Lions Tour Contenders, The Starting XV

It appears the that the Lions coach will be announced by 6th September,  but which players going on this summers performances will be on the Lions tour to New Zealand?

Due to the physicality of the New Zealand tour a larger squad will be needed, so here is our proposed starting XV for the first Test going on their summer performances.

(1) Loosehead Prop – JOE MARLER

There has been much recent speculation over whether he should wear the national shirt over his off field antics, but Marler is a very talented scrummager. A real machine who can carry with the ball in hand well. A real servant to Harlequins in recent years who can get you points and win you penalties at set plays whilst having that fiery ability around the park.

 

(2) Hooker – DYLAN HARTLEY

The New England captain under Eddie Jones has really been a marvel turning around his violent on pitch past in to a composed, true leader. Not only has his captaincy taken England to a grand slam in 2016, but it led them to be the first side to beat Australia 3-0 in Australia in a summer Test series. This makes him firm favourite to not only be the starting hooker for the Lions tour, but also perhaps the captain.

 

(3) Tighthead Prop – W.P.Nel

With 4 defenders beaten and an offload in the last Six Nations Nel isn’t your average prop. He can shift and backs it up with over 70% tackle success and good discipline. He is strong at set plays and offers a real threat to Faumuina or whom ever he may be up against. He is the sort of the player you want on the tour; someone who can control and apply power up front, but can move it around in broken play as well.

 

(4) Second Row – Maro Itoje

Itoje hasn’t lost a game in which he has started in 25 games during the 2015/16 season. Pure class on the field for Saracens and England and has orchestrated the game plan Jones has put to him to perfection, thus helping the 3-0 series win down under. 13 lineout catches in the summer proves he is a huge threat at set pieces, along with his eight metres made shows he can mix his play up, even for an in-experienced young man.

 

(5) Second Row – Alun Wyn Jones

AWJ can carry, offload, tackle and go all day long, playing 366 minutes in his five summer Tests (inc. England warm-up). A 90% tackle success, 30 carries and a try show just what a powerhouse he can be. Not only is he a fantastic technical player, but in tough times he carries a leadership role which not many can rival. One of the first names on the team sheet and a perhaps a contender to Hartley’s captaincy role.

 

(6) Blindside Flanker – JAMES HASKELL

Despite being out for the next four to six months with an injury, James Haskell was one of the stand-out performers from the northern hemisphere sides. He put in huge shifts in each of his summer games, recording a massive 61 tackles and 20 carries. Powerful going forward and sturdy in defence, not many can out do Haskell in work rate alone. He can also be used as a lineout option, being used once in the summer series, adding to his depth of game plan. If fit at the time of selection, he surely has to go.

 

(7) Openside Flanker – SAM WARBURTON

The Welsh captain – and Lions captaincy contender – played near 300 minutes this summer and stayed injury free after a long mid-season lay-off. Posting steady stats of 91% tackle success and 76m made off 22 carries, he is exactly what an openside should be. He has pace that is surprising for a forward and is renowned as one of the best tacklers in the game. Will bring a leadership role as well which is what you need against a tough to break down and mentally challenging side such as the All Blacks.

 

(8) Number ‘8’ – BILLY VUNIPOLA

165 metres made off 57 carries and a try to his name, the explosive number ‘8’ has really applied his trade well this summer gone with England using his battering ram style game to battle with the best in Pocock,Hooper and the other Australian forwards. So hard to tackle with his knees flying high and his legs driving him towards the whitewash. Over 83% tackle success and with a man of his stature in defence, NZ will be hard tasked when it comes to breaking down the Lions defence.

 

(9) Scrum Half – Rhys Webb

A true scrum half. Fast, agile and with six clean breaks, five defenders beaten and four offloads in his summer tour, he is just the man you need to break down the rugged NZ defence. He is quick and intelligent around the breakdown and that’s crucial in not allowing the Kiwi’s to re-set their defensive line. The best part of Webb’s game is that he doesn’t kick away the ball unnecessarily only kicking 23 times in open play during the summer.

 

(10) Fly Half – DAN BIGGAR

A good old fashioned fly half who puts his body on the line for his shirt. One of the best kickers in the game taking a kicking average of 86.7% from his summer games. He has huge tackles rate hitting the half century in 5 games. Quite a rate for a fly half. Kicking is something that if done right it could win you the Test and no one is better  at the kick and chase game than Mr. Biggar himself. Off of this possession he carries well, beating defenders and taking metres up fast and if he cuts out the turnovers conceded (9) he is 100% in the ten role for the Lions tour.

 

(11) Wing – GEORGE NORTH

So good in attack with 251m made going forward in the summer tests, despite an injury that ended his tour early. He has the ability to beat defenders as well as offload in the tackle with nine men  beaten and two offloads in his four games. He also boasts an 80% tackle rate which when your running opposite Savea and Naholo isn’t bad at all. He does however have to tighten up his defence game with 9 turnovers conceded, or fellow wing Jack Nowell will be taking his spot in the starting line-up. He will have to re-gain fitness after his injury, however he is expected to do this by the autumn Tests and so the Lions tour shouldn’t be a problem.

 

(12) Inside Centre – JONATHAN JOSEPH

With blistering pace and slightly surprising power, Joseph set about creating havoc in the Australian and Welsh defences over the summer, rattling up two tries, one assist and 228 running meters made. With only five missed tackles (90% accuracy) and only three turnovers conceded, he proved he also had the defensive ability to get into a place on the Lions tour. Not only does he carry a deadly passing game, he can add kicks in with flawless motion to stun the oncoming attackers.

 

(13) Outside Centre – GEORGE FORD

Despite his poor summer kicking record, if Biggar takes over the tee, Ford with his immense defensive shift of 42 tackles (89.4% success) can really cement his place in the outside centre jersey. He has really taken it to Australia in attack this summer with four defenders beaten, four assists and four offloads. He caused problems all day for Australia and undoubtedly a man the coaches need to start on the Lions tour.

 

(14) Wing – ANTHONY WATSON

Really come alight this season with Bath and England. Four tries and 261m shows what he can do, with a side-step that can take him past the best, showed in his eight clean breaks and 12 defenders beaten. He does add a kicking game as well which could be handy in getting out of tight defensive bouts, especially as his defensive record isn’t great standing at 5 missed tackles and less than 75% tackle success. Although what he gives away in defence he more than makes up for going forward.

 

(15) Full Back – STUART HOGG

A powerful, skilful, fast full back who always looks to run the ball back at the opposition. Making over 270m in just three tests is immense and something that shouldn’t be overlooked as world class stats. This also tallies along with his 10 defenders beaten, which proves he wants to run with ball in hand. Averaging less than seven kicks a game is what the Lions need, someone who is willing to keep the ball in hand and limit NZ’s chance of counter attacking. With 75% tackle success and only two turnovers conceded he is also well set in defence.

 

This would be a strong starting fifteen for the Lions tour and one that could challenge NZ if they turn up on the day.

 
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