Lions selection blog by Gareth Hughes @garethhughes57

Lions selection blog by Gareth Hughes @garethhughes57

Lions
2017 – ‘An Irishman, Welshman, Scotsman and an Englishman turn up at Heathrow.

Selecting
a Lions touring party, and the test team, has been the subject of much
discussion and debate for the last two years. At last we have arrived at the
moment when the composition of the group is about to be announced and already
the next stages of debate and arguments have begun. This is partly down to the
hard-earned, regained lustre of the ‘Lions’ brand’ following the disappointing
tours of 2001 and 2005 and because, despite the appeal of the Rugby World Cup,
to many fans in the home countries, the British Lions remains the ultimate
accolade for an international player. Gatland and his coaching team have to
bring together the best players of the home nations and blend them into an
international rugby team capable of beating the best team in the world in their
own home and to manage this in a ridiculously short period of time. The size of
the task should not be underestimated as many good international sides that
have been together for several years are unable to succeed at such a demanding
task.

The
itinerary, described as ‘suicidal’ by Graham Henry, will take all of Gatland’s
coaching abilities to get the Lions even close. They will have to perform
alchemy of the highest order to create the right mix to mould a united and
capable team. Gatland has a vast reservoir of experience to call upon and he
will have utilised this to select the party that he feels will be good enough
to beat the AB’s. Tomorrow, at last, the endless parochial media speculation
can end. When national bias has to be put to one side and when the players who
have earned their places can be seen as British Lions, not as English, Irish,
Scots or Welsh players, and move seamlessly into a composite capable squad
without losing the qualities that set them apart.

There
will elation for a finite number of elite players and bitter disappointment for
those who had high expectations but are not chosen and, of course, the media
will be vociferous in its criticism or support depending on their own perceived
interests. Gatland will not be overly concerned; he has been through it all
before and has confidence in his own abilities and record and believes that the
team he has chosen will do well. The majority of the players, coaching staff
and supporters will trust his judgement. He was part of the rehabilitation in
2009 and he led the Lions to victory in Australia in 2013. He knows more
intimately than most what it will take to win in NZ. He comprehends what a
Lions tour means to the hosts and how desperately they will want to win and he
will use that to forge an identity and an ethos for the 2017 Lions.

The
selection will not have been arrived at easily; a great deal of rugby will have
been watched, studied and analysed before conclusions have been reached. The
litmus test will have been the consideration of England’s matches against Wales
and Ireland, and Ireland’s performance in Cardiff. These games stood out in the
6 Nations and made and destroyed reputations. It is no easy task to select a
Lions squad and everyone will have an opinion.

2017 British and
Irish Lions

15, 14 &11: Hogg, Halfpenny, North, Williams,
Daly, Nowell

Centres: Davies, Ringrose, Henshaw,
Williams

Outside Half:  Farrell, Sexton, Biggar

 Scrum
half: Webb, Murray, Youngs

Props: McGrath, Evans, Marler, Furlong,
Cole, Francis

Hooker: Owens, Best, George

Locks: AWJ, Charteris, Kruis, Itoje,
Jonny Gray, Henderson

Flanker: Warburton (Captain), Tirpuric,
O’Brien, O’Mahony, Stander, Moriarty

No.8: Faletau, Billy Vunipola

39
man squad

The
choice of a 39 man squad is to ensure the depth needed to cope with the
inevitable injuries.

There
will be an outcry concerning the omission of several English players but in
trying to second guess Gatland he will have worked out what he needs and he
knows he must have players that move forward not back, ones that influence or
change games and don’t wait for something to happen. Being a Lion is
exceptional, a class apart, with the ability to perform at their best away from
the comforts of home, and that is the difference between getting the call or
not.