With less than six months until the announcement of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad to face New Zealand, The Independent's Jack Austin takes a look at who is currently in possession of each shirt after the recent autumn internationals.
With the number of injuries, especially suffered by England, only players who featured in the tests over the autumn were considered for selection.
Agree? Disagree? Give your current XV in the comments section below.
15 – Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
There is no one else coming near to taking the 15 shirt from Hogg. Leigh Halfpenny made a solid return to the international arena after a year absence but the Scot is one of only two or three certainties for the starting XV.
14 – Liam Williams (Wales)
Williams is Wales’ in-form player at the moment and his move to Saracens at the end of the season shows how highly he is rating in England. Anthony Watson would be a contender had he been fit, while New Zealand-born Sean Maitland, also impressed for Scotland.
13 – Jonathan Davies (Wales)
Davies, like the rest of the Welsh side, was not at his best, but he started all three of the tests on the 2013 tour and would be my pick to do so again. Jonathan Joseph was back to his try-scoring self for England but I’m not sure Eddie Jones is totally convinced he is his starting 13 when all others are git. Both are likely to go but Davies just edges it. Huw Jones also made a promising start to his Scotland career.
12 – Owen Farrell (England)
Robbie Henshaw, who can operate at either 12 or 13 is an option but Farrell has his hand up highest for the inside centre berth at the moment and the way England are playing, don’t be surprised to see him with a 12 – rather than a 10 – on his back for the Lions. Jamie Roberts seems to have played himself out of contention after being dropped for Wales, although he is a Gatland favourite.
11 – Jonny May (England)
May is a decent finisher and was probably the best of the wingers during the autumn internationals but he is far from guaranteed a spot on the plane. He seems to tire easily and struggled to make any impact on the game against Australia. George North was poor but he has the X-factor to make something happen out of nothing (ask Will Genia). May takes the spot on form but North will improve.
10 – George Ford (England)
Before the autumn series you may have said the two protagonists for the No 10 jersey were Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton but Ford has overtaken them both. His relationship with school-mate Farrell was sublime. His perceived lack of physicality won’t win him any favours with Gatland, but if he manages to become a try threat himself, as well as a playmaker, he should start against the All Blacks. Biggar will have to settle for his understudy at the moment.
9 – Ben Youngs (England)
Is there more fierce competition for a Lions shirt at the moment other than the one with a nine on its back? Rhys Webb faces an uphill battle now after yet another injury set back, but Gatland is aware of his talents. I had Conor Murray front runner up until Youngs’ “masterful” (Jones’ words, not mine) display over Australia. The fact that Greig Laidlaw probably won’t get a look in tells you everything you need to know about the strength in depth at scrum-half.
1 – Mako Vunipola (England)
What a player the older Vunipola brother is. He has vastly improved since Jones took charge and become a lot more mobile around the pitch. Against, Fiji his passing could have been mistaken for a scrum-half’s it was so impressive. Gethin Jenkins still continues to defy his age but Mako is the one in possession of the shirt as it stands.
2 – Dylan Hartley (England)
Hartley’s unbeaten record as England captain means he, along with Hogg, is probably the other certainty to this Lions side, injury permitting. He is likely to take the captaincy too, with Gatland well aware he needs the Kiwi-born hooker’s grit and nastiness if the Lions are to come away with another series win.
3 – Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
There is not a whole host of other options but Furlong was impressive for the Irish depite having only four internationals to his name, albeit all against the three Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.
4 – Courtney Lawes (England)
Lawes started the series as England’s fourth-choice lock but his work in the lineout and the way he carried the ball makes him a Lions contender. Maro Itoje didn’t play but will surely fly to New Zealand and George Kruis only got one start after his injury and was outshone by Lawes. However, the Northampton man may struggle to keep his place when the Saracens duo return to full fitness in the Six Nations.
5 – Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Perhaps fans of Irish pair Devin Toner and Iain Henderson would complain but the way Jones overcame the death of his father at the start of the series was inspiring. His engine is better than most other second rows and he drives his team forward so much that Brian O’Driscoll even backed him for the captaincy in New Zealand.
6 – Chris Robshaw (England)
Gatland overlooked Robshaw for selection in 2013 but he is making it difficult to do so again after remaking himself on the other side of the scrum. He was man of the match against Argentina and his work rate was immense. Unless Itoje moves to the back row, there aren’t too many other candidates.
7 – Justin Tipuric (Wales)
Tipuric is in the form of his life at the moment and was sensational against South Africa. He has all the talents of a centre in the build of a forward and has even managed to dislodge the No 7 shirt from his captain Sam Warburton. Both will surely get on the plane but Tipuric is leading the way.
8 – Billy Vunipola (England)
What a blow it was to lose Vunipola for the Six Nations. The Lions have their pick from two of the finest No 8s in the world in Billy and his ‘cousin’ Taulupe Faletau. The Welshman only made his comeback in the final autumn test but will have all of the Six Nations to wrestle the shirt back while Vunipola recovers from his knee injury. Whoever gets the nod, the Lions won’t be weaker for it.
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