I’ve been keen to point out to all and sundry that it’s far too early to select as Lions XV for the 1st Test in Brisbane, but as a man who prides himself on being a walking contradiction (and in the absence of anything vaguely interesting happening in the rugby world at the moment) I thought I’d have a bash at picking the starting XV I’d like to see in Suncorp, with no apologies for my obvious leaning towards the “other” side of the Severn Bridge;
15. Leigh Halfpenny. He was the player of the 6 Nations, so it’s hard to argue against him.
14. Alex Cuthbert. The 22 year old may have only played 18 Test matches, but he’s scored 9 tries and during the 2013 6 Nations he beat 14 defenders and made 254 metres with ball in hand.
13. Elliot Daly. Bit of a wildcard, but with his monster boot off the tee, ability to make an outside break and offload or run straight through opponents he’s a defenders nightmare.
12. Jonathan Davies. Another with a monster boot, this time out of hand and whilst he’s usually a 13, but his line speed, power and hard running would give the outside backs plenty of space to work in and with a 92% tackle completion rate in the 6 Nations he’d be more than capable of leading the defence.
11. Christian Wade. The 21 year old is the most exciting player in the Aviva Premiership with ball in hand and his first 33 games for Wasps he crossed the whitewash 19 times. On the hard ground in Australia he’d be lethal.
10. Jonny Wilkinson. If anyone knows what it’s like to drag a team over the finish line in Australia it’s him and while Gatland insists he won’t take any player who is playing in the Top 14 final what he says to the press and what he means are very rarely the same thing.
9. Mike Phillips. He’s not been the most consistent performer of late but against England he proved that if the stage is big enough he’ll take the spotlight.
8. Billy Vunipola. Probably the most leftfield of all my picks, but if you want to get the pack going forward and the exciting backline some quick ball a 6 feet 4 inch and 21 stone number 8 won’t hurt, even if he is just 20.
7. Justin Tipuric. He’s been the Ospreys shining light for almost 2 seasons now and in the 6 Nations denouement he proved that he’s not only great at the breakdown but has the pace to make most backs look silly.
6. Dan Lydiate. Obviously he has to prove his fitness in the next 2 months, but if he can avoid injury he’s a tackling machine and has the leadership to encourage and relax his young back row colleagues in equal measure, despite being just 25 years old himself.
5. Richie Gray. Another who will need to prove his fitness, but his size and athleticism would be vital to challenge the Wallabies who themselves have a plethora of sizeable athletic locks.
4. Alun Wyn Jones. His unique quality among the many second rows who have played well in recent weeks and months is that he calls lineout’s and whilst Joe Launchbury, Andrew Coombs and Ian Evans all had impressive 6 Nations tournaments they do not have Jones’ experience in the is department.
3. Adam Jones. He rescued the Lions scrum in 2009 after Phil Vickery had been thrown around like a rag doll by Tendai Mtawarira (they don’t call him “The Beast” for nothing) and while Jones is a renowned scrumagger he’s also one of the most underrated footballers in the current Welsh team and hardly ever misses a tackle, 1 out of the 34 he attempted in the 6 Nations.
2. Richardt Strauss. If he can prove his fitness (and he’s back tomorrow against Ulster) his pace and explosiveness on the hard Australian turf would be a key asset and against a mobile Wallaby front row keeping them moving in defence should be a target, although Richard Hibbard has a very strong case after a sensational finale to the 6 Nations against England.
1. Gethin Jenkins. Another who won’t play if Gatland holds true to his statement of not picking players involved in the climax of the Top 14 season, but his ability to roam the field like an auxiliary number 7 combined with his dominant scrummaging against England’s highly rated Dan Cole would be sorely missed.