Every month leading up to the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, we have been selecting our squad for the tour.
As the months have ticked by it has slowly evolved, with the starting XV now heavily influenced by the Autumn Internationals, with Ireland and England dominating the side.
One area that New Zealand have consistently dominated in the last few years is the last 20 minutes of games, with their bench having an incredible impact, if anything adding to what they began with their starting XV.
The Lions have an opportunity to do something similar, particularly given the players at their potential disposal this summer, and it is that idea of an explosive and match winning bench that has influenced this month’s thinking.
We have gone for an all-Irish front row of Jack McGrath, Rory Best, and Tadgh Furling to kick off, but with the footballing ability of Jamie George and Mako Vunipola to bring on, along with the set piece stability and ball winning ability of Dan Cole.
The rest of the pack sees three second rows, with Jonny Gray and Alun Wyn Jones in the second row and Maro Itoje and blindside. Billy Vunipola is at 8 with Sam Warburton at 7, though the openside position does look wide open ahead of the 6 Nations. Having three second rows starting gives the option of two back rows on the bench, and two potential game changers in Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau.
The stability and understanding of Ireland’s Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton are the half back pairing, with the exciting Rhys Webb waiting in the wings along with Owen Farrell, who also helps cover centre, who better to be on in those late minutes for a potential Test winning kick?
Robbie Henshaw seems a guarantee in the centres at the moment, we have paired him with Jonathan Joseph, but that second centre spot looks like it is one of the positions that really is up for grabs, the likes of Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Garry Ringrose, Jarod Payne, Alex Dunbar, and Huw Jones, could all argue their case.
On the wings Anthony Watson and Liam Williams are the current selections, though there is a lot of room for change there in the coming months, George North will be a game-changer from the bench. The exciting Stuart Hogg continues to make our starting XV at full back.
What do you think of our Lions XV and wider squad? Let us know what you think!
Lions XV – January 2017
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow & Scotland)
14 Liam Williams (Scarlets & Wales)
13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath & England)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Leinster & Ireland)
11 Anthony Watson (Bath & England)
10 Jonny Sexton (Leinster & Ireland)
9 Connor Murray (Munster & Ireland)
1 Jack McGrath (Leinster & Ireland)
2 Rory Best (Ulster & Ireland)
3 Tadgh Furlong (Leinster & Ireland)
4 Jonny Gray (Glasgow & Scotland)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys & Wales)
6 Maro Itoje (Saracens & England)
7 Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens & England)
Replacements: 16 Jamie George (Saracens & England), 17 Mako Vunipola (Saracens & England), 18 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers & England), 19 Sean O’Brien (Leinster & Ireland), 20 Taulupe Faletau (Bath & Wales), 21 Rhys Webb (Ospreys & Wales), 22 Owen Farrell (Saracens & England), 23 George North (Northampton Saints & Wales).
Wider Squad (Total 37):
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints & England), Cian Healy (Leinster & Ireland), W.P. Nel (Edinburgh & Scotland), Joe Launchbury (Wasps & England), Iain Henderson (Ulster & Ireland), C.J. Stander (Munster & Ireland), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester & Wales), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys & Wales).
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers & England), George Ford (Bath & England), Scott Williams (Scarlets & Wales), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets & Wales), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow & Scotland), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs & England).