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2013 Lions – Final Squad Prediction

The waiting is nearly over, by 11.15 tomorrow we will know the identity of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad, ending months, years maybe, of speculation.

Of course the debate will not stop with the announcement of the squad though for the are sure to be the inevitable arguments about the relative merits of those selected, before the conversation then begins to move into who should be in the Test XV.

The Amlin and Heineken Cup Semi Finals this weekend were the final chance for the players to show Gatland and his team what they could do, with Jonny Wilkinson grabbing the most headlines after his dominant performance for Toulon.

In all likelihood though Wilkinson will not go, primarily due to his commitments in the Top 14, the same goes for the Clermont Auvergne contingent and Wilkinson’s Toulon teammates, though Gethin Jenkins does appear to be one man who will be granted leeway.

The players who really caught the eye selection wise though were in Leinster colours. Leinster thumped Biarritz in the Amlin Semi Final and the likes of Healy, Heaslip, O’Driscoll and Kearney were all in fine form, confirming their seats on the plane in the eyes of many.

For the final time then before we know the identity of the true 2013 British and Irish Lions squad, we have asked Angus Savage to try to predict the squad that Warren Gatland will announce tomorrow.

He has selected a 37-man squad with six props and two fly halves as Warren Gatland has indicated he will:

Fifteen Rugby’s Predicted 2013 British & Irish Lions Squad (Selected players in bold)

Loosehead Prop:

Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins are both certainties to go, the third choice is probably a straight choice between England’s Mako Vunipola and Scotland’s Ryan Grant, who I believe will just get the nod for his all round game.

Hooker:

Rory Best, Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs are all virtual certainties, Dylan Hartley, Ken Owens and Ross Ford may be in the mix but seen unlikely to break the grip of these three.

Tighthead Prop:

Adam Jones and Dan Cole are certainties and have been for a long time, they are likely to be joined by one of Mike Ross, Euan Murray or Paul James (who can cover both sides), I suspect Euan Murray will get the nod based on his experience and his reputation as a good tourist.

Second Row:

Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones are certainties, which is quite incredible when you consider their relative game time. Geoff Parling seems to be another with considerable backing, while his England partner Joe Launchbury looks as though he will miss out, as will Scotland’s Nathan Hines due to his commitments to Clermont (though as we saw in ’09 he is prepared to make club sacrifices). Ian Evans is popular with the management, leaving the final slot a choice between Donnacha Ryan and Richie Gray, who will probably get the nod provided he is fit.

Flankers:

Simply too tricky to separate them open and blind, particularly as it seems likely that players will be moved between the two. Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien are the only two certainties here it seems, with Warburton all but confirmed as captain. Justin Tipuric will likely go as the only ‘classic’ number 7, while Dan Lydiate, among the best in the world when fit, is also hotly tipped. That probably only leaves room for one more flanker, meaning that only one of Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and Tom Croft will be likely to be selected. Tom Croft is probably the most likely, and his selection could even pave the way for an extra flanker as he can cover second row, which could tempt Gatland only to take four locks.

Number 8’s:

Probably the easiest selection of all, Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip will go. There was some debate around Heaslip but his performances of late have shut down those arguments.

Scrum Halves:

Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs are both going to tour, the third scrum half will be one of Danny Care, Greig Laidlaw and Connor Murray. With Gatland saying he will only take two fly halves, Greig Laidlaw’s ability to cover at ten must give him the nod.

Fly Halves:

Jonny Sexton tours and in all likelihood Owen Farrell will be named alongside him, despite being outplayed by Jonny Wilkinson. Noises from the Lions camp just seem to suggest that Wilkinson’s chances are very very slim. There have been rumours that Rhys Priestland will tour, he is just coming back from injury but Gatland and Rob Howley are big admirers. This will be a very interesting area of selection.

Centres:

Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Manu Tuilagi are all just about nailed on as tourists. A fifth player may tour in the centres as a utility player, with James Hook the favourite of most people. However Gatland is not a big Hook fan and it is actually Billy Twelvetrees who seems to be getting the right rumours circulating about himself. Brad Barritt is also an option, while Scotland’s Matt Scott is a potential left field option.

Back Three:

Another area that is very tough to predict, I will cover the certainties first; Leigh Halfpenny, Rob Kearney and George North will all go, with Leigh Halfpenny potentially covering the wing as well as full back. Tommy Bowe seems very likely to tour, while Alex Cuthbert is also in the hot seat. That leaves probably one more slot for a winger/full back, with the Scottish tri of Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Maitland battling with the Irish pair of Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy. Christian Wade and Chris Ashton are also options, but are unlikely to jump up the list. With Tommy Bowe just recovering from injury, it seems unlikely that the Lions coaches will take the risk with Zebo of having two wingers at less that 100% fitness. My guess is that it will come to a choice between Hogg and Maitland, with the real question being how willing they are to play Halfpenny on the wing. I’ll go with Stuart Hogg.

All of that leaves us with fifteen Welshmen, nine Irishmen, eight Englishmen and five Scots, probably a fair reflection of the talent available to each national squad at this moment in time.

Having said that though, this is still just pure guesswork, guesswork based on noises emanating from Lions circle maybe but guesswork all the same. I would be confident on 29/30 of those selections but there are definitely seven or eight there that are very much 50/50 options.

The two biggest calls at present seem to be the likely omission of Chris Robshaw and inclusion of Owen Farrell, though in my view there is no problem whatsoever with Owen Farrell travelling, despite others maybe playing better.

The possible omission of Robshaw will be a big story though, though of course it is nothing more that rumour at this stage, it is easy to see the dilemma for the coaches though; there are so many top class options in the back row, how does he squeeze them in? With the five that seem most likely to be selected each offers unique qualities to the Lions cause.

If it were my squad though I think I would take Robshaw, his leadership, teamwork and work ethic would be invaluable, however this is just my guess as to what squad Gatland will select, not the squad I would choose.

Angus Savage will be at the Lions Squad Announcement tomorrow morning from 11am and will be tweeting updates & information from around 10am onwards, signal permitting!

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