With the Lions announcement due today, here’s a look at fifteen men who have no chance of being on the plane to New Zealand but would undoubtedly have a huge amount to offer to any squad. This is the best Lions XV Definitely Not Touring.
15) Nick Abendanon – The South African-born fullback hasn’t played that many games for Clermont Auvergne since his 2015 move, but when he’s taken the field he’s sizzled. The transfer to the Stade Mayol was a self-confessed last ditch roll of the dice and they landed on double six. He’s sparked some spectacular scores and scythed through defences for fun and his form was so good there was genuine talk of him ousting Mike Brown as England’s number 15.
14) Christian Wade – he made a cameo appearance for The Lions last time out, but his most memorable moment was combing his hair on the bench. Since the 2013 test series win against Australia, Wade hasn’t featured on the international stage. In that time, he’s lit up the Premiership and is way out in front with 16 tries this season in the league. His strike rate is phenomenal for England – one in one game for the senior team and nine in six for the Saxons. Wade has proved time and again he is one of Europe’s most lethal marksmen. His defensive frailties are well documented, but his electric pace and hurricane-like footwork have been overlooked for too long at the top end of the game.
13) Manu Tuilagi – It’s been another season plagued by injury for the Leicester centre. It’s feared we’ve already seen the best of Tuilagi despite him being just 25. Could be too big and powerful for his frame to handle? His horrid string of injuries might suggest so. But at full steam, the man is a freak. England have finally found a combination that works for them in Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, but if Tuilagi was fit and firing Eddie Jones’ midfield may well have a different complexion. He has unfinished business with both The Lions and New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, injury scuppered the former and an ill-advised jump from a ferry tainted the latter.
12) Gavin Henson – With the Prince of Wales returning to his homeland in the summer having signed for Newport-Gwent Dragons, could he be giving his international career one last injection? Rob Howley’s midfield conundrum would melt away with just a sprinkling of Henson. He’s got more talent in his little finger than many internationals with 50 caps to their name, but injury and his quest for celebrity superstardom in his 20s curtailed what could’ve been one of the great Welsh careers. Now 33, there is a maturity and a selflessness about Henson that was previously lacking.
11) Keelan Giles – Had Rob Howley stuck by what he said in the autumn – that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough – there’s a chance we wouldn’t be talking about the Ospreys speedster as an outside bet. He was named on the Welsh bench during the November internationals, but inexcusably never came onto the field. A combination of an under-fire Welsh management and a hamstring injury means he is still uncapped having not featured during the Six Nations. But he’s dazzled down in Swansea with 13 tries in 14 appearances including a breathtaking hattrick against an albeit useless Treviso side.
10) Danny Cipriani – Without being an insider, it’s difficult to know why Danny Cipriani has only played 14 times for England. In his early days, he was a hothead who couldn’t control a game. But under the stewardship of Dai Young at Wasps he’s now the most skilful 10 in the Northern Hemisphere – quite possibly the world – and has one of the most cultured left boots in the modern game. His goal-kicking and defensive work still need working on, but as an attacking fly-half, it’s staggering that Eddie Jones and Stuart Lancaster before him have never been tempted to see what he can do off the bench.
9) Joe Simpson – With Rhys Webb and Conor Murray nailed on as two of the three likely 9s for Warren Gatland, the third could be anyone, which makes this position a bit weak. Nevertheless, Joe Simpson is one man who could feel aggrieved only to have ever pulled his national shirt on once. He’s sharp, he’s got bags of skills, an abundance of energy and scores wonder-tries for Wasps. Another overlooked by the regime who are in the market for the big, bulky and organised.
8) Nick Williams – A bit of a fantasy draft, but just imagine it. Despite the grey hairs poking through, Williams is only 33 and has never been capped by the All Blacks. He’s a Junior All Blacks, which technically rules him out of contention for another nation unless he appeals. Having played overseas for the bulk of his career, he would be eligible to play for a British nation due to the residency rule. He was immense for Ulster and has added some much needed steel to the Cardiff Blues back row. A wonderful player and proof of the depth in New Zealand when a man mountain like Williams can only muster a solitary Junior All Black cap.
7) Thomas Young – It says a lot about Wales’ embarrassment of riches at openside that Thomas Young hasn’t been capped yet. Rob Howley and Warren Gatland have the cream of the crop in Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric and Young – son of his coach at Wasps Dai – is busy hunting them down. The speed of a back and the strength of a lock over the ball, he is certainly one to watch and has shone for the league leaders this season covering all positions in the back row.
6) Dan Lydiate – There are few bigger fans of the farmer-come-rugby pro than the Lions coach, but even he surely cannot pick Dan Lydiate. Since moving west to the Ospreys from Newport, his international career has stalled. Partly due to injury and partly down to the stunning form of those around him and an emphasis on attacking as opposed to defending. Lydiate patented the chop tackle and became the world’s best at it. The revisiting of the laws meaning arms must be wrapped even on low tackles have hurt him, but he’s shown some nice touches in attack recently to show that he’s not just a one-trick pony.
5) Jim Hamilton – Since his retirement in 2015 from international rugby, the Scottish lock has been able to focus entirely on Saracens. During that time, they have won everything there is to win in the domestic game and have been the benchmark that other teams have simply failed to come close to. Regular rowers George Kruis and Maro Itoje have been out injured or away on international duty for large chunks of the campaigns, meaning Hamilton has been a gnarly mainstay in the team.
4) Ultan Dillane – Despite only being 23, the youngster has already racked up 16 caps for Ireland in a position typically dominated in the Emerald Isle by 30-somethings. He has a Pro-12 championship medal with Connacht, who will be desperate for him to put pen to paper with his contract running out in the summer. Little pub quiz trivia for you – he was born in Paris.
3) Gethin Jenkins – Although a loosehead by trade, Gethin Jenkins has deputised in the number three jersey dozens of times for club and country and would slot straight in. Every time the 36-year-old has been doubted for his fitness or ability, he seems to come back stronger, and saves his better performances for the bigger games. A three-time Lion, the most capped Welsh international ever and the fourth most capped international in the history of the sport wouldn’t be a bad shout in the original squad. But don’t bet against him making an appearance when the inevitable happens and prop gets crocked.
2)Richard Hibbard – Despicably discarded by the Welsh management for the likes of Kristian Dacey despite being at his swashbuckling best. It takes a lot for The Shed to welcome a Welshman into their ranks, especially one with long, golden locks but the man from Bridgend is a favourite down at Kingsholm. A heavy and explosive scrummager and one of the hardest hitting front rowers in the game.
1)Ellis Genge – Another in the explosive front rower mold who is waiting for his chance to burst onto the scene. Impressed enough at Bristol for Leicester to take a punt on him permanently, and has nailed down the number one shirt amid some stiff competition. Him and Kyle Sinckler either side of England’s scrum in the years to come could be a frightening prospect.
Written By: Gareth Davies