In three weeks time British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will name his 37-man squad to head south for the summer tour of New Zealand and Welsh eyes will be watching to see just how many of his Wales side the New Zealander will take with him.
Back in 2013 Wales were the dominant home nation and Gatland selected 16 of the Six Nations-winning side of that year. This time around however it is England who lead the pack, securing their second title in as many years.
Ireland are also a team on the rise, with victories over England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa within the last twelve months. The expectation is therefore that both England and Ireland will contribute the lions share of Lions this summer.
There will certainly be a good handful of Wales players on the plane to New Zealand, however. During the recently concluded Six Nations, Ken Owens should have done more than enough to earn one of the, potentially, three hookers positions. Similarly, Rhys Webb has put his hand up for a scrum-half spot.
Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny also should be safely buckled up on the plane come the end of May.
There are, however, some who could well be at risk of losing out.
Alun Wyn Jones
The Wales captain, and one of the favourites for the Lions captaincy, is currently out injured with a shoulder injury. As he races to regain fitness, it must be remembered that Jones was by no means the top performer in the second row during the Six Nations.
England’s Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner and, to a lesser degree, Scotland’s Gray brothers all showed their Lions credentials this spring.
Jones has the experience of over 100 international caps so that will certainly stand to him. However, with competition fierce for positions, there is no certainty the 31-year-old will be in Gatland’s 37-man squad.
Biggar finds himself in something of a strange situation ahead of the April 19 announcement. The out-half, on paper, should be in a decent place. With Johnny Sexton all but guaranteed his place in the squad, Gatland must select a backup for the Irishman.
Assuming Owen Farrell is chosen at inside centre, there should be a spot for Biggar to fight for. However, if Gatland chooses to pick the Englishman at out-half, Biggar might find himself competing for the mere hope that a spot opens up later in the tour through the inevitable injuries that come with a ten-match tour.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the selection permutations is the fact that George North is, according to the statistics from the Six Nations, not even close to the top performing winger.
According to rugby.net, the Northampton Saints flyer is behind Ireland’s Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, England’s Elliot Daly and compatriot Liam Williams.
With only five wingers selected initially for the 2013 tour, North is not guaranteed his place in the 37-man squad, at least on paper.
The reality, however, is that North is just too good and too much of a threat not to be selected. As he proved against Australia the last time the Lions went on tour, he is a match winner.
Against the All Black, you simply can’t leave that behind, regardless what the statistics say.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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