At 12.05pm today, thumbs across Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales were tapping furiously on Twitter to share their thoughts on Warren Gatland’s latest Lions’ squad. Most were pleased, with Scotland fans being the opposite. Justifiably so.
The following players will, touch wood, board a flight to New Zealand in the coming weeks:
The most notable omission for me was Joe Launchbury. He’s been in spectacular form for club and country of late, and can feel aggrieved that George Kruis (who didn’t play a minute of Six Nations rugby this year) will wear the jersey instead. The Wasps captain will use that disappointment to fuel the end of the domestic season, and will probably be first to be called upon if injury strikes the second row.
Simon Zebo is the second. He’s playing the rugby of his life for Munster at the moment, but it’s his international scoring record that has let him down. Unfortunate, as Ireland’s style of play does not suit the Corkman. But such is life.
It’s that lack of try scoring that has opened the door for Jack Nowell. The Exeter player is nothing short of electric, and you need five and seven pointers to beat the All Blacks. Threes aren’t enough.
Ben Te’o can count himself lucky to be on the plane. He is not a creative presence in midfield, and crash balls only offer so much. Hopefully he keeps the elbows down.
However the squad, as a whole, is very strong.
Warburton is the right choice for captain. He won a Lions’ tour as captain four years ago and obviously has a good working relationship with Gatland. He leads by example in every game, and is sure to continue that trend. With Warburton’s place in the Test team now guaranteed bar injury, I reckon he’ll play 7, with CJ Stander and big Billy Vunipola at 6 and 8 respectively.
Jared Payne is a super inclusion. He knows what it takes to get over the line against New Zealand, he is incredibly versatile with the ability to play 13, wing, and 15, and is a defensive organiser of the highest degree. His inclusion was a masterstroke.
Dylan Hartley became the third England captain in a row to miss out on a Lions’ spot (Borthwick and Robshaw being the other two) and it’s no harm. He’s not even the best hooker in England. Rory Best would be my starting hooker, and the Ulsterman is a leader that everyone can follow.
The backs possess a plethora of talent. There was plenty of talk that Jonathan Joseph wouldn’t tour, and I’m delighted it was unfounded. If he can play in the same manner in which he played against Scotland in all three Tests, the midfield will tick over.
Sexton should start at 10, with Farrell at 12. Having two kicking options is a huge plus, but both are world class playmakers. Add that to Conor Murray’s standard of box-kicking and distribution and you’re laughing.
The back three players selected are all very clever choices. Eliot Daly is going from strength to strength, George North has won a Lion’s Series before, Seymour’s on fire, and Jack Nowell is a great finisher. Halfpenny and Hogg will go head to head for the 15 position. And Liam Williams can go wing or 15. But Hogg, Williams and Daly would be my choice of back three starters.
All in all, with all the stick Gatland gets, he has selected a very strong squad. He’s never going to please everyone, but that’s not the name of the game.
Prediction: 2-1 to New Zealand.