Warren Gatland faces his proverbial Everest when the Lions tour kicks off in June in New Zealand this year.
He has an enviable talent pool to draw from but winning in New Zealand will require players with strength, agility, vision and grit in combination with very astute tactics. What the Irish did in Chicago needs to be replicated. So who are the 15 to do it?
15 Liam Williams (Wales)
I know the debate in the press has been over which out of Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg and Mike Brown should be included in the squad but Liam Williams is the wild card to trump all these known quantities. Williams proved the most dangerous player in the Welsh team during their 2016 tour of New Zealand. He has the skills, pace and X-factor to break open the All Blacks’ defence. His unpredictable play edges him ahead of other more standard fullbacks like Hogg and Brown. Roll the dice, Warren.
14 Jack Nowell (England)
Yes, this one again is a bit out of left field. But Nowell is a physical, fit wing with opportunistic vision. He runs clever lines and often pops up on the edge of rucks where he uses his strength and acceleration to bust through gaps. He impressed during the England tour of Australia and he could be another down under star again. This is also the position which will mark Julian ‘The Bus’ Savea and Nowell has the strength to do it and also take advantage of Savea’s weakness in turning and chasing.
13 Jonathan Davies (Wales)
The All Blacks attack is not so much relentless but swift and incisive. One of the biggest weapons in the midfield is the offloading from the brilliant Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown. Jonathan Davies has all the experience to put his frame on the line and most importantly the strength to wrap up these dangermen. He is also a threat in attack with power, speed and strategy to provide a rock in midfield.
12 Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
Ringrose is a young player but has been so impressive in such a short time that he would be an exciting addition to this position. He thrives on the big stage and starred against the All Blacks in both tests last year. Gatland will need fitness, agility and no one-dimensional players. Ringrose has the fire, ambition and skills to succeed.
11 Elliot Daly (England)
Elliot Daly is a high-class player who can cover many positions. His speed is a huge weapon and his kicking skills another important asset. He has a bit of Ben Smith about him and will only get better with consistent match play. Another who pops up in unconventional positions and players like this will be key to cracking All Black defensive lines.
10 Jonny Sexton (Ireland)
Sexton has proven he has the tactical nous to control games on the biggest stage. A poised, gritty player who outshone Beauden Barrett in Chicago and will need to execute all his duties to maximum efficiency is he is to do the same in New Zealand – especially with the likes of Ardie Savea having him firmly in his target range.
9 Conor Murray (Ireland)
The All Blacks are understandably wary of the threat Murray poses from the ruck. He ghosted through a gap for a crucial try in the Chicago victory for Ireland, and his combination with Sexton will be crucial.
8 CJ Stander (Ireland)
Billy Vunipola may be the favourite to oppose the All Black Kieran Read, but I would argue that the England no.8 still has too many questions about his mobility and fitness. CJ Stander can play no.8 or flanker and is full of bustling aggression. The Irish loose forwards overwhelmed both New Zealand and England, so why break up a good thing?
7 Sean O’Brien (Ireland)
Sean O’Brien is the aggressive, skilled menace to take it to the All Blacks at the breakdown. Some stiff competition for this spot, but O’Brien’s greater power combined with mobility edges out Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric.
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
The Lions will need players who can win turnovers at rucks and Peter O’Mahony is the man to do it. Had a huge game against England and may have secured himself a plane ticket as a result.
5 Courtney Lawes (England)
To face up to Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock the Lions will need big physical presences. Lawes is a tackling machine (including 20 in the last match against Ireland) and lineout dominator who had a hugely impressive 6 Nations. Anyone who can force Maro Itoje to switch positions must be doing something right.
4 Joe Launchbury (England)
Another who had a massive 6 Nations campaign and who complements Lawes perfectly. More mobile than Lawes but just as tough with a high workrate and ability to seize an opportunity and bust a gap.
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
A huge man who monstered both the All Blacks and England recently. Needs to get his fitness in synch but will give the Lions at the minimum parity in the scrum.
2 Rory Best (Ireland)
The Lions will need on-field leaders with fire in their belly and Best is the man to set this side alight. Although he is 34, he shows no signs of wear and will have all the motivation to finish his career with a significant string to his bow.
1 Mako Vunipola (England)
Mako didn’t feature much during the 6 Nations as he battled back from injury but his aggressive, multi-skilled play will be needed to provide the Lions with threats from 1-15.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour, cj stander, conor murray, Courtney Lawes, elliot daly, Gary Ringrose, Jack Nowell, joe launchbury, Jonathan Davies, jonny sexton, Mako Vunipola, mike brown, Peter o mahoney, Rory Best, Sonny Bill Williams, tadgh furlong, warren gatland