Lions Test side takes shape
March 23, 2009
Ireland lock Paul O'Connell is surely going to be rewarded for dragging his side to Grand Slam glory? © Getty Images
Lee Byrne Danny Cipriani Tom Croft Mark Cueto Jerry Flannery Jamie Heaslip Gavin Henson Gethin Jenkins Alun Wyn Jones Stephen Jones Ian McGeechan Euan Murray Paul O'Connell Brian O'Driscoll Mike Phillips David Wallace Jonny Wilkinson Shane Williams
As the dust settles on the Six Nations it is time to analyse how the latest battle for the northern hemisphere crown will influence selection for this year's British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
This year's Championship often struggled to climb above mediocre in terms of entertainment although the dramatic finale did its best to put some gloss on proceedings.
But will Lions coach Ian McGeechan be more confident of upsetting the Springboks than he was two months ago? With only the occasional flash of undoubted brilliance from the Home Nations to reflect upon it would suggest there is cause for concern but it would also appear that there is no shortage of guts and determination - two crucial elements that will be required in abundance from the elite tourists.
Ireland were worthy Grand Slam champions and as a result they are likely to be rewarded when the official tour party is announced next month. But with McGeechan set to take a squad of '35 or 36' players to South Africa there remains plenty of scope for the leading lights from England, Wales and Scotland to force their way into the reckoning.
And let us not forget that there are still two months of the domestic season to play out, and not to mention six tour games, before the Lions go head-to-head with the Springboks in the first Test in Durban. A lot can still happen on and off the field and probably will before that day is upon us.
To select a starting XV for that crucial Test at Kings Park requires more than a little crystal ball work and if this side it to take to the field against the Boks it requires some to maintain their current run of form and others to rediscover the promise they have previously shown.
There is also the chance that one or more 'bolters' could emerge from relative international obscurity to play their way into Test contention and more established names such as Jonny Wilkinson and Danny Cipriani could also earn a nod from McGeechan if their domestic form catches his eye.
Of course, selecting on form is not always the answer and the expert man-manager McGeechan will need to conjure a 'team' from the group balancing combinations and chemistry.
And let us not forget the captaincy that will go some way to deciding at least one starter. Irish duo Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll have emerged as the front-runners with the physical presence of the giant lock set to see him get the nod over his national captain.
Probable Lions Test XV:
15. Lee Byrne (Wales) May not have produced his best in the Six Nations but his all-round ability is set to be a huge asset to the Lions. Other contenders: Rob Kearney (Ireland), Delon Armitage (England)
14. Mark Cueto (England) An experienced head more than capable of conjuring or forcing an opening in the Boks' defence. Other contenders: Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Luke Fitzgerald (Ireland)
13. Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland) The player of tournament in the Six Nations and has some unfinished business when it comes to the Lions. Other contenders: Tom Shanklin (Wales)
12. Gavin Henson (Wales) Needs to prove his fitness and match-sharpness but has the potential to play a big role in South Africa. Other contenders: Riki Flutey (England), Gordon D'Arcy (Ireland)
11. Shane Williams (Wales) Failed to sparkle in the Six Nations as he did last year but a constant threat all the same. Other contenders: Thom Evans (Scotland), Ugo Monye (England)
10. Stephen Jones (Wales) Arguably the most consistent fly-half in this year's Six Nations and will face stiff competition for the No.10 shirt. Other contenders: Ronan O'Gara (Wales), Jonny Wilkinson (England)
9. Mike Phillips (Wales) His physical presence is sure to be sought against the Boks although he will have to prove his as mobile as his rivals for the position. Other contenders: Harry Ellis (England), Mike Blair (Scotland)
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales) He was considered a shoe-in before the Six Nations and has cemented his position with a series of stand-out performances up front and in the loose. Other contenders: Andrew Sheridan (England)
2. Jerry Flannery (Ireland) A tough call at present, but Flannery gets the nod as a key player in the dominant Irish lineout. Other contenders: Ross Ford (Scotland), Lee Mears (England)
4. Paul O'Connell (Ireland, captain) Inspirational second row whose motivational prowess could see him offered the chance to lead the tour party. Other contenders: Steve Borthwick (England), Nick Kennedy (England)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) A supreme athlete in the lineout and the loose and offers his fair share of grunt to the pack. Other contenders: Jim Hamilton (Scotland), Simon Shaw (England)
6. Tom Croft (England) A mobile backrow who could stretch the Boks with his pace. Also a valuable lineout option. Other contenders: Joe Worsley (England), Stephen Ferris (Ireland)
7. David Wallace (Ireland) The understated Wallace could prove key to a series triumph if he maintain his outstanding Six Nations form. Other contenders: Martyn Williams (Wales)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland) The Irishman has emerged as an exciting talent as part of the Grand Slam effort with a powerful running game. Other contenders: Ryan Jones (Wales), James Haskell (England)