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2016 Six Nations: Lions XV

2016 SIX NATIONS: LIONS XV 2017 In the wake of England's Grand Slam victory, I look at a potential Lions XV for the 2017 tour to New Zealand based on the best of the Six Nations

In the wake of England’s Grand Slam victory, I look at a potential Lions XV for the 2017 tour to New Zealand based on the best of the Six Nations:

1. Jack McGrath (IRE)

One of the more difficult positions to call, but in light of recent controversy surrounding England’s Joe Marler, I would give the Leinster Prop the start. Ireland’s first choice loosehead in the absence of Cian Healey, McGrath has scrummaged well and been a valuable addition to the Irish team. Fantastic in slowing opposition ball, and dominating the stats for Ireland’s scrum, McGrath stands out on Six Nations form.

2. Dylan Hartley (ENG)

For me, French captain Guilhem Guirado was the stand out hooker of the Six Nations. But, looking at the home nations, my nod goes to English Grand Slam winning captain Dylan Hartley. A controversial decision from new Head Coach Eddie Jones, Hartley’s appointment in January of this year was riled with criticism. Two months later, and Hartley has proved himself : he’s kept his discipline, ensured a dominant English line out, and led from the front during England’s most promising performances of recent times.

3. WP Nel (SCO)

Despite the dominance of the English scrum, Nel just tips Cole for my Lions tighthead. The South African born Scot has been invaluable since his introduction last year, and caused problems for the English scrum in their opening match. His scrummaging is a valuable asset for the Scots, although he has also shown initiative in the loose over the course of the tournament.

4. Maro Itoje (ENG)

Arguably the discovery of the Six Nations, 21 year old athletic Saracen Maro Itoje is just getting better and better. The youngster has produced a masterclass at the breakdown over the last couple of weeks, and was awarded Man of the Match in England’s defeat of Wales last weekend. Itoje was influential in ensuring the dominance of the English lineout throughout, and there are already calls for the former England Under 20 captain’s future as a potential England leader.

5. George Kruis (ENG)

Alun-Wyn Jones has held control of this position in recent years, but a foot injury holding back his play has allowed his younger England opponent to shine. With a work rate almost as impressive as his Welsh senior, Kruis was in contention for Man of the Match in yesterday’s defeat of France. Completely dominant in the lineout and at the restart, he was faultless around the pitch.

6. CJ Stander (IRE)

Stander’s Man of the Match performance in his debut against Wales was a sign of things to come. His carrying ability has been essential in Ireland’s attack, whilst the South African born flanker has offered talent around the pitch, including two tries in his five starts. Again, he was fantastic against Scotland, and although he struggles to maintain the consistency across the 80 minutes, the 25 year old makes my cut.

7. Sam Warburton (WAL)

It’s never nice to see a player stretchered off – especially one of Warburton’s class – and his tournament finishing with injury at Twickenham was not the Six Nations he would have wanted. The Welsh captain is sometimes lost in a classy Welsh backline, although he shines far more from 7 than 6, and is undoubtedly under pressure from a host of strong contenders for the shirt. His experience and leadership, however, cannot be overlooked, although he will have to prove himself in the months to come to win the starting shirt.

8. Billy Vunipola (ENG)

A difficult call given the sheer talent that is Taulupe Faletau, but Billy has absolutely shone over the last couple of weeks. With Man of the Match awards against Ireland, Scotland and France, the Saracens No 8 has been influential in securing England’s first Grand Slam in thirteen years. Brutal with the ball in hand, and equally solid in defence, many would name Vunipola their player of the tournament.

9. Conor Murray (IRE)

Given the chance to shine considering the horror injury to Welsh opposition Rhys Webb — which has seen him sidelined since September — and Conor Murray has defied his pre-Six Nations critics. He has scored three tries in his five Six Nations starts, and brings pace, innovative angles and impressive decision making to the Irish side. The Munster Scrum Half seamlessly manages to penetrate even the most secure of defences, and provides quick and accurate service from the scrum for his team.

10. Jonny Sexton (IRE)

On World Cup form, Biggar had the Number 10 shirt sewn up with his world famous ‘Biggarena’ and dominant displays. However, with the experience and skill of the Ireland 10, it is difficult to overlook Jonny Sexton. Despite his criticised reaction to Alex Dunbar’s hit — which led to a yellow card in yesterday’s victory against Scotland — Sexton is returning to his best with calm and accurate kicking, playmaking ability and strong tackling. Combined with his impressive line breaks, his skill seals him the fly half shirt for me.

11. George North (WAL)

If Saturday’s game was anything to go by, North is back to his impressive best. Dominant in the stats including metres made, defenders beaten and tries scored; his contribution yesterday cemented his place as the stand out Welsh back of the tournament. Terrific in attack, and useful in defence, yesterday’s Man of the Match is one of the first names on my team sheet.

12. Jamie Roberts (WAL)

As easy to pick as the former, Doctor Roberts is a cert in my Lions XV. His defence has been flawless across the tournament, and yesterday yet again proved his ability in attack. A contender for man of the match in Wales’ first game against Ireland, followed by a winning display against Scotland at the Principality; he has impressed throughout the tournament and, in my books, has won himself another chance at a Lions start.

13. Duncan Taylor (SCO)

The pace of the Scottish centre has been discovered over the course of this Six Nations, whilst he was influential in Scotland’s first win over France in ten years. When given the ball, his running skills are second to none, and he provides an exciting option in defence. Jonathan Joseph was somewhat lost within an impressive England team, and on current form Taylor gets my nod.

14. Anthony Watson (ENG)

Antony Watson is one of the deadliest finishers in the game, proven time and time again. His strength and speed have secured his position in Eddie Jones’ England team, and my Lions XV. At his best, he is lively and energetic: at his worst, still a secure pair of hands on the English wing.

15. Stuart Hogg (SCO)

Hogg has shown his class this Six Nations, ultimately ending with a fantastic solo effort try against Ireland. He has injected pace, vision and excitement into a promising Scottish team, with a dynamic style of play that has revolutionised the Scottish attack. And, with Brown and Kearney out of form, for me Hogg is the man of the moment in the number 15 shirt.


And some names to throw around the bench?

Joe Marler (ENG),  On close watch after his recent indiscretions, however Marler has been influential in the dominant English scrum. Although less to offer in the loose than Mako Vunipola, his scrummaging is too impressive to overlook.

Rory Best (IRE), The Ireland captain has the experience to back up his strong scrummaging, whilst he leads from the front over the course of the Six Nations and has embraced the captaincy opportunity given to him by coach Joe Schmidt.

Dan Cole (ENG), Another solid part of the English scrum, and a try in yesterday’s Grand Slam Victory — Cole and Nel will fight for the number 3 shirt. Although Cole has given away his fair share of penalties, his hard work in both the scrum and the loose mean he can see his Six Nations campaign as an overall success.

Alun Wyn Jones (WAL), Relegated to my bench only because of Kruis’ outstanding play in Paris, and the foot injury which ruled him out of Wales’ final clash against Italy, Wyn Jones’ work rate is second to none and he will almost certainly get the nod for next year’s Lions tour.

John Hardie (SCO), Incredibly solid in defence, the former Kiwi has played a large role in transforming this Scottish team. His groundwork is impeccable, and his work rate strong, and he will rival Warburton for the number 7 shirt as the on form home nations flanker.

Taulupe Faletau (WAL), Again sidelined because of the incredible performance of his English competition, Faletau is consistently solid for the Welsh and his work rate is enormous. Often overlooked for his unassuming nature, the 25 year old will rival Vunipola for a Lions start, although, with a man of the match award in the win over Scotland yesterday, Jamie Heaslip is back in form and has also put himself into the mix.

Danny Care/Ben Youngs (ENG), Eddie Jones can’t seem to choose between these two, and neither can I. Danny’s box kicking is certainly something that needs work, but he offers far more in terms of pace and impact than his Leicester counterpart. The Quin is game changing when he comes off the bench, but the Lions may want the security of more rounded Youngs.

Dan Biggar (WAL), Small injury niggles have held back his performance to leave Sexton as my stand out 10 of the Six Nations, whilst Biggar and Priestland have been interchangeable for Wales. However, if he can get back to anywhere near world cup form, Biggar is a cert for the squad, providing accuracy from the boot and exciting playmaking.

Owen Farrell (ENG), Although not as threatening as England teammate Manu Tuilagi, the 24 year old is solid from the tee, and provides a second playmaking option from the centre or at fly half. Quick hands, impressive vision, and his leadership was shown as he took over from injured England captain Dylan Hartley to hold onto the win and earn England the Grand Slam.

Robbie Henshaw (IRE), Outclassing the English centres in their defeat of Ireland, Henshaw is equally impressive in defence as he is in attack. Manu Tuilagi’s return will be closely monitored, but if he doesn’t return to form, Henshaw is in with a shout at the Lions Squad.

Tim Visser (SCO), the Scottish winger is my wildcard for the Lions team. Fantastic for Harlequins since he joined the London based team this season, the 28 year old is a superb finisher and injects a pace an excitement into his team when he is on the pitch.

Leigh Halfpenny (WAL), Okay, so I know he didn’t play this tournament, but with Mike Brown and Rob Kearney out of form, Leigh is the exciting prospect at full back for me. Returning this week from a nine month injury, the next six months will be essential in determining whether Halfpenny is fit for the Lions.


The most exciting thing? A year ago Itoje wouldn’t have made my cut for the England team, let alone a Lions shirt. I was all too certain that Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes would hold the second row postitions for years to come. But, with two English U-20 World Cup Winning sides (2013 and 2014) just maturing, who knows who will be fighting for the shirt by the time the selection comes for the tour to New Zealand next Summer. Add to that exciting young talent across the home nations, and the Southern Hemisphere may have finally found themselves some competition.


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