Here at Pundit Arena HQ, to say we’re heartbroken on a weekend with no Six Nations action is a bit of an understatement.
And as any rugby fan knows, there is no better way to pass the time than to sit down and ponder what would a Lions team look like if there was a tour this year.
Fullback: Leigh Halfpenny
First position up is probably the hardest call to make. In Mike Brown, Rob Kearney, and Leigh Halfpenny, the Lions would boast arguably the three best full-backs in world rugby at present. Leigh Halfpenny might just shade it on form. While Brown is struggling, Kearney is on top of his game. Kearney and Halfpenny are inseparable considering their aerial ability and attacking prowess. A coin toss dictated that Halfpenny is pencilled in.
Wing: George North
With 50 caps to his name at just 22, George North is the automatic choice for the wing positions. He has a complete game. The Northampton Saints player has everything required for a winger, and causes problems for any defence.
Outside Centre: Robbie Henshaw
Henshaw is perhaps the wildcard pick of this side. The Connacht youngster has risen to every challenge he has met thus far, and his stock is on the rise following a man of the match performance against England. Although Jonathan Davies kept Brian O’Driscoll off the team for the third test in Australia, we have backed Henshaw here to do the job at outside centre.
Inside Centre: Jamie Roberts
The big Welsh centre has pace, power, and is an all-round footballer. While England and Scotland are struggling for real quality in this channel, Ireland are playing Henshaw at 12. Roberts is a top player, and the lack of an obvious alternative makes this an easy choice.
Wing: Tommy Bowe
With the first wing spot nailed down by North, the second is up for grabs. Many can stake a valid claim. It ultimately came down to Alex Cuthbert, Johnny May and Bowe. Bowe’s seemingly telepathic understanding with Jonny Sexton (sorry about the spoiler on the impending decision at out-half) ensures that he would be best suited to the side.
Fly-Half: Johnny Sexton
No justification needed. Move on.
Scrum-Half: Conor Murray
This is another position open to debate. Rhys Webb is in fine form for Wales, but it is Murray who has set the standard. The Munster man has improved his game tenfold in recent seasons, increasing his delivery speed, and showing maturity in spades on the pitch. His growing relationship with Sexton means he is the top candidate for the number 9 jersey.
Loose-Head Prop: Cian Healy
Healy is slowly recovering from injury, and has not started for Ireland yet this championship. But this is a testament to Jack McGrath that Healy has not been rushed back. He is a solid option in the scrum, and immense in the loose. Just ask Richie McCaw.
Hooker: Rory Best
Criticism of Rory Best always centred around his line-out throwing. He is now at the helm of what is recognised as the strongest line-out in the northern hemisphere. Add his scrummaging game to the fact that his appetite for physicality is only growing. Ross Ford and Richard Hibbard also make cases for inclusion.
Tight-Head Prop: Dan Cole
Ireland’s Mike Ross impressed last week in Dublin, but the aging Corkonian offers little else other than his scrummaging, with many Irish fans making calls for the inclusion of Marty Moore. Euan Murray is also a former British and Irish Lion. But when hoping to get a tour victory in the southern hemisphere, a solid platform from the scrum is key, and Dan Cole is the best man to deliver that.
Second Row: Paul O’Connell
Paul O’Connell started last time out, and there is no reason to suggest he would not do the same now. The Ireland captain is in the Autumn of his career, but is still putting in performance after performance.
Second Row: Alun Wyn Jones
At 29, Alun Wyn Jones is the heart of the Welsh tight five. While the two Grays from Scotland may challenge the Ospreys lock, there can be little argument against starting Wyn Jones, who has featured in every test of the previous two Lions tours.
Blind-Side Flanker: Seán O’Brien
The ‘Tullow Tank’ can play anywhere across the back row. He came back with a bang against France, following a lengthly lay-off, before suffering from concussion in the England game. At his best, few can live with the 2011 European Player of The Year. The only question is where to play him.
Open-Side Flanker: Sam Warburton
Another close call. Chris Robshaw, the England captain, makes a strong case for inclusion, but falls short due to the prominence of the Welsh skipper. Warburton is arguably the best openside in world rugby at present, and his ability to win ball on the deck is an asset to any side.
Number Eight: Billy Vunipola
In O’Brien and Warburton, the side has two expert ruckers. Time to have a bit of fun. Billy Vunipola is an 8 who does exactly what 8s do best; run powerfully. When on the back foot, a defender does not want Vunipola running at him. While Jamie Heaslip is a better all-round footballer, Vunipola gets the nod on power alone.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena