How the British & Irish Lions may line up on 2017 New Zealand tour
Despite Brexit, the power of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland can be harnessed for next year's Lions series against the All Blacks, with a number of names in the frame from the four nations after this month's internationals
Is there life after Brexit?
Well, the British & Irish Lions will tour New Zealand next year and for now, the power of the four home nations can still be gloriously harnessed.
What kind of Test team is shaping up?
Following an intriguing series of June internationals, here is a potential starting Test XV.
It is frequently said that Scotland's Stuart Hogg would get into any other northern hemisphere team; now is his chance to prove it. The Welshman Leigh Halfpenny's goalkicking was but Hogg is a quality operator with ball in hand. With Liam Williams playing so well for Wales, it is going to require a huge effort from England's Mike Brown and Rob Kearney of Ireland to make the squad.
George North and Jack Nowell
Liam Williams was one of Wales's best players in New Zealand this month, while George North was looking more like his old self prior to his tour-ending injury. Both should make the squad, leaving any number of contenders for the other couple of spots. Anthony Watson had a relatively quiet tour of Australia with England but it should be a different story once he has had some rest; Jack Nowell would be an outstanding tourist.
Robbie Henshaw and Jonathan Joseph
The most hotly contested positions. The Lions will need good defenders and, in all probability, a strong linebreaker at 12. Wales's Jamie Roberts has been a truly wonderful Lions servant but by next year it could be time to look elsewhere. Robbie Henshaw of Ireland has many of the necessary qualities and England's Manu Tuilagi, if fit, will definitely be in the head coach's thoughts. Then there is Scotland's Mark Bennett, his underrated compatriot Alex Dunbar and Wales's Jonathan Davies. We have not even mentioned Jonathan Joseph, Elliot Daly, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Ben Te'o, Scott Williams or Garry Ringrose.
Such a key pick if the Lions are going to have any chance of defeating the All Blacks. The leading contender would normally be Ireland's Jonathan Sexton but there are now other candidates. Wales's Dan Biggar will almost certainly tour and Finn Russell of Scotland may yet emerge as a genuine option but the two young Englishmen, George Ford and Owen Farrell, come as an increasingly effective package. England will need to kick well and Farrell, at present, is kicking for goal better than anyone else in the world.
The three current frontrunners are obvious enough: Wales's Rhys Webb, Conor Murray of Ireland and England's Ben Youngs. That pecking order could yet change – keep an eye out for Wasps' Dan Robson – but a fit Webb is a class act and would give the Lions an all-important threat around the base.
Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola
Two of the props in the squad will definitely be England's Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola. Ireland's Jack McGrath is no longer in Cian Healy's shadow and Scotland's WP Nel is an extremely solid front-row citizen. The scrum, though, is an area where the Lions will be looking to target New Zealand and characters such as Joe Marler and Rob Evans will be strongly candidates for a long, demanding tour. Samson Lee, Ellis Genge and Kieran Brookes will be other names in the frame.
Dylan Hartley can currently do no wrong as captain of England, having . He would dearly love to make a trip back to his homeland but Wales's Ken Owens is playing well again and should also make the tour. England's reserve hooker, Jamie George, is also an increasingly strong contender.
Alun Wyn Jones and Iain Henderson
The beating heart of the Lions squad and another area where pressure can be brought to bear on the All Blacks. Take your pick from Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, Johnny Gray, Devin Toner and Ultan Dillane. It is so competitive that Jones's claims as captain may shape the whole pack. It would be no surprise if Itoje or Henderson also end up being considered as potential back-rowers, with Jones, Kruis and Gray all making the plane. There is an awful lot of rugby still to be played, though.
James Haskell and Sam Warburton
Another packed field. A fit Sean O'Brien would always be close and his fellow Ireland player CJ Stander is a figure of growing influence. Wales's Ross Moriarty is a maturing force, too, but the final blend will come down to tactical preference. Do the Lions want an out-and-out ball sniffer or an extra lineout option? Or do they take a leaf out of Eddie Jones's book and utilise James Haskell's defensive enthusiasm and Chris Robshaw's industry? It would not surprise me if a huge unit such as Dave Ewers or even his Exeter colleague Don Armand is considered
Wales's Sam Warburton, if fit, is a must for the tour of New Zealand by the Lions.
It is already safe to assume, injury permitting, that Wales's Taulupe Faletau and Billy Vunipola of England will be on the plane. Jamie Heaslip has been another outstanding Lion but in terms of sheer explosive power, the Ireland player is up against two serious rivals. It is desperately hard to split them but perhaps Faletau could start and Vunipola rumble on as the ultimate impact player?
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