It’s hard to believe that this weekend marks a whole year since Warren Gatland’s Lions team emerged victorious from their tour of Australia.
It’s hard to believe that the Lions took 16 whole years to record a series victory after their tour of South Africa in 1997. Despite this momentous victory it would be hard to argue against some major changes to the starting Lions XV in the test matches.
Here is the Lions XV that started the third test in Sydney one year ago;
Leigh Halfpenny (Wales); Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Jamie Roberts (Wales), George North (Wales); Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Mike Phillips (Wales); Alex Corbisiero (England), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), Geoff Parling (England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Toby Faletau (Wales).
Now obviously the choice of a Lions XV is going to stir up some debate as old rivalries come to the fore and opinions on style of play come into question. However for me personally the starting XV for a Lions team in 2014 would look like this;
15. Mike Brown, England
Brown’s name was barely mentioned this time last year, however a sensational season for England and Harlequins has helped Brown stand out as the form full back in the northern hemisphere. He will be somewhat disappointed with his form during the tour of New Zealand, however this shouldn’t detract from his stand out performances in the 6 Nations and Autumn Internationals.
14. Andrew Trimble, Ireland
Ireland winger Andrew Trimble was another player who barely got a mention in relation to the Lions in 2013. This season however he was arguably the best winger in the 6 Nations and continued his good form on this summers tour. His eye for the finish line has ensured a handsome return this season and there’s no doubt he would be right up there for a place on a Lions tour.
13. Jonathan Davies, Wales
With the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll this year the position of outside centre does not have many outstanding candidates for a Lions tour. Despite this Jonathan Davies is still an excellent option in the 13 shirt, especially after acquitting himself so well in the final Lions test in 2013 despite receiving a great deal of criticism. His distribution and kicking game in the outside channel means he is in ahead of the likes of Manu Tuilagi.
12. Jamie Roberts, Wales
The position of inside centre is another where there wouldn’t be a great deal of depth for the Lions. Roberts has had something of an indifferent season since his move to France, however looked back to his best as Wales ran South Africa close during the recent internationals. His long standing partnership with Davies makes the centre partnership well worth reviving for the Lions.
11. Alex Cuthbert, Wales
There are a number of candidates emerging for positions on the wing, however none of them are quite at the stage where they would justify a starting place on a Lions tour. Fortunately Cuthbert has come out of George North’s shadow somewhat during Wales’ tour of South Africa and looks to be in fine form. His finishing ability makes him an ideal option outside of an established centre partnership.
10. Johnny Sexton, Ireland
It would be hard to justifiably argue with the selection of Sexton once again the Lions 10 shirt. Sexton is another player who has stuttered a little bit since his move to France last summer, however he proved during the 6 Nations and June Internationals that he is still the outstanding fly half in Britain and Ireland. He also showed last summer that he has the mentality to lead the Lions on the biggest stage.
9. Danny Care, England
Care was touted as a potential option for the Lions last year but was always an outside shot after struggling to get into the England starting XV. This season however he has more than proved he is ready to step up on the international stage and was second only to team mate Mike Brown in terms of influence on England’s recent outings.
1. Cian Healy, Ireland
Healy was incredibly unlucky last year to miss out on the Lions tests after picking up an injury during one of the warm up games. This season he came back in record time after his injury seemingly stronger than ever. His ability to act as an extra back row player in addition to his powerful scrummaging sees him in ahead of other strong options.
2. Rory Best, Ireland
The number 2 jersey is one of the most hotly contested in this side with both Hibbard and Hartley genuine contenders for a spot in this starting line-up. Best’s form for Ireland during this years 6 Nations sees him start ahead of the other contenders. Whilst Best may have had a disappointing Lions tour last year, he has come back stronger this season and proved his doubters wrong.
3. David Wilson, England
Wilson may not be the fittest of props, however he has ensured that England didn’t miss tighthead regular Dan Cole during the 6 Nations and tour of New Zealand. He’s under some serious pressure from Mike Ross in the starting XV however has done more than enough to deserve a place in the Lions starting XV.
4. Joe Launchbury, England
Launchbury has been one of the most consistent performers in an England shirt over the last 18 months and looks to be a long term option in the engine room. Last years Lions tour came a bit too soon for Launchbury however his partnership with Courtney Lawes has blossomed this season into one of the most effective in world rugby. His ability at the breakdown gives him the edge of other options.
5. Courtney Lawes, England
Lawes is another player to have really blossomed over the last 12 months as he became a key man in Stuart Lancaster’s resurgent England side. His developing partnership with Launchbury in the second row is looking like one that could become one of England’s very best. The pair compliment each other very well and would be more than worth a place in a Lions XV.
6. Peter O’Mahony, Ireland
O’Mahony found the kind of form during this years 6 Nations that made him impossible to drop despite Joe Schmidt having several excellent alternatives. O’Mahony has become a real leader on the pitch this season and adds an extra bit of grit to this Lions XV. Whilst not even mentioned as a contender for the Lions this time last year O’Mahony has done more than enough this year to put himself in the reckoning.
7. Sean O’Brien, Ireland
O’Brien has been one of the stand out back rowers in the northern hemisphere in recent seasons. He has been unfortunate with injury this season, however still remains one of the stand-out contenders in the back row. O’Brien performed a key role during the final Lions test last year, and would be able to once again put his ball carrying skills to good use.
8. Jamie Heaslip, Ireland
Heaslip comes under pressure from the likes of Vunipola for the starting 8 shirt, however his experience sees him edge into the starting XV. He was another stand out player in Ireland’s successful 6 Nations campaign this year and has carried that form into the end of season tour. Last year’s experience coupled by his leadership skills make him an ideal candidate for the site.
I’m sure this Lions starting XV will stir up plenty of debate as we all have our own opinions so make sure to let me know who would make your side in the comments below…