The Rugby Site team picks their Lions XV Posted almost 11 years ago

The Rugby Site team picks their Lions XV on the evidence of the Six Nations. Three of the positions were unanimous, and everyone also voted for Leigh Halfpenny and Tom Wood, but not in the same position. Some players received a majority vote and others were split or sufficiently unconvincing to make us look elsewhere. It would not be a stretch to say that Tommy Bowe, Ben Foden, Alex Corbisiero and Paul O’Connell could all be serious contenders for a start if they can prove their fitness and form in time. Ben Morgan and Jonny Sexton also have strong claims despite limited playing time. But justifying the captain and persuading him to take the job may just be the hardest call of all.

Lions XV

15 Rob Kearney (majority)

The stand-out fullback four years ago is good off either foot, superb under the high ball and strong in the tackle. In bone dry conditions Stuart Hogg would have to come into consideration, but Lions supporters will sleep more comfortably with Kearney at the back.

14 Tommy Bowe (split)

We just could not agree on the other winger. North, Gilroy, Brown, Cuthbert, Foden and Maitland all came into consideration, so we have pulled out the prayer mat in the hope that Bowe can be fit in time. The management may be reluctant after the previous Lions tour to Australia, but in a position with so much numerical cover, Bowe’s class must be worth the risk.

13 Brian O’Driscoll (unanimous)

Despite his disciplinary meltdown against Italy, O’Driscoll remains by far the most accomplished outside centre in Britain and Ireland. He has a tendency these days to become physically too aggressive (see previous Lions tour). But if the management can keep him calm, then O’Driscoll remains a game breaker.

12 Jamie Roberts (unanimous)

The Welshman has had a lot on his mind with his recent medical exams, but he came good in the final game of the Six Nations and his combination with O’Driscoll four years ago was one of the features of the tour.

11 Leigh Halfpenny (majority)

Everyone voted for Halfpenny, but the Lions strength at fullback and Halfpenny’s ability to play wing, convinced most of us to play him wide. The most consistent player of the Six Nations, the Welshman is also a fair chance to start as goalkicker.

10 Owen Farrell (majority)

The England 10 was one of the better performers against Wales despite playing with a lot of back-foot ball. He is a very clever kicker of the backfield, defends strongly, kicks goals (usually) and will relish having the experience of Roberts and O’Driscoll outside.

9 Conor Murray (majority)

Ireland’s most consistent player of the Championship and we were not prepared to pick Mike Phillips off one big game at home. Murray is a terrific kicker, a top class defender and the better passer. Phillips is the bigger running threat, but Ireland have not played a game that has given Murray much opportunity.

1 Alex Corbisiero (split)

Of course Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy were seriously considered, but the difference that Corbisiero makes to England’s scrummage is so seismic that he is hard to ignore. But will the Lions management risk a prop coming back from injury. A big call.

2 Richard Hibbard (majority)

There is a world shortage (aside from South Africa maybe) of outstanding hookers at the moment. But Hibbard’s place in a strong Wales front row and the fading form of Rory Best during the Championship secures the Welshman a spot.

3 Adams Jones (unanimous)

The hair bear dismantled the England front row in the final match, cheered on all the way by ref Steve Walsh. He remains the Lions leading tighthead by some distance and is one of the best in the world, right up there with Nicolas Mas and Martin Castrogiovanni.

4 Alun Wyn Jones (majority)

The Boks bullied him four years ago, but they were the best second row combination on the planet and one of the best of all time. Wyn Jones needs to take his Six Nations form overseas and Australia may finally prove the place.

5 Paul O’Connell (split)

Mike McCarthy, Joe Launchbury, Ian Evans, Donnacha Ryan, Richie Gray and Geoff Parling were all discussed, but O’Connell’s return from injury should see him fit in time for the Lions tour. Another huge call, but Gatland should have enough evidence by then.

6 Tom Wood (majority)

Wales exposed his limitations as a primary ball carrier, but the Englishman was the most effective tackler in the Championship. He is also a source of lineout ball and has excellent hands with which to put other runners into space.

7 Sam Warburton (captain)

This is Gatland’s biggest call, but a Lions captain must be articulate both off the pitch as well as on it. Warburton proved his leadership qualities at the last World Cup and is coming back to form, although this is the most competitive position on the team with five outstanding candidates.

8. Ben Morgan

Jamie Heaslip’s struggle to find form has left the position wide open. Toby Faletau was strongly considered, but admits he only came good at the end of the championship and even then was not quite at the best. John Beattie has made too many mistakes. So in search of a strong carrying kick returner we have edged for Morgan

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