David Flatman: Here's my revised Lions – with a few Welshmen added in
From the Front Row
Sunday 24 March 2013
I felt a bit like Brian Moore last Sunday. No, not short and angry, but the victim of an angry Welsh public. My potential Lions XV was apparently so insulting that a number of readers felt compelled to complain. If only they knew that, as soon as Wales won last Saturday, I was reminding everyone that my mother was born in Pontypool. They might have forgiven me. Perhaps not... But these selections are supposed to be fun. It's just fine not to agree.
Wales were magnificent; savage power up front matched by pace, opportunism and commitment out wide. George North and Alex Cuthbert were close to unplayable and Leigh Halfpenny oozed the sort of class we used to see on videos of the days before rugby went all serve-and-volley. And Jamie Roberts has hammered his way back to form at exactly the right time. What an athlete he is.
The manner in which the more experienced Welsh dealt with that pressure was significant. Cian Healey is now one of the best looseheads in world rugby. He will have bad days but he is athletic enough to cope with incredibly low scrummaging without collapsing, and this will probably be a disruptive Australian tactic this summer. Gethin Jenkins was sensational last Saturday but Healey has had the better year all round, due in part to Jenkins's lack of game time in Toulon. The leaders selected elsewhere might decide if his experience and recent captaincy gives Jenkins the advantage.
The back row is the toughest area to select. One thing that is not hard to see is that Sam Warburton is back. Blindside was a tough call: Stephen Ferris has been out for a while, but my experience of playing against him left a real impression. His strength and co-ordination were on a different level from most players I faced. We just couldn't stop him. But he will have to come back at the very top of his game to oust Chris Robshaw.
Mike Phillips stepped up in a big way, too. His game is power, so it helps when his pack get him on the front foot. With momentum he can challenge fringe defenders like nobody else, because he is quick and agile but also as strong as a flanker. Not fun for tired prop- forwards. Ben Youngs can be a nightmare to defend when moving forward, and Danny Care has been in outrageously good form for his club. But when the pressure peaked, Phillips dominated the scene. Again, scrum-half is a tight call.
1 Cian Healey (Ire): Gethin Jenkins is also bang in form, so a close call.
2 Rory Best (Ire): Richard Hibbard is superb, but since William Servat of France retired Best has been the most consistent hooker in the northern hemisphere.
3 Adam Jones (Wal): The rock.
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wal): How would he perform post-injury? Exceptionally. Joe Launchbury could feature too. Last Saturday wasn't his day, but what an impact he has had.
5 Jim Hamilton (Scot): Strong at the scrum, great timing for a giant in line-outs, confrontational and abrasive around the field. He would permit no liberties.
6 Chris Robshaw (Eng): Tireless and selfless. Stephen Ferris and Dan Lydiate are contenders if fit.
7 Sam Warburton (Wal): Back with a bang after tough few months. Seriously impressive.
8 Nick Easter (Eng): Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip both in with a shout, as is Ben Morgan when fit. But Easter is the boss at No 8.
9 Mike Phillips (Wal): Another man rejuvenated. This is all about who will scare Aussie defenders the most. Right now it's Phillips.
10 Jonny Sexton (Ire): Missed the past couple of games, but is still the man to control the series.
11 George North (Wal): Has it all.
12 Jamie Roberts (Wal): Based on form and experience. Knows what to do, has the athleticism to do it.
13 Brian O'Driscoll (Ire): Manu Tuilagi is a huge physical threat but BOD still has intelligence to work teams out and courage to take responsibility. One last shot.
14 Alex Cuthbert (Wal): Came of age in Six Nations. Automatic pick with his mate on the other side.
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wal): Stuart Hogg could be a surprise success, but Halfpenny has experience, goal-kicking and a relationship with the two wingers.
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