In 2017, the British and Irish Lions head to the land of rugby and Hobbits, New Zealand, in the ultimate test of rugby excellence. Of course, there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and then, with the home nations all undertaking tough summer tours, England to Australia, Wales to New Zealand,Ireland to South Africa and Scotland to much improved Japan and then there is the next 6 nations championship which will all have bearings on selection to wear the famous red jersey.
With this seasons 6 nations in the bag, I'm going to select what I believe to be the current frront runners for the squad, I will not pick injured players or future prospects such as Nathan Hughes (who'll qualify for England in the near future through residency and is an absolute monster!) or Ultan Dillane (who's yet to make a full breakthrough, but is a real prospect!) as it's not definite that these players will develop or recover enough to seal squad places. I'm also going to assume it will be a 35 man squad!
Stuart Hogg - Scotland - Must be the frontrunner for the 15 jersey. Been consistently good for about 18 months and excelled in the Six Nations.
Mike Brown - England - Superb under the high ball and is an excellent strike runner. Pushed close by Wales' Liam Williams, but the looming of Leigh Halfpenny may mean Williams ends up on the wing (or the bench) for Wales
George North - Wales - An experienced Lion, and one of the Northern Hemisphere's most feared wings. An almost certain starter.
Anthony Watson - England - Has developed into England's most potent threat over the last 12 months. More progression will see him in a starting role, almost definite to go on the tour.
Tommy Seymour - Scotland - Possibly underrated by many, but a solid defender, superb under the high balls and certainly knows where the tryline is.
Andrew Trimble - Ireland - Had a really good 6 Nations, there is some great competition for the wing spots, but Trimble for me just edges Nowell out as I think he's a better defender. Of course there is still plenty of other talent, Bowe, Visser, Zebo, etc, so out of the 4 wings named, this is likely the one that will change!
Jamie Roberts - Wales - The premier 12 from the home nations. Big, strong, great hands and excellent defence. Definite to tour, probable starter.
Jonathan Davies - Wales - Class act in the 13 shirt and the perfect compliment to Roberts' skill set. Can't really pick one without the other
Jonathan Joseph - England - Twinkling feet and that X-Factor that can light up even his most pedestrian performance. Almost impossible to cover when he get's his motor running.
Robbie Henshaw - Ireland - A cross between Roberts and Davies, can cover 12 and 13 and on form. Could easily link with any of the other 3 and not let the side down!
Dan Biggar - Wales - Six nations wasn't necessarily his best form, but will be a sure fire tourist.
Johnny Sexton - Ireland - Another 10 that didn't necessarily shine in the 6 nations, but will be a definite on tour.
Owen Farrell - England - Shone in the 6 nations, but in the 12 jersey. With a limited number of players to tour, that flexibility should see him on the plane.
Connor Murray - Ireland - Combative, sniping 9 with a decent pass. Will be on the plane.
Rhys Webb - Wales - Just back from injury, will be certainly on tour if he's fit, quick feet and great reader of space, up against Aaron Smith, that rugby brain may get him the nod as a starter!
Greig Laidlaw - Scotland - A general in the 9 jersey, dictates play and a high percentage goalkicker should he be needed. Sometimes a bit slow with his passing, but his positives outweigh the negatives
Jack Mcgrath - Ireland - one of the form props at the moment. keeping former Lion, Cian Healy out of the Ireland squad, which speaks volumes about how good he is!
Rob Evans - Wales - Another prop on good form, strong scrummaging and decent in the loose, which will be vital against the Kiwi's!
WP Nel - Scotland - Exceptional 6 Nations, and, like Evans, will stand up to the Kiwi's in the scrums and loose, loves a sneaky turnover as well!
Samson Lee - Wales - Another prop who had a great tournament, immense scrummaging ability and only getting better.
Dylan Hartley - England - A reformed character, almost perfect lineout, great defence and led England's grand slam bid superbly!
Rory Best - Ireland - Another leader, exceptional in the loose and a high percentage lineout thrower. The ultimate wrecking ball hooker!
Ross Ford - Scotland - The only weak side of his game is an errant lineout, but would be a good shout for the midweek Lions or the bench.
Alun Wyn Jones - Wales - The consumate professional 2nd row, and a possible captain as he's another born leader
Maro Itoje - England - only a handful of caps, but the supreme athlete, a beast at turnovers and ability to cover the back row as well. Would be a young Lion, but a worthy one!
George Kruis - England - Itoje's Saracens clubmate and the standout lock of the 6 Nations, absolute lineout master!
Richie Gray - Scotland - The blonde bomber is so athletic and fast, I'd just have him edging his brother out as the 4th lock, although players like his brother, or the returning Iain Henderson may put their hand up for selection over the next 12 months
Sam Warburton - Wales - of course, Wales' own Captain Fantastic is a sure fire inclusion, dynamic and sure handed, rarely has a bad game.
John Hardie - Scotland - Phenomenal in the Six Nations, may be an outside shout, but wouldn't be out of place! Fantastic at the breakdown!
CJ Stander - Ireland - Brilliant start to his Ireland career, must be a frontrunner to tour at the moment!
Chris Robshaw - England - Many thought his international credentials were through after the world cup, but a move to 6 has reinvigorated Robshaw and is now in arguably his best form to date.
James Haskell - England - I'm not his biggest fan, and I'm not convinced he's a 7, HOWEVER, he was defensively excellent in the Six Nations and if he cut's out the silly penalties, and keeps up the strong work rate, I think he'll end up a Lion!
Billy Vunipola - England - The wrecking ball of England's back row. Extremely good form at present, so is currently a shoe in
Jamie Heaslip - Ireland - Seemed to discover his best form towards the tournament end, giving him a big early chance at going on tour.
Taulupe Faletau - Wales - Maybe not on his best form, but a certainty to tour due to knowing what a destructive force he can be!
I'll revisit this blog after the Summer tours and re-select my 35! (actually, I'll probably totally forget, but I will try my best!!!