Big-name Lions from the 2013 series in Australia are in danger of missing out on the 2017 tour of New Zealand. Here are five former tourists who need massive Six Nations campaigns to be included in Warren Gatland’s 2017 squad.
- Leigh Halfpenny
One of the heroes of 2013, injury and loss of form mean Halfpenny is no longer one of the first names on the Wales teamsheet. Add into the equation the sparkling form of Stuart Hogg, the option to deploy Anthony Watson at full-back, and Owen Farrell as a reliable points accumulator, and Halfpenny is struggling.
This year, Halfpenny won’t be selected primarily for his kicking. He must show Gatland that his all-round game is better than his rivals. Halfpenny, more than anyone else, needs a massive Six Nations.
- Alun Wyn Jones
Jones may be about to acquire the Wales captaincy but, like the man he is replacing, the Ospreys lock faces a stern battle to make the touring party. He may have led the Lions in the decisive third test in 2013 and be in reasonable form, but this year he must contend with fresh-faced destroyers, Maro Itoje and Jonny Gray. There are other excellent options too: George Kruis and Joe Launchbury have established themselves as Lions quality.
If Dylan Hartley or Jamie George is selected at hooker, Gatland may want to keep England or Saracens combinations intact to buttress the line-out against Sam Whitelock.
- Dan Cole
Dan Cole is one of the most inconsistent props England have ever produced. Wretched in the 2015 World Cup, the Leicester Tiger had a much better 2016, redeeming himself on the whitewash tour of Australia. But with Tadhg Furlong and WP Nel ahead of him in the queue, it would not take much of a dip in form for Cole to lose his place in the party completely. Samson Lee and Glasgow Warriors’ potential bolter, Zander Fagerson, are those most likely to profit.
- Jamie Heaslip
A nominee for the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year Award, Heaslip still has plenty of critics – as well as rivals for a tour spot. Provided Billy Vunipola makes a proper recovery from injury, the Saracen will be a Lion. Gatland is also very likely to take Taulupe Faletau, the most rounded of the No. 8s.
Gatland is unlikely to take three specialist No. 8s, especially if he picks a flanker who can also play as an eighth man – such as Sean O’Brien. Unless he has a superb Six Nations, Heaslip will probably be squeezed out.
- Jonathan Davies
The man who wore 13 in the final test in Australia (much to the chagrin of many Irish followers and rugby romantics) faces an uphill battle to tour this year. It’s not that his rivals are cast-iron Lions – more that if Wales are once again unable to make good use of their footballing centre, it will be very hard for Davies to make his case.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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