2017 British & Irish Lions Squad (37) - New Zealand
So the thoughts now turn to the British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer……… with Warren Wales’ ooops sorry GATLAND in charge we can all be forgiven for thinking 2 things,
1. It’ll be 37 Welshmen in the travelling party
2. It’ll be an unsurprising a collection as you could expect from himself, Rowntree, Howley et al.
Here’s my thoughts and as much as I’d like to see some individuals included that I’ve left out, I’ve tried to be both realistic AND hope that the coaching staff will at least have the courage to take a couple of surprises who WILL add value against the world's foremost open, attacking & flair driven side. Indeed it’s the ONLY chance we have.
Stuart HOGG (Scotland) - My top FB in the Northern Hemisphere. Exciting & explosive to
watch. Vision and running ability are immense.
Leigh HALFPENNY (Wales) - A naturally gifted player and lethal with the kicking boot
Mike BROWN (England) - Unfortunately BROWN just hasn’t got the overall temperament for me. Still far too fiery and in comparison with HOGG / HALFPENNY didn’t make the cut.
Anthony WATSON (England) - Exciting bursts of speed and tremendous vision.
Elliot DALY (England) - Can play at Centre, Wing or Fullback. Very fast versatile player.
Liam WILLIAMS (Wales) - Pacy Winger who can also play at Fullback and this gives additional options for the coaching team if required.
Jack NOWELL (England) - A very exciting Winger who adds value coming off the bench.
Simon ZEBO (Ireland) - Despite not being his biggest fan, I have to concede his defensive play has improved dramatically, he is awesome under the high ball and scores tries!
Christian WADE (England) - Powerful speed that changes a game in an instant from nothing!
OUT HALVES (2):
Fly Half - Johnny SEXTON (Ireland) - Starts every time at 10 for me.
Fly Half - George FORD (England) - I like FORD’s vision, adaptability and all-round play. I think he can change a game.
Finn RUSSELL (Scotland) - Again a great player but doesn’t quite hit the same levels as the 2 chosen.
Fly Half / Centre - Owen FARRELL (England) - I REALLY don’t like FARRELL. Overrated player. Potentially in the world’s Top 5 kickers but not an all round player. GATLAND will pick him though for the squad and probably play him at 12. A good leader on the pitch.
Centre - Robbie HENSHAW (Ireland) - A phenomenal work rate and has consistently improved with Leinster. Would start alongside FARRELL if the latter is given the 12 shirt.
Centre - Jonathan DAVIES (Wales) - Has been excellent for Scarlets and both GATLAND / HOWLEY like his attacking capability.
Centre - Jonathan JOSEPH (England) - Stunning brilliance. Great positioning.
Centre - Gary RINGROSE (Ireland) - Brings a really fresh dynamic play to the game. Fears nothing and no-one and is the sort of young starlet the Lions will need to take the game to the All Blacks.
Ben TE’O (England) - I love TE’O and what he brings to a game. Again I opted for RINGROSE just above him. Even as a reserve, this choice will surprise some!!
SCRUM HALVES (3):
Conor MURRAY (Ireland) - Leading contender for the starting jersey for me.
Greig LAIDLAW (Scotland) - Great vision and ability to develop a match winning move.
Rhys WEBB (Wales) - Third choice for me but still a very effective SH.
Ben YOUNGS (England) - It’s a “Who do you leave behind” question. I believe the 3 chosen are marginally stronger.
Loose - Jack McGRATH (Ireland) - the top Loose Head in the NH. Really has gone from strength to strength.
Loose - Mako VUNIPOLA (England) - Again very little between Mako & Jack McG, a strong and powerful running prop. Ideal against SH sides.
Loose - Gethin JENKINS (Wales) - You cannot beat this player. At 36 still extremely formidable & can play at both Loose (preferred) and Tight. More likely in the midweek team.
Tight - Kyle SINCKLER (England) - Explosive young talent who I’d rather see as an attacking side against All Blacks.
Tight - Tadhg FURLONG (Ireland) - Massive ball carrier & scrummager. Can play at both Loose & Tight
Tight - Dan COLE (England) - Only because GATLAND will want some serious experience as back up in the Tight Head position. I’m not a COLE fan and his age is starting to show in the scrum with technique not what it was.
(N.B. I don’t believe there’s a plethora of world quality Tight Heads in the British & Irish Isles currently…..at 53 with a knackered spine, dodgy legs & a note from matron, I still thought about writing to Messrs GATLAND & ROWNTREE and offering my services lol)
Loose - Cian HEALY (Ireland) - My fave prop but cannot remove Jack McGRATH after returning from injury and I suspect Gatland will pick JENKINS over HEALY?
Tight - Samson LEE (Wales) - Only because Scotland’s WP NEL is out injured.
Ken OWENS (Wales) - Top Hooker in 6 Nations 2017
Sean CRONIN (Ireland) - Best attacking, running, try scoring Hooker in NH.
Rory BEST (Ireland) - Solid performing and a leadership contender as Captain / Deputy Captain
Jamie GEORGE (England) - A good Hooker but doesn’t have what the 3 above do. Massively better than HARTLEY though!
SECOND ROW / LOCKS (5):
Alun Wyn JONES (Wales) - Strength, quality & leadership. Has everything the engine-room requires still.
Maro ITOJE (England) - Allows flexibility to alternate positions in pack (No 6 Flanker). Future Lions & England skipper for sure.
George KRUIS (England) - Powerful at line out and ruck/maul. Quiet but strong character. Definite for midweek team
Ian HENDERSON (IRELAND) - Again like ITOJE, brings alternate positional play capability (No 6 Flanker). Strong powerful running player.
Jonny GRAY (Scotland) - A very exciting young talent. At only 22, he’s a great option for the midweek team and potential for breakin to the Test side. Tackle count is immense!
Devin TONER (Ireland): Edges out England’s Joe LAUNCHBURY for me. A real; grafter and underestimated by many outside of Ireland IMO.
BACK ROW (Flankers & No 8) (6):
F - CJ STANDER (Ireland) - Probably the most exciting carrier / tackler / metres made player in the Pack. Clearly the starting No 6 / Blindside for many.
F - Peter O’MAHONY (Ireland) - Very impressive performance from the Munsterman getting MOTM against England. I think it will keep him ahead of Wales Ross MORIARTY & Ireland's Sean O’BRIEN.
F - Justin TIPURIC (Wales) - THE traditional No 7 / Openside Flanker. Adds so much value. Shoe in for the starting jersey I reckon.
F - Josh VAN DER FLIER (Ireland) - Leinster's exciting young prodigy has burst onto the scene this year and would be a great attacking midweek player at No 7 and as back up to TIPURIC.
No 8 - Billy VUNIPOLA (England) - Typifies what is required of a powerful ball carrying and tackling No 8.
No 8 - Taulupe FALETAU (Wales) - Again another GATLAND favourite but I’m also a huge fan. A thin line for me in giving him the nod over England’s Nathan HUGHES who I find another exciting running No 8.
Flanker - Sean O’BRIEN (Ireland)- A beast of a player, the “Tullow Tank” gets the nod above Sam WARBURTON (Wales) who whilst a great player, is not at the level he once was. That said, GATLAND would pick WARBURTON AND make him skipper if he only turned up with 1 leg!!!!!!!!!!!
Flanker - Hamish WATSON (Scotland) - An outstanding Flanker but the strength of choices made him miss the cut.
No 8 - Jamie HEASLIP (Ireland) - Only injury has kept HEASLIP from the travelling 37. Such a shame as well.
No 8 - Nathan HUGHES (England) - Not quite in the VUNIPOLA / FALETAU league.
So there you are, I reckon this 37 have as much chance as gelling strongly together as are available. I appreciate there are a few injury doubts but I’m hoping they will pull through.
Here’s to a great tour and a successful test victory.
The Big Fella!
Joe SHEPPARD (@BigJoeShep) is a Brand Ambassador & Head of Business Development at www.zp8ahealthierhappieryou.com An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)
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