British and Irish Lions 2017 – Player Profiles

 

CAPTAIN

Sam Warburton (Wales) – Back Row

There were not too many surprised faces when it was announced that Sam Warburton would be Lions captain for the second consecutive year. He lead the British and Irish Lions to victory in Australia despite injury thwarting his tour. He is set to be the second player to lead the Lions twice after Martin Johnson and he deserves it. After he stepped down from the Welsh captaincy role, he said himself that he felt he did not deserve it as he was not playing well. But after the 2017 Six Nations, he definitely deserved the Lions captaincy. His Six Nations was monstrous and he is unquestionably the right man to lead the Lions into battle!

Rory Best (Ireland) – Hooker

The Irish captain is set for his second tour. Last time around he was a last minute call up after Dylan Hartley was banned. Despite only just squeezing onto the tour last time, it would be impossible to leave him out this time. His heroic leadership and defense led Ireland to a second place finish in the 2017 Six Nations and a victory over champions, England.

 

Dan Biggar (Wales) – Fly Half

The Welsh fly half is one of the more controversial inclusions. His form has undoubtedly been great but it was a very tight call between him and Scotland’s Finn Russell. Amongst that speculation, Biggar will definitely not fail to impress and his fiery attitude will certainly play a part (positive or negative) in the Lion’s results.

 

Dan Cole (England) – Prop

The big English prop was influential on the last tour. In the test series it was him along with his front row partners that tore the Australian’s scrum apart consequently disrupting the entire play. If you take that into account, he should start all 3 tests. However, if you look at his penalty count, there are rather big questions as to whether he should even be on the tour altogether.

 

Elliot Daly (England) – Wing

The Wasps and England centre/wing was absolutely critical to England’s success in the 2017 Six Nations. His pace, versatility and finishing along with his tactical and goal kicking mean that he has huge potential to set alight this tour. If you are going to beat the All Blacks on there home soil you are going to have to have X-Factor and a potent finisher. Daly has all of them and is the perfect player if Warren Gatland wants to win ‘down under’.

 

Jonathan Davies (Wales) – Centre

On the last tour, the British and Irish Lions benefited from Davies’ form. His passing and kicking game were crucial and that explains why he started all 3 tests against Australia. Since 2013, the centre’s game has become much more expansive. However, his form has hit a surprising low with his kicking game suffering the most. Despite this drop in performance, the expansion of his game has earnt him a well deserved spot in the squad.

 

Taulupe Faletau (Wales) – Back Row

The bustling Bath number 8 has been on absolutely magnificent form recently for Bath and Wales. His monstrous ball carrying and powerful rucking terrifies oppositions. Back in 2013, he wasn’t as superior to the Lion’s success and only played one test but the stat of just one test will definitely increase on the 2017 tour to New Zealand.

 

 

 

Owen Farrell  (England) – Fly Half

Mr Ice Cool or more commonly known as Owen Farrell. He has power, game management and leadership (so much so he was in the running for captain) which puts him up there with the best of the best. Along with all of his attributes, he is the most prolific goalkicker in rugby at the moment. His strike rate is phenomenal and if the opposition concedes a penalty in their half, it is more than likely you will gain 3 points on the scoreboard. Farrell is one of the only names that penned in on the team sheet and he could be crucial to the Lions success.

 

Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) – Prop

The 24 year old burst onto the international stage rather late but burst in with huge power. From his first cap in 2015 there was a notable difference in the Irish scrum. During the Six Nations, one of the reasons for Ireland’s success was the big pack; led by Tadhg Furlong. If the Lions are to win, they are going to need scrum power and they certainly have that in Furlong.

 

Jamie George (England) – Hooker

Despite George not even starting for England, he goes onto this tour with a big chance of starting the test series. The man above him in the England pecking order, Dylan Hartley, has been left behind after missing out on the last tour as well. George will bring a more expansive game than any other hooker in Britain through his running and broken field play.

 

Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) – Fullback

In 2013, Leigh Halfpenny was named Man of the Series. His form in recent years has taken a drastic dip after he moved to Toulon in France. He also missed to 2015 World Cup due to injury and after a long layoff (nearly 1 ½ years) he has not been the same player. In my opinion, he is probably the luckiest to be touring but I hope his form steps up on tour.

 

James Haskell (England) – Back Row

The English flanker was a late call up into the squad after Billy Vunipola unfortunately dropped out. Haskell was an absolute sensation with England as they toured Australia during the summer of 2016; he was even named Player of the Tour. He, along with his Wasps team mate Joe Launchbury, were probably the most unfortunate omissions from Warren Gatland’s squad but now he has been given the opportunity to shine in red.

 

Ian Henderson (Ireland) – Second Row

Ireland have profited hugely from Ian Henderson’s burst of form. The 25 year-old second row’s form for his club side, Ulster, earnt him a call up to the Irish squad in 2012.  He also suffered an injury causing him to miss Ireland’s historic victory over New Zealand in Chicago but Warren Gatland knows he can perform despite having missed out on a big game.

 

 

 

Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) – Centre

Ireland’s 6’3” centre has been crucial to their success. His rumbustious running and power have led to a Pro 12 trophy with his former team Connacht and a big move to Leinster. He also did play a part in Ireland’s historic win and snatched a try against the All Blacks so all Lions fans will be hoping that he can repeat that during the test series.

 

Stuart Hogg (Scotland) – Fullback

The Scotland fullback is sensational! He has been named Six Nations Player of the Tournament two years in a row just to name a few awards and trophies this man has gained. Six Nations try of the year 2016 went to Hogg as well and he is always in the running for European Player of the year as well. On 2013 tour, he was poor however he has changed in stature and skill to make him one the most lethal threats.

 

Maro Itoje (England) – Second Row

When you look back to the start 2016 Six Nations, Maro Itoje had not played one game for England. However, Eddie Jones took the risk to play the 21 year old against Wales and it worked a treat. The Saracen showed his versatility during the 2017 Six Nations by playing at flanker to a high standard. His handling skills along with his power add up to make a tremendous player. At the age of 22, his name is already at least pencilled onto the team sheet!

 

Jonathan Joseph (England) – Centre

Jonathan Joseph has suffered alot a hardships in the past 2 years. At the start of Eddie Jones’ reign, he was starting at centre for England until a dip in form caused him to be completely dropped. He went back to his club Bath, put the work in and got back into the England set up. He returned to score a brace of tries against Fiji and Australia plus a hatrick against Scotland. His resurgent form has been a benefit for England and I expect it to be for the Lions as well.     

 

Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) – Second Row

After former captain Sam Warburton stepped down from the Welsh captaincy, Alun Wyn Jones took the armband. He captained the Lions against Australia in the third test due to Warburton’s injury so was hugely in the running for captaincy this time around. However, even though he was eventually not given the leadership his name was always penned into the squad. Expect to see him taking an important role in New Zealand.           

 

George Kruis (England) – Second Row

England’s superb lineout technician suffered an injury blow at just the wrong time. He missed the Six Nations in which England won however, his past performances have quite rightly earned him a place on tour. His lineout skills will certainly be critical to taking down the All Blacks. He will be scrapping for a test starting spot but I think he is most certainly worthy of it.

 

Greig Laidlaw (Scotland) – Scrum Half

The Scottish captain was a late call up after Ben Youngs tragically dropped out. He may not be in the test squad at the moment but an injury and he will snap up the opportunity with pride and comfort. He will slide into a test match with ease. He is a probably the prefered choice as ‘mid-week captain’ and if he does become the latter, that could propel him into the test team. If you ask me, he is the British and Irish Lions dark horse!

 

Courtney Lawes (England) – Second Row

The Northampton Saints ball carrying is monstrous. Combine that with his ferocious tackling and scrummaging to make Courtney Lawes. During the 2017 Six Nations, he was playing at second row while packing down at flanker. His versatility may be his downfall and land him a place on the bench but he will definitely make for a great ‘finisher’!

 

Joe Marler (England) – Prop

Much like many of his England counterparts, Joe Marler’s international career is a great story. It has been littered with suspensions but during the play time, he has been great. He missed England’s 2015 tour to Australia because he didn’t feel like he deserved it but since he returned, his form has been unstoppable. He has come back with fire in his belly and thoroughly deserves his place on tour. Destruction is the way of play!

                                                                                                          

Jack McGrath (Ireland) – Prop

In past years, Jack McGrath has not been able to get a sniff into the Ireland squad; he has alway been the understatement to the likes of Cian Healy. However, recently he has taken control of the Ireland number 1 jersey and made it his own. His rucking has come on in leaps and bounds; he causes chaos at almost every breakdown. He is battling against Mako Vunipola who has the edge in open play but scrummaging… McGrath may have the edge.

 

Ross Moriarty (Wales) – Back Row

Gloucester’s 23 year old big ball carrier’s inclusion may be a shock to some but his form for club and country most certainly prove his worth. Just watch his performances in the Six Nations (especially against England where his destructive tackling nearly edged Wales the win). He made his international debut in 2015 as a 21 year old and he has never looked back. After the World Cup his form hit its highest, just cemented his space on the plane.

 

Conor Murray (Ireland) – Scrum Half

On the 2013 tour, Ireland’s scrum half made two appearances during the test series; both off the bench though. However, this time that is definitely going to change! Conor Murray’s form has made him possibly the best scrum half in the world. His kicking and game management stand out above everything as he is simply world class in both areas. Ireland’s victory over New Zealand and England can be partially rested on his shoulders!

 

 

 

George North (Wales) – Wing

When the Lions travelled ‘down under’ in 2013, George North ran the show. He tore the Wallabies apart and was pivotal to their 2-1 series win. After the tour he moved from the Scarlets to Northampton with big expectations on his shoulders. For the first two seasons he did not meet the standards however, more recently he has stepped up and after a marvellous past two Six Nations, he has undeniably secured himself another Lions tour.

 

Jack Nowell (England) – Wing

The Exeter and England workhorse has excelled under Eddie Jones. Former England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, ruled him out of the equation during his reign with Nowell only accumulating a couple of caps. However, after the 2015 World Cup (the start of Jones’ rule) the powerful winger was hauled into the picture and began to shine. His work rate sets him apart to any other in Britain and this could give the edge to start the test series.

 

Sean O’Brien (Ireland) – Back Row

Ireland’s O’Brien is set to go on his second tour. His robust ball carrying meant that he played twice in the tests of Australia. His career has been stop and start with injuries but when he does play, he is fear to oppositions. Not only is he impossible to beat in defence but he has got the ability to cross the whitewash as well. In the pasts months his form has taken an unlikely dip but the bigger the stage, the bigger the performance with O’Brien!

 

Peter O’Mahony (Ireland) – Back Row

Ireland’s O’Mahony made his return against England in the 2017 Six Nations after 18 harsh months out with injury. On his return he showed his lineout expertise and was hugely important to Ireland’s historic win. He thwarted English hopes that time but he will be working together with his companions from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England to build dreams for all of the nations. He is key the Munster and Ireland’s success and may well be for the British and Irish Lions.

 

Ken Owens (Wales) – Hooker

Owens was the form hooker in the Six Nations. His secure lineout throwing and superb scrummaging meant he had a shoe in to the tour and when he performed to the max for his club, Scarlets, he sealed his Lions status. He got himself into a straight fight for a starting spot against Rory Best and Jamie George who all play a different style. Owens’ style of play suites ‘Warrenball’ however, whether Gatland wants to play like that against the All Blacks we will see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jared Payne (Ireland) – Centre

The inclusion of the Ulster utility back has come as a shock to many. Nonetheless if you take into account his versatility then it is somewhat deserved. There are perhaps better players possible to pick but his ability to cover centre, fullback and wing edged him ahead of the other possibles. That adaptability may mean that he finds himself as a finisher on the bench, but you will definitely see Payne at times.

 

Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) – Fly Half

Ireland’s Sexton is probably one of the most prominent players on this tour. In Australia he was crucial to the Lions victory in Australia and he continued that form into the 2015 World Cup and beyond. Leinster had profited from his form until the back end of the 2016/17 season. His form for club was poor and when they dropped out of the Pro12 semi final it was, unfortunately, firmly rested on his shoulders.

 

Tommy Seymour (Scotland) – Wing

The American born wing has had a superb past few years. His form for Glasgow Warriors earnt him a call up to the Scottish national team and since then it has been a superior story. He scored two intercept tries in the 2014 Autumn Internationals against Argentina and New Zealand. During the past year, he has lacked consistency which has snuffled chances of becoming the best play he can possibly be.

 

Kyle Sinckler (England) – Prop

A product of Harlequins academy, he is yet to start a test for England but has been thrown into the deep end. Lions test! He has benefitted highly from the likes of Adam Jones and Graham Rowntree at Harlequins. His aggression early on in his career handed him many lengthy bans but when handed the opportunity he will definitely take it. An avid rugby fan himself, he is not going to squander any opportunities on this tour and he could find himself at least on the bench of the test team.

 

CJ Stander (Ireland) – Back Row

South African born Stander made his international brace in 2016 against Wales and he has never looked back! He made an instant impact at Munster after he moved from the Bulls in South Africa. His career never took off in South Africa so a move was needed and after qualifying for Ireland die to residency rules he was quickly looked at as one to watch. He is dynamic and strong so he thoroughly deserves his British and Irish Lions call up.

 

Ben Te’o (England) – Centre

New Zealand born and bred, his knowledge of the country will be of massive importance to the Lions. His form for Worcester has been a bit shaky however, his ball carrying and metres made stats for England prove his worth. He moved to England from Leinster where his impact in the Pro12 was crucial to prolonged Leinster success. As I said, for Worcester his form has been questionable but I have no doubt that he will great for the Lions.

 

Justin Tipuric (Wales) – Back Row                              

Wales and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric has missed out on a lot of possible Welsh caps due to him being behind in the pecking order to Sam Warburton. But throughout the course 2017 Six Nations he built a partnership with Warburton with them both playing on opposite flanks. Tipuric also accumulated a ludicrous stat in which he made 170 consecutive tackles so you can bag on him being a rock in defence.

 

Mako Vunipola (England) – Prop

Mako Vunipola’s 2013 was rather rocky. He would start a game one week and then be dropped the next! That could have been a shake to his career but he took it in his stride and now he returns to the red jersey a much better player. He has improved in all areas of his game; open play, defence, scrummaging and even his agility! The only flore in Vunipola’s game is his scrummaging that the his counterparts may outclass him at but I do not think that it is bad enough to drop him from the test team. His brother, Billy, dropped out so he is representing the Vunipola family solitarily.

 

Anthony Watson (England) – Wing

Anthony Watson has become one of the only players who name is penned onto the team sheet. His form began to stutter on England’s tour to Australia and there were some questions about whether he deserved his starting spot. He needed to get his act back together and he did so and added to his already rather high try scoring record (he now has 13 for England). If there is half a chance to make a break (just a small gap in the All Blacks defence) then Watson will snatch the opportunity.

 

Rhys Webb (Wales) – Scrum Half

Ever since the departure of Mike Phillips, Wales have been in desperate need of a new scrum half. They had to wait a while until Rhys Webb was fully fit after he had missed the 2015 World Cup with a horrible injury. Nonetheless, he made the comeback and was straight back to fine form. He produced a Man of the Match performance for the Ospreys on his return game plus made his way back into the Welsh squad with ease. His speed around the fringes gives him a big opportunity in the test team!

 

Liam Williams (Wales) – Full Back / Wing

The Scarlets speedster has most certainly earnt himself a place on this tour. His pace and spacial awareness allowed him to amass 793 metres in the 2016/17 season. He grabbed multiple scores in the European Champions Cup and was crucial to the Scarlets Pro12 league win. He was determined to make this season the best as he is off to Saracens next year, and what a way to end his time at Scarlets. It looks as if he may start in the test series and if he does, it is certainly deserved.

 

 

 

 

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