In her final article for Redbrick, sport online editor Nancy Frostick reflects on a year of sporting retirements and looks forward to the next generation of Redbrick writersWritten by Nancy Frostick on 19th June 2017
The Lions Tour 2017: Who will make it to New Zealand?
With the British and Irish Lions announcement being made on April 19th, Sam Harrison picks his squad for the 2017 tour of New Zealand
As an event that only occurs once every four years, the British and Irish Lions tour always finds itself surrounded by excitement. And this year, the anticipation is greater than usual, because the pool of players that coach Warren Gatland can pick from is deeper than usual. So deep, in fact, that some very good players will find themselves missing out.
One of the most important elements of selecting the squad is getting balance, and making sure that the 37 slots cover all the bases, and can contribute should they be called upon. Fortunately, Warren Gatland has experience of this, and so should get the squad he wants. I will be naming a potential squad, with players who have earned the right to be on the plane.
The picks: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales), Simon Zebo (Ireland)
The first point of notice in this group is the omission of England’s Mike Brown. Indeed, Will Greenwood recently wrote that Brown must be on the plane to New Zealand. However, that would be a mistake. The quality of his play is not even the best in England, and is definitely not as good as these three. Further, his tendency to get involved with off-the-ball skirmishes will be a distraction that the Lions can ill afford against the All Blacks.
“Hogg is almost guaranteed to be the starter, barring an unforeseen setback. He does everything, and he does it to a very high level
Enough about people not on the list. Hogg is almost guaranteed to be the starter, barring an unforeseen setback. He does everything, and he does it to a very high level. He rivals Ben Smith as one of the best full backs in the world, and his electric pace will be a welcome addition in the backfield. Williams may play wing for his country, but many feel his better position is at 15, and he is very similar to Hogg, if not quite as impressive. Zebo has been a very good player for Ireland for some time, and deserves recognition. May be better on the wing, but plays full back very well. For both him and Williams, versatility is a big boost.
The picks: George North (Wal.), Anthony Watson (England), Jack Nowell (Eng.), Tommy Seymour (Sco.)
George North is a surefire pick to start on the right wing for the Lions. He is one of, if not the best winger in the world, and was outstanding on the last tour, to Australia. Opposite him is likely to be one of the England wings, Watson or Nowell. Both are top class players who know where the try line is and how to get there. Watson offers flexibility to play full back, but is coming off a series of injuries. The wild card selection is Tommy Seymour. The Scotland wing had a good Six Nations, and edges out players such as Keith Earls, due mostly to his stature; he is a physical player, which always helps when playing New Zealand.
The picks: S. Williams (Wal.), Robbie Henshaw (Ire.), Elliot Daly (Eng.), Jonathan Joseph (Eng.)
Many expect that Owen Farrell will be taken and used as a centre, as he is for England, but it would be better if he were to play at fly half. That means two out and out centres will play. At inside centre, it is between Scott Williams and Robbie Henshaw, with the Irishman the preferred starter. He offers a solid option, while Williams is more of an all-round centre. On the outside, it is between the two Englishmen, and it is a difficult contest to judge. With the more defensive option of Henshaw, Daly probably nudges it, based on his attacking flair, though Joseph is the better defender, and could be deployed in an very stable and dependable midfield partnership.
The picks: Owen Farrell (Eng.), Jonny Sexton (Ire.), George Ford (Eng.)
It seems unlikely that Gatland will pick three fly halves, but with Sexton’s injury history, it might be a good idea to do just that. While it seems obvious that Sexton and Farrell would form a 10-12 partnership, that is not as enticing as it appears. They are both too similar, as they throw everything into every game, which could cause problems defensively, with gaps appearing in their channel. Ford makes up the numbers as he is unlikely to be used, but could provide a different type of option should Gatland want it.
“While it seems obvious that Sexton and Farrell would form a 10-12 partnership, that is not as enticing as it appears
The picks: Connor Murray (Ire.), Rhys Webb (Wal.), Greig Laidlaw (Sco.)
Connor Murray is stated to be wearing the shirt, which is well deserved; he is the best scrum half in the northern hemisphere, and possibly the world. He does it all, passes, runs, kicks and tackles, while many of the other options only tick two or three of those boxes. Webb has been brilliant for Wales, and will be a great option to have on the bench, with speed and vision against tiring legs. Laidlaw makes the cut for what he offers behind the scenes. Any scrum half would be behind Murray and Webb, and as Scotland captain, Laidlaw can provide leadership and knowledge off the field to help keep the players focused.
The picks: Billy Vunipola (Eng.), Taulupe Faletau (Wal.), Ross Moriarty (Wal.)
What a tantalising group this is. For so long the discussion has been Vunipola against Faletau, but injuries have more or less handed the shirt to the England man, with Faletau likely to act as a substitute. Moriarty is included on the back of a powerful Six Nations campaign, and he can also be an impact player at blindside flanker.
The picks: CJ Stander (Ire.), Sean O’Brien (Ire.), Peter O’Mahony (Ire.), Sam Warburton (Wal.)
Three Irishmen find themselves on the plane. And they all deserve it. Each had impressive Six Nations, and can both carry the ball and turn it over. They also put themselves about, which will be needed against the New Zealand pack. Warburton has been a solid contributor for many years, and he also looks likely to be made captain, meaning he would likely start in place of one of the Irish players.
The picks: Maro Itoje (Eng.), George Kruis (Eng.), Joe Launchbury (Eng.), Jonny Gray (Sco.)
Three Englishmen, and it could well be four. Jonny Gray beats out Courtney Lawes because he is more dependable in the lineout. Itoje has had a meteoric rise to the top, and it will continue with a Lions selection, and likely starting berth. Kruis has had a lengthy injury lay-off, but this may serve him well, as he will be well rested. His partnership with Itoje for club and country has been stellar. Launchbury’s Six Nations earned him a call up, but whether he gets on is to be seen, as the suggestion is that he will lose out to Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones.
The picks: Tadgh Furlong (Ire.), Tomas Francis (Wal.), Dan Cole (Eng.)
Furlong has quickly become one of the best scrummagers in the world, which will be very good for the Lions, as they will hope to dominate the set-piece. Francis is another who benefits from having had a good Six Nations. Cole has been dependable for a long time, but his penalty count demotes him to third choice.
The picks: Rory Best (Ire.), Dylan Hartley (Eng.), Jamie George (Eng.)
Best is the most complete hooker available, and will be a source of stability and leadership. Hartley must be included after leading England on a record-equalling win streak, while George looks likely to continue a bench role; his athleticism in the last twenty minutes or so is a threat that can’t be ignored.
The picks: Mako Vunipola (Eng.), Jack McGrath (Ire.), Joe Marler (Eng.)
Mako Vunipola is a man that cannot be ignored. The sheer amount of work he gets through, not to mention his carrying, make him a must-have. Jack McGrath and Joe Marler are taken as the better scrummagers, with McGrath ahead of Marler in the depth chart due to his familiarity with Best and Furlong.
Even with all of these great players available, it will take very smart coaching to beat the All Blacks, a quality that Gatland has been lacking for a few years now, as his Wales side have regressed recently. He has failed to update his tactics, and should that trend continue, the hype will have all been for nothing.