Warren Gatland will have an idea of his British & Irish Lions squad for the summer tour of New Zealand as the Six Nations starts. We look at who could start the first test against the All Blacks.
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15 Stuart Hogg
The Glasgow Warriors’ fullback looks set to claim the 15 jersey this summer. A number of brilliant performances during the Scottish club’s run to the Champions Cup quarterfinals and with Vern Cotter’s Scottish side has propelled him to the leading candidate for the starting berth. His long-range kicking capability is also a great option to have.
14 Jack Nowell
Injury threatened to derail Nowell’s progress but he’s fought back for the Six Nations. He has a try every two games in an England shirt and his ability to break tackles is a major strength that will be key in New Zealand. While there might be talk of a lack of pace, it has yet to be exploited.
13 Jonathan Joseph
Joseph enhanced his international reputation with a brilliant performance in their autumn series victory over Australia. Whether it was his breakaway try or his perfectly weighted kick for Marland Yarde to score, Joseph was instrumental to England going through 2016 undefeated, scoring eight tries in 13 games.
12 Robbie Henshaw
While his try count may not be as prolific as a certain former Irish centre, his work-rate, tackle count and ability to put players through will see Gatland give him the nod. After helping Connacht to a Pro12 title, Henshaw has continued to progress at Leinster, alongside Garry Ringrose and having the same partnership at international level will help.
11 Liam Williams
In his decision to join Saracens next season Williams has made a statement of his intent to compete for trophies. He showed glimpses of his best in the autumn and will hope to help Wales back to the top of the Six Nations, a tournament they last won in 2013.
10 Owen Farrell
Farrell was instrumental in Saracens’ comprehensive march towards the Champions Cup quarterfinals and England’s winning year. His kicking capability will be pivotal in punishing any All Blacks’ indiscipline, while the choices available to Gatland at centre should see him revert to fly-half.
9 Conor Murray
It’s incredible that Murray’s big break came when included instead of Tomas O’ Leary in Ireland’s 2011 Rugby World Cup squad, having made just one appearance prior to the announcement. Since then the Munster man hasn’t looked back and has become key to everything that Ireland ha done, including the back-to-back Six Nations Championship wins in 2014 and 2015.
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1 Mako Vunipola
Before injury he was in inform prop in world rugby. His ability to turn the ball over, make breaks and be a real threat around the breakdown should have his name on one of the plane tickets this summer. It would take an incredible Six Nations and end of the season for any of his competitors to dislodge him.
2 Rory Best
The Lions tour would be the perfect swansong for the Irish captain. Irish back row Josh van der Flier stated he was playing the best rugby of his career and if it continues, he’ll make the trip to New Zealand.
3 Tadhg Furlong
He was part of an Irish front row that didn’t lose a single scrum against the All Blacks in 15 attempts across the two Tests in November. From a surprise inclusion in the Irish World Cup squad to becoming a starter, and huge performances against the All Blacks has cemented his reputation. His hand-offs on Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick and barging through Kieran Read in the same play was incredible.
4 Alun Wyn Jones
Gatland will have had a say in naming the new Welsh captain and it is telling that it is the Ospreys second-row that was chosen. He has played on the last two Lions tours, and when Sam Warburton’s tour was ended through injury in 2013, Jones stepped up to captain the side in the deciding third Test. A probable Lions captain for Gatland to call upon once more.
5 Jonny Gray
The Scottish second row has been in incredible form for club and country. He has had heroic performances for Vern Cotter’s side, particularly against Argentina, while his tackling and ball carrying displays make him the standout second-row so far this season.
6 Maro Itoje
His versatility makes Itoje a certainty for Gatland’s squad, with his ability to operate in the second and back-row. Another who injury threatened to derail this season but expect a huge Six Nations campaign to put him back on track.
7 CJ Stander
The South Africa-born Irish flanker was pivotal in Munster’s march back towards the Champions Cup quarterfinals. His ball-carrying ability and ferocious tackling will be put to the ultimate test against the All Blacks. It is one he passed with flying colours in the autumn.
8 Billy Vunipola
The Saracens’ back-row is set to return towards the end of the Six Nations. His injury could open the door for the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Ryan Wilson and Ross Moriarty, but the younger of the two Vunipola brothers will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness to make Gatland’s team. Before his injury he was a certain starter for Gatland.
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On current form: The Lions team to start vs. All Blacks
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