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The Most Gatland-Esque Lions XV Warren Gatland Can Select

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Warren Gatland is announced as the Head Coach of the British & Irish Lions for the 2017 Tour to New Zealand during the British and Irish Lions Press Conference at Standard Life House on September 7, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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:

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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.

CARDIFF, WALES - SEPTEMBER 05:  Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks a penalty during the International Match between Wales and Italy at Millennium Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 25:  Jonathan Davies of Wales looks on during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 25, 2016 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

BARNET, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  George North of Northampton is tackled by Chris Ashton during the Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at Allianz Park on September 17, 2016 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 19:  Conor Murray of Ireland in action during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on March 19, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 18:  Sam Warburton of Wales reacts during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales at Westpac Stadium on June 18, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 11:  Alun Wyn Jones of Wales looks on during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Wales at Eden Park on June 11, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

TOYOTA, JAPAN - JUNE 18:  WP Nel of Scotland is tackled during the international friendly match between Japan v Scotland at Toyota Stadium on June 18, 2016 in Toyota, Japan.  (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 25:  Mako Vunipola of Saracens looks to break through the London Scottish defence during the pre season friendly match between Saracens and London Scottish FC at Honourable Artillery Company on August 25, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

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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Author: The PA Team

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