is the unlucky one missing out but there’s plenty of time for him as he will only be 21 in 2013.
13. Manu Tuilagi
By choosing this centre combination, the focus is on bulk and pace but the two should work well together. Manu Tuilagi started out as a winger but has taken to the 13 jersey like a duck to water. The only possible worry for him is sticking to the defensive line but with just under two years of rugby still to come that should sort itself out.
12. Jamie Roberts
Another 2009 Lion, Jamie Roberts has shown how vital he is to the Wales squad in both attack and defence. Both will be stretched to their limits in Australia but Roberts is easily the best inside centre in the home nations at the moment so will be able to handle the pressure.
11. Chris Ashton
An excellent player to watch, Ashton works his way around the pitch looking for work to do. He will capitalise on any opportunities given to him whilst making ones of his own. With that hard work and ethic he’ll be in the squad and the first test team.
10. Jonathan Sexton
It could have been Toby Flood, it could have been Rhys Priestland or Ruaridh Jackson. Instead I’ve opted for Jonathan Sexton to take on the fly-half berth. The way he controls a game is impressive and his kicking – both out of hand and spot kicks are superb. It was a tough choice but I think it’s the right one.
9. Mike Phillips
A member of the 2009 Lions squad, Phillips has continued to improve and impress while the likes of Ben Youngs and Conor Murray have come on the international scene. He makes the team for his skill and experience, once again vital in such a specialist position.
1. Cian Healy
The Irishman has been one to watch for a while and has proved his worth over the past couple of seasons both for Leinster and Ireland. A good all round player that deserves the chance to represent the Lions.
2. Matthew Rees
Unfortunate to miss out on the World Cup through injury, I still reckon that Matthew Rees is one of the best hookers in the home nations and having toured with the Lions before he will have the necessary experience in such a specialist position.
3. Dan Cole
As someone who has been successful against Australia in the past, Cole is a pick as I reckon he and Healy will shine against the Wallabies improved scrum. They are both young but already very good at the dark arts of the front row, any weaknesses will be exploited.
4. Richie Gray
In the second row we have power and mobility, as both are as adept at ball carrying as they are at the line out and scrum. Richie Gray has been one of the stand out performers of the past year and should it continue through to 2013 he would be a definite for the test XV.
5. Courtney Lawes
Lawes will complement Gray well in the second row. While Lawes gets stuck into the rucks, Gray will prefer to carry the ball. This is a Lions combination for now and future tours, that’s how the coaching staff should think.
6. Sean O’Brien
He’s like a brilliant bulldozer. Sean O’Brien is everywhere that matters on the pitch and when playing on the blindside he can be a game changer, as shown in the second half of the 2011 Heineken Cup Final. O’Brien should relish the challenge in Australia, whether he’s up against Rocky Elsom, Scott Higginbotham or even Dave Dennis.
7. Sam Warburton (c)
The 24 year old Wales captain has done it by jumping in the deep end at the World Cup so why not the Lions? He should be facing fellow brilliant openside David Pocock in a head-to-head to savour, with both players having upped their games since 2011.
8. Jamie Heaslip
Toby Faletau will find himself unlucky not to be named in the side, but I wanted to have the extra line out option in the side, and Heaslip provides that. A storming player, he regularly gets over the gain line and when on form is a pleasure to watch.
What do you think of this side? Who would make your Lions test XV? Let us know in the comments.