Shaun Goosen’s British and Irish Lions XV

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Shaun Goosen: Sports writer for Grocott’s Mail

With the Six Nations now done-and-dusted, the attention now turns to Warren Gatland and which Scottish, Irish, English and Welsh players he will include in his British & Irish Lions squad that is due to tour the Land of the Long White Cloud in June and July. Each player from the Home Nations will desperately want to a seat on that plane headed Down Under, and here I have picked out those whom I believe have been the standout performers in 2017 so far, and placed them into my proverbial Test match starting XV. So, without further ado…

  1. Mako Vunipola. The Saracens loosehead may just have come back from a terrible injury, but his physicality and presence in any front-row always puts added pressure on opposition forward packs. His performances on the 2013 Australia tour also wouldn’t have been easily forgotten by Gatland. His immense ball-carrying ability will be a big advantage for his side, as they look to break the gain-line in and around the trenches in New Zealand. Vunipola just trumps compatriot Joe Marler and Ireland’s Jack McGrath.
  2. Rory Best (vice-captain). Called up as a replacement on the 2013 tour, the Irish captain’s coolness and composure will be much needed on this tour when coming up against the likes of Dane Coles and co. His line-out throwing is out of the top-drawer, and his performances for his nation over the past 18 months warrant this selection. Special mention to the English duo of Dylan Hartley and Jamie George.
  3. Tadhg Furlong. The young Irishman has been a revelation since debuting in 2015, and his stellar performances in the Six Nations places him head-and-shoulders above the rest. A superb scrummager and ball-carrier (he’s not too shabby on defence either), this tour could prove to be the catalyst to a very promising career.
  4. Maro Itoje. Simply too good to ignore. Despite playing on the side of the scrum for the majority of England’s title-winning campaign, I believe Itoje’s best position is definitely at no. 4 lock. His youthful exuberance will come in handy against the formidable duo of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.
  5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain). Jones has seen and done it all before. Despite not having the greatest Six Nations campaign as captain of Wales, his wealth of experience sees him assume captaincy of the side. Having led the Lions in the final Test of 2013, he will know what it is all about.
  6. CJ Stander. The ex-Bull has been nothing short of sensational since making his Ireland debut in 2016, and Gatland will be a brave man to leave him out of his Test side. Ball-carrying ability, defensive ability, ability to poach opposition ball on the ground – Stander has it all.
  7. Sean O’Brien. The tenacious opensider has endured a nightmare injury run of late, but his dogged attitude at the breakdown and ability to make some huge plays at crucial moments sees him pip 2013 Lions captain Sam Warburton. This man has some serious BMT.
  8. Billy Vunipola. The English wrecking-ball also missed much of his side’s Championship defence though injury, but there is no question that he is the right man to anchor the Lions scrum on this tour. His runs leave opposition defences in shambles, and expect him to give the likes of Sam Cane and Jerome Kaino more than a few headaches on tour.
  9. Connor Murray. The best no. nine on the planet at present, his exceptional game-management and accurate tactical kicking is enough to see him start in place of the likes of Rhys Webb, Greig Laidlaw and Ben Youngs. His experience playing alongside Sexton is also a big “plus”.
  10. Jonny Sexton. An absolute star for the Lions four years ago, Sexton still has the ability to break a game open with a moment of magic, and this sees him retain the ‘10’ jersey amid fierce competition. His defence isn’t too bad either.
  11. Liam Williams. The Welshman is an X-Factor player, and his speed on the left wing will complement Hogg well on the counter. Having played at fullback, Williams is more than able to make his fair share of tackles too.
  12. Owen Farrell. The Englishman is a class act, and his solid defence and tactical kicking ability will work well with Sexton’s flair at 10. This tour gives Farrell the chance to go from being ‘good’ to ‘great’, a challenge he will relish.
  13. Gary Ringrose. The Irishman may not be everybody’s favorite player, but I think he will flourish in the midst of such great backs (who may well be able to unlock his fantastic running ability). Honorable mention goes to Jamie Joseph of England.
  14. George North. The powerful Welsh winger is a must in any British & Irish Lions side. A fantastic player, who also boasts a complete package. We’ll just have to hope that he doesn’t pick up any more of his infamous head-knocks along the way…
  15. Stuart Hogg. Who else? He may be only Scot to make my run-on XV, but the back-to-back Six Nations Player of the Year award winner is an absolute shoo-in for Gatland’s Test team. He is in the form of his life, and he will keep the likes of Julian Savea and Ben Smith on their toes in the Test series.
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