Profiling the Lions starting XV
The team has finally been announced. Fifteen British and Irish rugby players lined up to take on the All Blacks. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. Check out our verdict on the starting XV.
Mako Vunipola’s name must have been inked in a while back due to his incredible ball carrying skills and distribution – a necessity against the All Blacks. Gatland knows the England prop will put in a shift every game and give the Lions a slight edge when he’s got ball in hand.
Astonishingly Jamie George has just one England start to his name, but that hasn’t stopped him taking the Lions by storm, ousting experienced hookers Rory Best and Ken Owens who have over 150 international caps between them. His link up play with fellow Saracens players Kruis, Vunipola and Farrell should see him shine against the All Blacks.
There aren’t many better scrummagers in world rugby than Tadhg Furlong at the moment. The Irish stalwart has been immense in the scrum thus far, causing all sorts of problems for New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams and looks set to do so in the tests too.
Gatland’s gone with his reliable Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones. The Osprey’s and Wales captain is on his third tour and must be down as one of the best second rows in the northern hemisphere over the past decade. His wealth of experience and ice-cold demeanour are just what the Lions need in the big games.
Despite not playing a minute of Six Nations rugby this year, Saracens’ George Kruis has forced his way into the squad. His line-outs against the Crusaders were exceptional, and considering he was up against one of the best in the world in Sam Whitelock, that makes it even better. If the Lions are to win they’ll do it in the line-out and scrum, where Kruis will flourish.
Munster’s Peter O’Mahony will captain the Lions after showing some real leadership throughout the tour already. A key figure in Ireland’s history ending win over England in the Six Nations, O’Mahony has gone from strength to strength this year. Just like Kruis, his dominance in the line-outs will be key to victory.
What a blow it was losing Billy Vunipola before the tour started, but hasn’t Faletau stepped up his game. The Bath number 8 played just fourteen times for his side this season after injury back in September and then again in January. He’s come back strong though, putting in some commanding performances on tour so far. With his scrum, line outs and ball handling in his arsenal, he’s huge asset to the side.
To push the tour captain out of the side takes some doing, but that’s just what Sean O’Brien has done. Starting ahead of Sam Warburton is a gamble for Gatland, bit one that should pay off. The Lions need great breakdown operators and there’s not many better than O’Brien.
None will argue with the inclusion of Conor Murray as starting scrum-half. Webb and Laidlaw have been great but Murray is a class above. His pinpoint box kicks won’t be matched anywhere in the world. Add his great passing to his solid defence and the Lions have one hell of a player at their disposal.
Farrell has recovered from a slight injury just in time to make the squad, and what a relief that is for Lions fans. There will be arguments made about Sexton’s exclusion but he just hasn’t impressed like Farrell has. THE best goal-kicker in world rugby boasts and unbelievable defence for a 10, and will bring stability to the squad in tough times.
Rugby league convert Ben Te’o is a force to be reckoned with. His direct wrecking-ball running will punch gaps in the All Blacks defence. Nobody in the squad has as little international caps with just eight to his name. If you’re not looking forward to a Ben Te’o v Sonny Bill Williams showdown in the centres, then do you even like rugby?
Another reliable Welshman, Jonathan Davies gets the nod ahead of Joseph and Payne. He was instrumental in the Lions 2013 series victory over Australia and has impressed this time round. The Lions have prided themselves in their defensive displays so far, and none do it better than Davies.
What a surprise it was to see Elliot Daly’s name on the team sheet. The Wasps centre has played on the wing for England and can cover at various positions in the back line, add that to his cannon of a left boot, and the Lions have another fantastic player at their disposal.
Another surprise inclusion, Liam Williams brings pace and composure at full-back. He had a fantastic game against the Chiefs, making a superb run for Jared Payne’s try, which will have inked his name down.
There was no doubt about Anthony Watson’s name being on the team sheet. Arguably the fastest player in the team, Watson brings pace and energy to the side. He’s deputised at full-back on the tour already and go the Lions up and running with the first tour try. A sharp, slick operator, Watson can shine with ball in hand.