I’m no Warren Gatland and, apart from the money, influence and prestige (are women an option here?), I wouldn’t want to be when faced with choosing this years squad.
That said, and for what it’s worth, here are my nailed-on, dead-cert, first names on the plane and some of my preferred first choices. I have little or no relevant skills and my ‘picks’ are based on a my combined observations of the Autumn Internationals, this years 6 Nations and what I have seen live or on tele. of the domestic competitions.
FIRST ON THE PLANE
Adam Jones – the most unlikely looking top-of-the-form professional rugby player. He cheerfully admits he is one of the last ‘old school’ prop forwards but, after one slightly dodgy early 6 Nations game (can’t recall which one), he went on to produce what was, for me, the front-row performance of the tournament culminating in complete domination of the England front-row at that monumental (or just mental) last game at the holy shrine of The Millenium Stadium. No better student of ‘scrum-management/referee manipulation’ in the European game for me.
Tom Croft – what a comeback story. He seems to have the lot. He is big, strong, solid in the tackle and reads the game well. He accelerates quickly for a big guy and has plenty of top end pace worthy of a centre and can change direction like a winger.
Leigh Halfpenny – I think I may have a bit of a man-crush here. Good looking with a kick that almost defies the space-time continuum. Not only is his kicking ultra-reliable but he has plenty of pace to get to the try line given a little space. And, for a relatively short guy, his ability to take the high balls consistently against much taller players is extraordinary. I was hugely impressed with this part of his game during the 6 Nations. He attacks the ball at speed, gets incredible height and never takes his eye of the ball no matter who is bearing down on him.
Toby Faletau – not the biggest or most powerful No 8 – he admitted before last years 6 Nations that some of the Welsh backs (and the tea lady) can pump more weight than he can – but he is a solid tackler and, with ball in hand, seems to make an awful lot of ground far more often than not. Mr Consistent.
Johny Sexton – superb game management skills and a not half bad kicker. His influence was best demonstrated by Ireland’s awful 6 Nations. With BOD seemingly now past his prime, Ireland sorely miss Johny when he is injured.
Justin Tipuric – I think that he has now evolved into a more complete player than Warburton and, like Croft, his speed and skill with ball in hand have seriously impressed me. Warburton and Robshaw are not bad options to fall back on though even if neither is a true No 7. Mind you, Steffon Armitage has apparently had a huge season at Toulon if Gatland is minded to go Cross-Channel. The issue here is the timing of the French Top 14 final on June 1st which clashes with The Lions first game.
Alex Cuthbert – I think he has just had the edge over North recently, and at 6ft 6in, once he gets going …………! I wouldn’t start Cuthbert and North in the same line-up. Give Wade a run as a very different style of winger although he needs to work on his defence.
Jim Hamilton – has turned in some mighty performances for both club and country. His work rate and ferocity are exemplary and he is superb at the line-out. Ian Evans and Alun Wyn Jones are tough competition here.
That’s it folks. No particular preferences around any of the other potential candidates. Let’s have some feedback.