Ranking the top 50 players in contention

Ranking the top 50 players in contention

Lions Watch: Ranking The Top 50 Players in contention for a place on The British and Irish Lions Tour

Despite the fact the Six Nations has only just kicked off , Warren Gatland has no doubt pencilled between 20 and 24 players into his British and Irish Lions squad.

Barring injury, most observers could list-off players such as Maro Itoje, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg and Alun Wyn Jones as those who already have one foot on the plane.

In addition, the likes of Rory Best, Owen Farrell and Jack McGrath should really be making sure their passports are stored in safe and easy to reach places. However, there remains a great deal of debate over who will fill the later half of the squad.

As is often the case, players can be selected based on their ability to play in a number of positions, while specialists are overlooked. Indeed, it would not be at all surprising to see Gatland only select one specialist fullback in his squad, as Simon Zebo, Liam Williams, Robbie Henshaw, Anthony Watson, and even Leigh Halfpenny are all capable of playing in the number 15 jersey.

The same can be said of the back row, where Gatland might only take two specialist number eights due to CJ Stander's ability to also play on the blind side. This could see one of Billy Vunipola, Jamie Heaslip, and Taulupe Faletau miss out on selection. Similarly, while Iain Henderson may not start on a regular basis for Ireland, albeit due to injury, his chances of being included in Warren Gatland's final squad are arguably better than those of Donnacha Ryan, as the Ulsterman is equally adept at playing in the back row.

Therefore, versatilely could prove to be key when it comes to filling the final few places in the Lions squad.

Consequently, this list is based more on a player's probability of touring rather than his ability.

1. Maro Itoje (England) Barring injury, Maro Itoje is on the plane to New Zealand. He holds the added bonus of being able to play in two positions.

2. Conor Murray (Ireland) The best scrum half on the planet right now, Conor Murray has already seen off both Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara.

3. Owen Farrell (England) Although it remains to be seen whether Owen Farrell will be selected at 10 or 12, it's almost certain that he will be included in Warren Gatland's squad.

4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Possible captain and all round leader, Alun Wyn Jones is another with one foot on the plane.

5. Stuart Hogg (Scotland) The best fullback in the northern hemisphere, will allow the Lions fight fire with fire in attack.

6. Rory Best (Ireland) Another potential captain, and almost assured a place on the plane following a series of brilliant performances with Ireland.

7. George Kruis (England) Although he may not start, George Kruis' form is such that he cannot be ignored.

8. Jack McGrath (Ireland) Leading a long line of looseheads to fill the number one jersey with the Lions next summer.

9. Mako Vunipola (England) A big ball carrier and a much improved scrummager, Mako Vunipola should travel alongside McGrath as the leading looseheads.

10. Sean O'Brien (Ireland) Capable of playing across the back row, Sean O'Brien has demonstrated the ability to trouble New Zealand on more than one occasion.

11. CJ Stander (Ireland) Has played himself into contention with a series of massive displays for both Munster and Ireland. Stander's ability to play in two positions aiding his cause considerably.

12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) Whether it be at 12 or 13, Robbie Henshaw looks increasingly likely to be part of Gatland's squad.

13. Jonathan Joseph (England) Remains one of the best attacking threats available to England. Should have one foot on the plane given the form of Jonathan Davies.

14. Ben Youngs (England) Certain to be one of the scrum halves to travel.

15. Liam Williams (Wales) One of the in-form outside backs in the northern hemisphere at the moment, could potentially start in a back three alongside Stuart Hogg.

16. Billy Vunipola (England) Only for injury Billy Vunipola would be higher on the list. A definite for inclusion otherwise.

17. Dan Cole (England) With WP Nel injured, Dan Cole is the only experienced tight head at Gatland's disposal. Should be included, but doubts surround his ability to start.

18. Anthony Watson (England) Despite his injury problems this season, Anthony Watson remains England's best finisher and has the ability to play at fullback.

19. George Ford (England) Likely to be selected on the basis that he offers something different in the fly-half shirt. Whether or not he starts is open to debate.

20. James Haskell (England) England's player of the series in Australia and has the ability to play on either side of the back row. Haskell's power alone is something that will attract Gatland.

21. George North (Wales) It's hard to imagine Warren Gatland selecting a squad without including George North. Remains a quality finisher and a powerful winger more than capable of matching Julian Savea.

22. Justin Tipuric (Wales) Arguably the northern hemisphere's most in-form openside, it's hard to imagine the Lions having a chance without fielding someone of his calibre.

23. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) The coming tight head of European rugby, Furlong could fully establish himself as a destructive scrummager and brilliant ball carrier in the Six Nations.

24. Dylan Hartley (England) But for his discipline, Dylan Hartley would be higher on this list. Should be included, but one false move will see him fall behind Jamie George.

25. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) Not just a goal kicking full back, Leigh Halfpenny can be a devastating broken field runner when given the opportunity. Can also play on the wing if necessary.

26. Iain Henderson (Ireland) May not be a regular starter for Ireland, but brings impact from the bench and can play in two positions.

27. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland) Playing some of the best rugby of his career at the moment, taking full advantage of Taulupe Faletau's injury.

28. Rhys Webb (Wales) Has returned from injury at just the right moment, and could travel as the third choice scrum half.

29. Sam Warburton (Wales) Like James Haskell, Sam Warburton can play either side of the number eight but needs to find form quickly if he is to make sure of his position.

30. Taulupe Faletau (Wales) Injury and the emergence of CJ Stander sees Faletau behind his rivals, but has the class to retain his place in the Lions squad.

31. Jamie George (England) Until he displaces Dylan Hartley as England's primary hooker, Jamie George cannot be seen as anything other than a possible third choice with the Lions.

32. Jonny Gray (Scotland) Although he may be amidst a strong run of form, Gray has yet to firmly stake his claim for inclusion in the Lions squad. However, a strong performance against Iain Henderson would go a long way in doing so.

33. Gary Ringrose (Ireland) Proved himself defensively during Ireland's autumn campaign, and could really push for inclusion if he demonstrates his ability in attack during the Six Nations.

34. Dan Biggar (Wales) Although he is coming under pressure from Sam Davies at both regional and international level, Dan Biggar remains a consistent performer.

35. Tommy Seymour (Scotland) If Tommy Seymour can reproduce his Glasgow Warriors form in a Scotland shirt, then it will be difficult for Gatland to ignore the powerful winger.

36. Johnny Sexton (Ireland) Would be higher on the list but for injury, Warren Gatland has already stated that Sexton needs to prove he can physically endure the rigours of a ten-match Lions series.

37. Cian Healy (Ireland) Seems to be returning to form at just the right time, but Cian Healy has a fight on his hands if he wants to retain his place.

38. Devin Toner (Ireland) Although he may be a regular for Ireland and provides them with a constant supply of lineout ball, Devin Toner will have to see some very dynamic rivals if he is to be included.

39. Elliot Daly (England) After breaking into the England team during the autumn, Elliot Daly could force his inclusion after retaining his place in Eddie Jones' team. The fact that Daly can play in a number of positions will aid his cause when it comes to filling the squad.

40. Jack Nowell (England) A workhorse for England, Jack Nowell could yet force his inclusion but will first have to regain his place in Eddie Jones' side.

41. Finn Russell (Scotland) Few doubt Finn Russell's talent, but question marks remain over his decision making following his performance against Munster in the European Rugby Champions Cup. Nevertheless, a strong Six Nations in addition to Johnny Sexton's injury concerns could see the Scotland player included.

42. Simon Zebo (Ireland) A more consistent performer than he was four years ago, Simon Zebo could yet tour for a second time if he continues to show good form. Aided greatly by the fact that he can cover two positions.

43. Huw Jones (Scotland) Performed Brilliantly for Scotland during the autumn, could yet follow Elliot Daly as a bolter.

44. Zander Fergusson (Scotland) Given his chance now that WP Nel is injured. Been fantastic for the Glasgow Warriors, but the Six Nations will be a step up.

45. Mike Brown (England) Could make the tour if Gatland decides to take two specialist full backs, but needs to find his best form during the Six Nations.

46. Jonny May (England) At the beginning of the season Jonny May was not even in the conversation due to injury. A strong showing for England could see him included.

47. Mark Bennett (Scotland) Was behind his rivals in the race for the Lions at the beginning of the season and lingers there for now but could come good.

48. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland) Could travel as an experienced scrum player to add leadership during the midweek games, but some way behind his rivals at present.

49. Scott Williams (Wales) The great white hope as Wales begin to evolve their style of play, but will need to fully demonstratre his talents to get picked ahead of his rivals.

50. Peter O'Mahony (Ireland) Prior to suffering from injury during the World Cup, Peter O'Mahony was regarded as one of the best back row forwards in the northern hemisphere. However, since making his return earlier this season, the Munster captain has failed to break into an extremely competitive Irish back row.

Reproduced by kind permission of Pundit Arena

– Entry was posted on February 6th, 2017 by James Haskell

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