In Flight To Australia, 2013 – Continuing our trend of looking into the future, I decided a good old-fashioned debate re naming 2013 Lions, based on Six Nations play to date, was in order. We won’t argue who will bolt from out the blue, based on the Heineken Cup and club/provincial form, because that rarely happens for the Lions. I am also not including anyone that is injured and has not played a half so far. This means guys like Toby Flood, Courtney Lawes, and Luke Charteris are ineligible. So, with all that considered here are my British & Irish Lions for the 2013 Tour of Australia:
FULL BACK: It is race between two Full-time FBs in Rob Kearney and Ben Foden and a Part-timer in Leigh Halfpenny. I don’t expect the Aussies to play aerial ping-pong but I like Kearney under the high ball and I believe he is a wee bit more solid in defence than Foden. Halfpenny is okay but not really brilliant in attack like the other two.
WINGERS: George North is an easy pick after watching the Ireland game. I selected Halfpenny here because he has played there in the 2nd half of the first two games and finished beautifully. Also with the two FB system that is in modern rugby today, Halfpenny is perfect for it.
CENTRES: Jonathan Davies reminds me a bit of Scott Gibbs. A guy with the size of a prop, but much faster than you would think looking at him. He has also run great support angles and is no slouch in defense. Jamie Roberts has proven that though his bread and butter maybe the crash-ball, he has the hands and the vision to find his teammates and expose gaps when needed.
FLY-HALF: I may be looking a little foolish for picking Ruardrhi Jackson as my Scot FH to watch out for in my , article and not Grieg Laidlaw. Grieg is not a big name like any of the other 3 candidates but he has looked composed and organized and seems to be a FH who given good talent around him can really fire up a back line attack.
SCRUM HALF: This vintage of Michael Phillips looks similar to the vintage of a couple of years ago when he was the best SH in Europe and one of the top 3 in the world. He knows how to score as well as keep the ball moving quickly. Most importantly, he communicates with his forwards and fly-half fantastically.RWU EURO CLASS OF 2012
BACK ROW: David Denton has a man of the match and is great in support play and the loose. He also makes his tackles and I like his ability to poach here and there and slow the ball down. Young Toby Faletau will fight him for the 8 Jersey. I have moved Jamie Heaslip from 8 to 6, where he can play to accommodate his ability to carry the ball across the gain-line and support his backs. I think this will be three very open games so his off-loading skills will be very important. Though he has only played a half, Sam Warburton showed he is not yet his all-world self but still in good form. With Lord Pocock ready to do battle at the breakdown for Australia, Sammy boy will be needed very badly.
SECOND ROW: Richie Gray’s name can be written in marker on the test sheet. He is easily the best lock out of the 4 nations. His partner caused me a headache because Richie is the lock that joins more of the back-row moves and is further from the breakdown, the close to the breakdown, inside work is left for his lock partner. Of the other 3 nations the only other lock that can do that beside Richie’s partner Jim Hamilton, is Lock/Blindside Ryan Jones, of Wales and with his play in the last two Welsh victories including being a captain for a match and a half, I have got to give it to Ryan.
FRONT ROW: Adam Jones scrums well and lifts well. He is also out in the loose getting the ball occasionally and more importantly making tackles. Ross Ford has yet to have any real struggles in the line-out which is going to be key and he does all the 4th loose forward work expected of a back-row. Although young for a prop, Alex Corbisero (England) has come along well as a prop and continues to show the talent to be a very good loose-head.
HOOKER – Rory Best is so nip and tuck with Ross Ford, one bad lineout throw in training, may end up being the difference between who starts and who subs.
PROP – Adam Jones plays nearly the full 80 most times but if I had to have a back-up prop, I always go for a backup tight-head, Mike Ross is the next best TH based on performance. Dan Cole has been fine, but that is about it to me and Scotland’s Euan Murray just doesn’t seem to be the player he was a few years back. Someone tell me when the IRB will go 23 man rosters in all internationals!?!?!
SECOND ROW – Paul O’Connell is a Great player, though I am not sure how long he can keep going all out at such a high level. I believe he will be perfect to bring on with 30 to go as the game gets a bit looser. Also line-outs will matter more at that time and it won’t matter who he partners as much, that late in the game.
BACK ROW – Again when facing an openside of David Pocock’s ability, you need to make sure if your first choice 7 goes down you have another 7 ready to go. Tipuric is the next best 7, true 7 as in open-side flanker, available in the Isles.
SCRUM HALF: Chris Cusiter has looked very good to me, though Blair has looked sharp when he has come on late and the game opened up. I believe Cusiter can do the same when he comes on for Philips. He has the know-how and delivery to do so.
FLY-HALF: Jonathan Sexton is the better play-maker between himself and Rhys Priestland. Priestland manages the game and lets his Centers do the damage, which works well in the Welsh system. I just think that if in need of a little bit of off the cuff magic from the Bench, you got to go with Sexton.
CENTRE: With Halfpenny available to cover for a FB injury and in case of a wing injury you can use Cusiter or even Brad Barrit if you must, you need a reserve Center. Barrit has been immense in defense for England. He doesn’t have the same outstanding handling or off-loading like a Roberts but if you are looking for someone to come in and punch holes to spark an attack or some shutdown defence to help preserve a tight lead, Brad is your guy.
Head Coach: Warren Gatland (Wal) – He has Wales humming right now
Forwards: Andy Robinson (Sco) – The Scot Forwards have easily been the best group of the whole 6N.
Backs: Rob Howley (Wales) – Like Robinson, Howley’s backs have been the best group in the whole 6N.
Defence: Shaun Edwards (Wales) – Pushed by Andy Farrell for this post, I will go with Edwards and his experience and pedigree as a defensive coach.
I hope you all enjoyed my list. As I said, this is meant to be a debate so please have your say and I will tell you why you are wrong. Stay tuned for my article on Friday, I will look at the upcoming Super 15 Rugby season and make my predictions for the 2012 season.