Every 4 years a squad of rugby union players from Great Britain and Ireland embarks on a tour to the Southern Hemisphere to play either South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. Players can be picked from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales so competition to get a place on the squad is fierce. Getting selected is a huge honour, even for the most accomplished rugby players, and so talk of the potential squad for summer 2017 has already begun! This year the lions will be heading to New Zealand to face the mighty All Blacks! Considered by many to be the best team in the world, their current track record of matches is very impressive. Between 2015 and 2016 they went un-beaten for 18 test victories, with their winning streak finally coming to an end in November against Ireland in Chicago. The tourists certainly then face a tough challenge this year, but with the huge range of talent available for selection in the Home Union sides the 2017 Lions tour is sure to be one of the most exciting tours to date!
A 37-man squad was picked for the 2013 tour and the squad this year will be the same. So, who will be selected, and who will be the starting 15 for the first test?
Props are often the strongest players on the pitch, vital for success in the scrum. A side of 15 has 2 props, a tighthead and a loosehead which along with the hooker will make up the front row of the scrum. Potential props to be selected include England’s Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole who have both been in good form. However, Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong is also thought to be in contention along with Jack McGrath.
A side of 15 has one Hooker who is positioned between 2 props in the scrum, and must ‘hook’ the ball with their leg when it enters the scrum. They also often throw the ball in at the lineout. England’s Dylan Hartley is considered a strong possibility for starting hooker, however, so is Ireland’s Rory Best. Jamie George, although reserve hooker for England, is also thought to be a contender.
The second rows are often stronger taller players who sit behind the 2 props and hooker in the scrum. As the name suggest they form the ‘second row’ of the scrum! Contenders for selection welsh player Alun Wyn Jones and Ireland’s Iain Henderson. However, they are sure to face strong competition from the likes of England’s Maro Itoje and Scotland’s Jonny Gray.
There will be 2 flankers in the squad of 15, an openside flanker and a blindside flanker. Flankers are big tacklers who need to be fast and compete for the ball as much as possible. Wales’s Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are sure to be considered as well as Ireland’s CJ Stander and Sean O’brien. Chris Robshaw is another strong choice for flanker but is set to be out for a while with a recent shoulder injury.
The number 8 is positioned at the back of the scrum. Another big tackler, they need to be strong, fast and a good carrier of the ball. England’s regular number 8 Billy Vunipola would certainly be a strong choice. However, let’s not forget Wales’s Taulupe Faletau and Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip aswell.
The scrum half is one of the key decision makers on the pitch, having to get to every break down and think tactically about where to distribute the ball. They are the link between the forwards and the backs. Ireland’s Connor Murray is sure to be a popular choice, however it won’t be an easy decision for Gatland. He will be spoilt for choice with England’s Ben Youngs and the Welsh 9, Rhys Webb.
The fly half is another key decision maker who will look to receive the ball from the scrum half. They can then decide to either pass or kick the ball, or make a break. Often taking charge on the pitch, they are a very influential player in both attack and defence. England’s Owen Farrell has been on fantastic form for club Saracens this season, however Ireland’s Johnny Sexton is sure to be one of the top choices. Not to mention Wales’s Dan Biggar and Scotland’s Finn Russell.
The next 2 players in the back line are the 2 centres. A side of 15 has one inside and one outside centre. Centres need to be strong players who have good handling skills and can carry the ball well. Robbie Henshaw of Ireland and England’s Johnathon Joseph would both be fine choices. As would Wales’s Johnathon Davies.
In defence the full back will be found behind the flat line formed by the defending team. They are the last line of defence if someone break through, so must be a confident tackler and a skillful kicker to clear the ball away from danger. In attack they will join the attacking line. Scotland’s Stuart Hogg is certainly a popular choice as is the top point scorer from the 2013 tour Leigh Halfpenny. England’s Mike Brown is also not a name to be forgotten.
Often the fastest players on the pitch, wingers will be found on the far left hand and far right hand sides of the pitch. When they get the ball they will use their explosive pace to score. Welsh players Liam Williams and George North are definitely ones to watch. As are Ireland’s Simon Zebo and English player Elliot Daly.
So, as you can see there are plenty of options for head coach Warren Gatland to choose from. Gatland led the tourists to victory over Australia in 2013, and he will surely want to repeat this success in New Zealand. The Lions squad will be selected in April so keep a look out!
My starting 15
This would be my current Lions starting 15. I wonder how it will compare to Warren Gatland’s team come the summer!