The 2017 Six Nations is done and dusted, with England retaining their title and many a home nations player putting his hand up for British and Irish Lions selection.
In delivering a second consecutive title, England looks set to offer the largest contingent to Warren Gatland’s squad which is set to be named on April 19th.
Ireland, Wales and Scotland each had an up and down tournament, turning in whopping great performances one week, while limping to a lacklustre display the next.
Now, with less than a month to the announcement of the 37-man squad, Gatland has much food for thought following the conclusion of the tournament and whatever way he goes, he will likely have the strongest ever Lions squad at his disposal for what will be a tough tour of New Zealand.
Over at Rugby.net, the Six Nations numbers have been crunched and we can now see just who, statistically, delivered the goods over the course of the last six weeks.
Based on the facts and figures, this is the definitive British and Irish Lions XV.
Here’s how this sometimes surprising XV is chosen.
Ireland’s Jack McGrath sees off the challenge of Joe Marler for the No.1 jersey, but the Englishman should be on the plane for New Zealand as backup to the Irishman.
Despite much being made of the potential Lions captaincy for both Dylan Hartley and Rory Best, Wales hooker Ken Owens trounced the pair statistically in the Six Nations.
Topping the statistics each and every week, the Irish man-mountain is the form tighthead in world rugby at the moment. Despite having only accumulated 16 caps for Ireland, his name is likely first on Warren Gatland’s list.
Like Furlong in the front row, Launchbury has been the form lock of the Six Nations. With fierce competition for places in the Lions pack, the Englishman is a shoe-in.
Lawes joins his compatriot Launchbury in the second row, making up an awesome England pairing.
The Irishman owns the No.6 jersey for the Lions, despite being a true No.8. With lock turned flanker Maro Itoje next in line for the blindside spot, there is no fear of Gatland being stuck for talent.
O’Brien has returned to his bludgeoning best following a near two year lay off with injury. Stamping his authority on the No.7 jersey in the Six Nations, the Irishman’s closest competitor for the Lions starting spot is Wales flanker Justin Tipuric.
Despite not playing in Ireland’s final Six Nations game against England, Heaslip edges out Nathan Hughes for the starting spot. The return of Billy Vunipola and potential for CJ Stander to slot in at 8 makes this a position with everything to play for.
Webb impressed throughout the Six Nations and with Conor Murray bowing out injury halfway through game four, the Welshman statistically tops the pile despite being a likely third choice for the No.9 jersey.
Despite Johnny Sexton being imperious following his return from injury in round three, Russell edges the Irishman on the back of having played all five games. George Ford and Dan Biggar are statistically better than Russell, however with neither taking on kicking duties for their respective countries, Russell is the top rated ‘true’ out-half.
Farrell has established himself as one of the top inside centres in the game and with his assured kicking abilities, is a must for Gatland’s Lions XV.
The Welshman continues to impress at No.13, consistently breaking lines and causing opponents all manner of headaches. Statistics put him as the top performing centre of the Six Nations.
Zebo’s inclusion is perhaps something of a surprise given the presence of George North and Liam Williams. A consistently positive tournament however sees him come in as the home nation’s top wing man.
Like his compatriot, Earls enjoyed a consistent championship out on the wing and while he didn’t grab the headlines in the same manner as George North, the Irishman comes out ahead when all is said and done.
Competition for the full-back spot is fierce, with Brown battling it out with Stuart Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny. Having missed out four years ago, Brown trumps his counterparts following an impressive Six Nations.
The statistical approach to naming a Lions XV has certainly thrown up some ‘interesting’ choices, particular at out-half, and the truth is that Gatland’s final XV will likely look far different to this one named here.
Taking into account talent, potential and leadership, you must assume that the likes of Sexton, North, Wyn Jones, Murray, Hartley and Best will be in the mix for the famous red jersey when it comes to facing down the All Black in their back yard in June.
If nothing else, this Lions XV merely shows just how deep the talent pool goes ahead of the highly anticipated tour.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena