British and Irish Lions Starting 15
1( Loose Head Prop) - Cian Healy
- Cian Healy gets the first test birth on a few reasons really, he has tasted success over Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, this alone gives him an edge over rivals. Being destructive in the loose and his scrummaging is constantly improving means he should be sure to get the starting spot. Interesting here to see how the battle for this place gets going. Gethin Jenkins will have the advantage because you can be sure he will start against the Barbarians in Hong Kong so he has an early opportunity to nail down a place. If he can replicate his form in past season it will be a great battle, loads of rugby being played before then.
2(Hooker) - Richard Hibbard
- Richard Hibbard is one of those players who sets by example in his play, the no nonscense hooker has arguable had his best season this year although injuries have played a key part he has been destructive. In the Heineken Cup he was monstrous against teams like Toulouse and Leicester. This guy puts in the hard yards, he averages at least 10 carries a game which gives his side a platform. His competition comes in the form of England double act Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs. I'm actually quite suprised that these two players were picked purely because Hartley hasn't been involved with England recently so his form for Northampton has been key here. Also Tom Youngs is quite new at this level, i would have thought perhaps Ross Ford or at least Rory Best who was the huge ommission.
3(Tight Head Prop - Adam Jones
- Looking at this position you could say bar injury his place is already secured regardless of performance. Adam Jones in my opinion is the best number 3 in the world, his ability to scrummage is unmatched and he essentially carries the ball well as well. Something which you might not notice is the fact he's a ball player. He will often act as first reciever to lure players in and pass the ball on. It's a great ploy and only works because of the skill set of the dark haired Jones brother.
4(Lock) - Alyn-Wyn Jones
- My side might be biased towards the Welsh but when you look at what they have won at International level then you can't disagree with these positions. AWJ for short was mesmeric when he came back from injury in the Six Nations and almost inspired his side through some tough games, away to Italy and France. We all know the engine he has to hit rucks and provide a platform in the scrum. His greatest skill though is similar to Adam Jones. If he's not taking balls in the air he's offloading one handed on the floor. His experience could also be vital.
5(Lock) - Paul O' Connell
- This position is highly fought for in fairness, Both Ian Evans, Geoff Parling and Richie Gray have both had sterling seasons. POC didn't play for the majority of the season, but turned up just after the Six Nations and gave a monumental performance in the HC quarter final clash with Harlequins. The game was a close one but Munster just had that class to stay ahead purely down to the inspirational POC who not only galvanised his troops but also carried the ball unbelievably well as well as taking some huge catches from the sky.
6(Flanker) - Dan Lydiate
- Another biased call maybe but his work rate is unbelievable. Another player who missed the majority of the season but perhaps this will work in his advantage because he is coming into this tour with a freshness and energy which will be vastly important. The only rival for this position in my opinion would be Sam Warbutton because of that mans success with Justin Tipuric in the Six Nations clash with England. Sean O Brien and Tom Croft can also play this position but it would lose the balance of the back row in essence. Dan Lydiate makes a large amount of tackles, hits many rucks and is a towering figure at lineout time. A great asset to have for Warren Gatland. Player of the Six Nations 2012.
7(Flanker) - Sam Warbutton
- First things first, I'm a huge advocate for Justin Tipuric, he really has been the player of the season for the Ospreys and Wales, if it was up to me I would have picked him. Sam Warbutton will start for many reasons, the first being the main, he is the captain of the tour. WG is not going to bench his captain after showing so much faith in him. Also he has a great relationship with Sam and in turn Sam has a great relationship with referee's well excluding Alain Rolland but that's a different story. Sean O Brien again is a contender for this as well as Tipuric but being the captain and his ability at the breakdown will give Sam Warbutton the edge.
8(Number Eight) - Toby Faletau
- Here's the dilemma, you could easily pick Jamie Heaslip in this purely on reputation which is why he's on the tour anyway although his form has hardly lit the world on fire. The ever verstaile Sean O Brien will also fit into the equation here because he carries the ball well and has a great amount of pace, as does Tom Croft actually but it's not their natural position and the same idea for their own countries hasn't really paid off. At least with an all Welsh back row it's familar and also effective just look at the Rugby World Cup 2011. It shows how strong the squad is that unbelievable athletes like Tom Croft and SOB missing out.
9(Scrum Half) - Ben Youngs
- I'm going for a suprise choice here, Ben Youngs is a flair scrum half and offers that pace from the ruck that's going to be crucial in OZ. Mike Phillips is a strong scrum half yes but even he struggled in the Six Nations. His strength is well his strength which the Aussies will relish. It's going to be a quick game and tempo will be key and that's why i've gone with Youngs. His passing is good but his ability to run from deep and his pace around the breakdown will be huge. Slight problem is his base kicking but i'm sure it will improve with coaching. Conor Murray isn't picked purely because he offers the same characteristics as Phillips.
10(Fly Half) - Johnathan Sexton
- Only a choice of two here, Owen Farell is a great fly half albeit a young one first of all. If the Lions were employing a safe kicking game and playing for terratory then Farell would already be donning the shirt. The Aussies will want to play a running game and it's going to need to be matched on the gainline which is why Sexton will start. When on form and injury permitting Sexton brings the best out of all his backline and the set moves that he executes will be key to unlocking the Australian rigid defence.
11(Winger) - George North
- George North will definitely be picked purely on reputation and for the fact Gatland has a preference for strong build wingers. North has hardly covered himself in glory this season with him coming into games in bits and parts. His winner against France a glimpse of his ability but not showed throughout the Six Nations but if he can rediscover form then he will be tough to stop in fairness. His welsh compatriot Alex Cuthbert would surely voice for his place as well. In the Six Nations consistency was key in Cuthbert's game with tries in key moments. It's going to be a tough decision here, probably the toughest in the squad.
12(Inside Centre) - Jamie Roberts
- The Star player of the 2009 Lions Tour is surely a shoe in to start the test. His direct running and his hard hitting demenour will ensure he's going to be integral to breaking the advantage line. Also Jamie Roberts is a smart man himself which means he will be important in reading the game and being the defensive general that WG will employ to shackle the Aussie backs. A key reason for being picked as well is his partnership with my other choice at outside centre. Manu Tulagi will be disappointed not to start but with experience on Roberts side you can guarantee he will be there bar injury.
13(Outside Centre) - Brian O Driscoll
- As I mentioned the veteran who is in his last year or two of his rugby career. BOD is an unbelievable centre and his partnership with Roberts in South Africa will have a huge bearing on this tour as well. The chemistry that they had and the fact they complimented each others styles worked a treat. BOD showed in the Six Nations that despite not having the pace he still has an unbelievable skill set whether it be at the breakdown stealing the ball or creating a try out of nothing. His experience and leadership will be key to support Sam Warbutton as captain.
14(Winger) - Tommy Bowe
- I've gone with Bowe on this one because of essentially the South Africa tour in 2009. Sean Maitland will provide stiff competition because he's had a superb season and was instrumental alongside Hogg in turning Scotland into an attacking force. Bowe starts on the fact he has experience on the tour and also knows his way to the tryline and cuts the angles that will be key to unlocking the Aussie defence. He's had an injury hit season but just like many players that might work to his advantage as he will be fresh for the run in here. Another key asset for Tommy Bowe is the fact he not only scores tries but also creates them. Gifted skillset is vitally important.
15(Full Back) - Leigh Halfpenny
- Here is a player who is assured of his test spot, Numerous reasons for this. First one is his goal kicking if Sexton isn't picked to of course. The man named Mr Reliable never makes any mistakes particularly major ones, for a small player he takes numerous high balls under pressure but also runs/kicks it back with aplomb. He's not a player who comes into the line very often but his consistency and confidence made him the RBS Six Nations 2013 player of the tournament. Although he's not as sharp attackingly as Stuart Hogg or even Rob Kearney. It's the fact his defence and general reliability makes him odds on to start. His kicking out of hand alongside Rob Kearney will be a huge duel in the battle for 15 but my money's on Leigh Halfpenny.
Players unlucky to miss out:
The tour will be a superb advocate for the British and Irish Lions and will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some of these players. Here's a video showing the last lions tour to South Africa in 2009 - Enjoy