Lions and Wales coach Warren Gatland is known for his ‘Warrenball’ style of play: winning the collisions, getting over the gainline, defensive intensity, raw physicality and earning the right to go wide.
Although Wales have sought to play a more expansive game recently, it will be interesting to see if Wales will persevere with this new approach if it doesn’t bring wins.
Based on ‘Warrenball’, we choose the most Gatland-esque Lions XV the New Zealander can select:
15. Leigh Halfpenny
One of the world’s premier goalkickers, the Toulon full back is rock solid under the high ball, blessed with a big boot, tactically astute and a brave defender.
Whilst not offering a big threat in attack, the 2013 Man of the Series rarely makes mistakes, a characteristic that Gatland loves in his players.
14. Alex Cuthbert
A Gatland favourite, the 6ft 6in, 16st 10lb giant, when on song, is a dangerous runner and a lethal finisher.
With speed to burn and a knack for tries, the Gloucester-born star has crossed the whitewash 15 times in 42 games for Wales.
Injuries and a loss of form in the last couple of years have seen Cuthbert’s stock drop, but if he can get his mojo back, he could yet feature against the All Blacks next year.
13. Jonathan Davies
Big and powerful with a booming boot and a good turn of pace, the 16st 5lbs Wales and Scarlets centre ticks the big is beautiful model his coach has.
The 53-times capped star also has a decent pair of hands, is solid in defence and has established a highly effective partnership with Jamie Roberts.
12. Jamie Roberts
The ‘Doc’ has established himself as arguably the World’s best ‘crash ball’ centre, consistently getting his team over the gainline with his big, bullocking runs.
Critics have accused him of being a one-trick pony and of being the embodiment of ‘Warrenball’.
But the 6ft 4in, 17st 5lb powerhouse also has the ability to play a more subtle game if given the chance and is a decent footballer with good hands.
11. George North
Extremely quick with great feet and phenomenal strength, the 6ft 4in 17st 2lb winger is one of the best in the world.
A natural born try-scorer, the North Walian has racked up an outstanding 27 tries in 62 appearances for Wales and two tries in three appearances for the Lions.
10. Dan Biggar
An outstanding place kicker and accomplished tactical kicker, and one of the best up and under retrievers in the game, Biggar is a quality player.
Although the 26-year-old’s running game has improved, he doesn’t pose big questions of the opposition defence and has been criticised for failing to get the Welsh backline over the gainline. But his functionality, huge will to win and leadership skills makes Gatland a big fan.
9. Connor Murray
Tall and heavy for a scrum-half at 6ft 2in and nearly 15st, the 50-cap Irishman is in the mould of former Gatland favourite Mike Phillips but with a bit more finesse to his game.
Dangerous around the fringes with his powerful snipes and ability to take defenders on, the 27-year-old is also good at bringing big ball carriers into the game. With a smooth pass as well, Murray is arguably the best 9 in Europe.
8. Billy Vunipola
The 19st 12lb human wrecking ball is perfectly suited to Gatland’s power-based game. With the ability to always get over the gainline and ensure front foot ball for his team, the England behemoth is a potent attacking weapon.
Having improved his fitness and offloading game, ‘Billy O’ can become an England great.
7. Sam Warburton
The New Zealander likes a fetcher and the Wales skipper is excellent in this department. One of the first to the breakdown, the Blues star is difficult to move off the ball and wins plenty of turnovers.
His excellent rapport with referees and his proven leadership abilities mean the 2013 Lions winning skipper is probably favourite to lead the Lions again next year.
6. Dan Lydiate
The master of the ‘chop’ tackle, the Welshman is an outstanding defender who guards the fringes with the tenacity of a bulldog.
One of Gatland’s ‘dogs of war’, Lydiate, while offering very little with ball in hand, presents a hard, abrasive edge, a perfect fit for his master’s physical game plan.
5. Alun Wyn Jones
Excellent at the lineout, powerful in the scrum, and a relentless ball carrier, the 102-cap stalwart’s commitment and mental strength make him one of the first players on the New Zealander’s team shirt.
An inspiring figure, the 6ft 5in, 19st 3lb warrior led the Lions in the series-clinching third test down under, and despite the huge threat of Maro Itoje will be there or thereabouts come next summer.
4. Bradley Davies
Tipping the scales at 19st 3lbs, the 6ft 6in Ospreys lock offers plenty of grunt at scrum time, is reliable in the lineout and is a big ball carrier with a tireless engine.
Capped 52 times since his debut in 2009, the 29 year-old offers plenty of experience and an abrasive edge.
3. WP Nel
Gatland’s grand slam triumphs in 2008 and 2012 were built around Adam Jones at tighthead, while his Lions triumph was once again built around the ex-Osprey, alongside the big scrummaging Englishman Alex Corbisiero.
The former hooker knows the value of a destructive scrummager at 3, and the South African-born player is an excellent scrummager.
Since making his debut against Italy in 2015, the former Cheetahs star has bolstered the Scottish scrum and has made the N0. 3 shirt his own. The 18st 3lbs unit also offers a bit around the park too as a ball carrier.
2. Dylan Hartley
Pinpoint with his darts, excellent at the scrum, highly industrious around the park, abrasiveness and mongrel personified, the 30-year-old England skipper is what Gatland looks for in a hooker.
Gatland this week spoke in a ‘Lions Watch’ video, a series of short build-up videos ahead of next year’s tour, about the characteristics he looks for in a player.
Mental strength and a desire to win were two of the characteristics cited, and Hartley has those in spades.
1. Mako Vunipola
The 20st 7lb prop is an outstanding ball carrier who has developed into a very effective scrummager as well, and mobility allied with scrummaging ability is a trait the former Chiefs hooker highly values.
Was highly impressive during England’s historic 3-0 series win down under over the summer, dominating at scrum time, carrying purposefully, as well as making an outstanding 46 tackles.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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