David Flatman: Stuart Hogg is my surprise Lions pick – oops, a surprise no longer
From the Front Row
Sunday 17 March 2013
I remember, a few years ago now, waking up and finding an envelope on my doormat with the British & Irish Lions emblem on it. I nearly fainted. It said I was being considered for the squad. I didn't panic; I just prepared my usual breakfast and did my best to stop my heart coming out of my chest.
When I reached the training ground I didn't mention it to a soul. I knew I would have to call mum and dad to tell them how close I was to the pinnacle of any player's dreams.
Then Julian White walked in and asked: "You get that Lions thing too?" I was ecstatic; not only was I in with a shout, but my best mate was too. Life could not get any better. Then he said: "Yeah, everyone's got it mate, about 200 of us." My knotted stomach relaxed and promptly hit the changing- room floor. This letter had been sent to every player in every home nations extended squad.
I revealed what I thought the letter had meant. This led to White laughing so hard that he literally took a knee, as standing became impossible.
I have again been checking the post religiously, hoping against hope that Mr Gatland will beg me to leave retirement behind. I have recently moved house, so the Royal Mail could be to blame for my non-selection. And I have a new mobile phone, so he won't have my number either. Sometimes I wonder if fate is against me.
With the Six Nations fresh in our minds, it's time to take a punt and put a British & Irish Lions team together. Every player will claim that his mind is focused solely on the job in hand, that getting that right is what will see them on the plane to Australia. But they are all thinking about it. It's a tough time, actually, for these chaps, as they will soon be told in no uncertain terms whether or not their lives are about to change. Make no mistake, becoming a Lion will open doors a man never knew even existed.
There are some tight calls; tighthead prop being the tightest. Were the Lions going to South Africa, Adam Jones would have got the nod. But in Australia, while scrummaging will be as vital as ever, tackle count and threat at the breakdown will be just as important. That, for me, gave Dan Cole the edge until Jones nudged him out yesterday. They are two top-of-the-range anchormen.
Full-back is also very difficult as Alex Goode, Rob Kearney, Leigh Halfpenny and indeed Ben Foden could all certainly do a stand-up job. But the one man to have really made his case in this Six Nations is Stuart Hogg. He wasn't electric in every game, but he showed glimpses of excellence and the Aussies won't know an awful lot about him. I like Hogg as a surprise package – if he is to be a surprise. Perhaps I ought to stop talking about him.
My Lions picks
1. Cian Healey (Ire) Out-and-out first choice.
2. Rory Best (Ire) Has to start, though Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs have been excellent.
3. Adam Jones (Wal) Monstrous at scrum time, and does enough round the field when required. Came out on top yesterday.
4. Joe Launchbury (Eng) Does it all. Big, fit, powerful, a handful.
5. Jim Hamilton (Scot) Huge, nasty and confrontational. Had an immense Six Nations.
6. Stephen Ferris (Ire) Freak. Get him fit and get him on that plane.
7. Chris Robshaw (Eng) Constantly confounding doubters, he will do the work of three men.
8. Nick Easter (Eng) Yes, Nick Easter. A quite monumental player bang in form. Close call with Jonny Beattie, who was monstrous against England.
9. Ben Youngs (Eng) Mike Phillips needs some form and Youngs can rip a team apart with his pace.
10. Jonny Sexton (Ire) Has to be.
11. George North (Wal) Massive but effective with it. Very athletic, good work-rate and getting smarter by the week.
12. Manu Tuilagi (Eng) If Sexton uses him properly, he is a weapon of global proportions.
13. Brian O'Driscoll (Ire) The best player of a generation still has his spark. Inhuman.
14. Simon Zebo (Ire) Über-talented and brutally hard to defend against – if fit.
15. Stuart Hogg (Sco) Appears to have it all. Would love to see him given a chance.
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