Since my previous Lion’s XV back in December, much has happened in the world of rugby to give food for thought on who could make the starting team and who has dropped out of favour. Now that we are nearly at the halfway point in the Six Nations, here is my second Lions XV for Australia this summer.
1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best
3. Dan Cole (out: Adam Jones)
For me Dan Cole has just been playing too well not to warrant a starting spot – I would even describe him as world class now. Meanwhile, Adam Jones has not been so impressive, though Scotland’s Euan Murray reminded us that he still exists by putting in a good game against the awkward machine that is the Italian scrum. Cian Healy meanwhile only just keeps his spot at loosehead despite what was, quite frankly, a disgusting stamp in the England match, which he deservedly receives a ban for. Joe Marler has caught the eye recently and it will be fascinating to see how he gets on. Rory Best is still my bet for hooker.
4. Joe Launchbury
5. Richie Gray
Both of these two keep their spots in the engine room. Both Launchbury and Gray have incredible athleticism and magnificent ball carrying skills. It would genuinely be a treat to see them start. Courtney Lawes is starting to catch the eye a bit after a lengthy spell on the side through injury – did anyone see that beast of a tackle against Ireland? However, Paul O’Connell, who is still injured, does not tour for me, Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan going instead.
6. Tom Wood
7. Chris Robshaw (out: Sam Warburton)
8. Jamie Heaslip (out: Toby Faletau)
This is the toughest area of selection by quite some way. With so many good back rowers in the northern hemisphere, Warren Gatland will definitely have to think long and hard about this. Some may argue my back row is controversial, but I think it has the perfect mix. Chris Robshaw, for me, not only starts but also gets the captaincy. He has been truly magnificent for England of late, constantly silencing the doubters and proving himself to be a man with fantastic leadership skills. He is calm, composed, and genuinely starting to learn the trade despite not traditionally being an out-and-out seven. These factors cannot be ignored, and, to be honest, Sam Warburton is just too out of form and predictable at the moment to deserve a start. One could argue that we need someone to combat Aussie sensation David Pocock, but I think Robshaw can handle it. Justin Tipuric and Sean O’Brien are also firmly on the radar. Tom Wood still keeps the blind side jersey having played very well in the first two games – his ball carrying has been great – though Ryan Jones, you may be surprised to hear, should also be considered after putting in a sterling performance against France. Jamie Heaslip is (some may argue) a strange choice at number eight; but I think, despite a day to forget against England, he could be a great choice for Down Under, especially since he outwitted Toby Faletau in the Wales game.
9. Ben Youngs
10. Jonny Sexton
No change here – both these two marvellous players keep their positions. Ben Youngs has at times been slow to get the ball away at the breakdown, but his box kicking, pace on the break, and chirpyness at scrum half cannot be forgotten. He played a full game against Ireland, which is unusual in modern day rugby and takes up his place ahead of Mike Philips, Danny Care and Connor Murray. Sexton meanwhile just about keeps his shirt, despite the fact that Owen Farrell has been fantastic, proving many critics (including myself) wrong in the opening round. For me, Sexton has more of an all-round game to offer, but Farrell’s ice-man factor has definitely not gone unnoticed.
12. Manu Tuilagi
13. Brian O’Driscoll
You may be wondering why I keep selecting these two together. Maybe it’s some kind of obsession, but I would just love to see these two play together. O’Driscoll had an injury scare against England, but fortunately the old legend is still intact, whilst Tuilagi is timing his comeback from injury nicely, very nearly scoring a try last weekend. Putting these juggernauts of the game together, as I have already argued, would be explosive. Billy Twelvetrees has shone at 12, whilst one can never discount Jonathon Davies or Jamie Roberts, but Tuilagi and O’Driscoll keep their spots.
11. Tim Visser
14. George North
15. Leigh Halfpenny (out: Rob Kearney)
Visser is still playing great rugby on the wing for Scotland, whilst North’s last-gasp try against France was something else. Full-back, however, is one of the more controversial positions in this XV. Halfpenny has just been too good to ignore and ousts a disappointing Rob Kearney, but he is being pushed very hard by the sensation that is Stuart Hogg. It will be fascinating to see how Hogg progresses, because he has been playing some scintillating rugby. Alex Goode and Mike Brown are also playing well and could make the plane.