With little over a week to go to the Lions’ first Test against the Aussies, Living Rugby looks at Warren Gatland’s options in five positions that seem the hardest to pick.
Tight head prop : Dan Cole (England) v Adam Jones (Wales)
Jones moved into first place after Wales’ hammering of England in Cardiff at the end of the Six Nations but this is not as clear cut as it may seem.
Jones is a destructive scrummager but Cole has dramatically improved his game around the park in the last 12 months to depose Martin Castrogiovanni as first choice at his club Leicester. Cole is agile, fit as a fiddle and acts like another openside flanker at the breakdown.
If Gatland wants a destructive scrummager, Jones is his man. If he wants more of an all-rounder, Cole might just nick it.
Hooker: Richard Hibbard (Wales) v Tom Youngs (England)
Gatland is a huge fan of Hibbard and the Ospreys hooker has shown plenty of reasons for club and country why he should be given the jersey. He is tough, abrasive and reliable in the line-out and has plenty of experience of some big games.
Youngs lacks that experience over a number of years but he has already started a Grand Slam decider and an Aviva Premiership Grand final after converting from a centre. He has also earned a ton of nominations both on a local and national level and his explosive ability in the loose will give the
Lions another option in the ball-carrying backfield.
A really close call.
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Openside flanker: Justin Tipuric (Wales) v Sam Warburton (Wales)
This was always going to happen. One of the stand-out players in the northern hemisphere last season in Justin Tipuric, being picked in a squad containing fellow Welsh team mate and squad skipper Sam Warburton. The latter is the public face of the tourists and has to play in all three Tests. But he might be playing out of position to accommodate the simply wonderful Tipuric who has continued his form of club and country in a red Lions shirt.
It seems almost unimaginable for someone with Tipuric’s form and abilities to miss a Test start on this tour. But it could happen in a Lions’ back row with never-ending possible make-ups.
Scrum-half: Mike Phillips (Wales) v Ben Youngs (England)
Phillips has the experience at this level and Gatland is a huge ban of the man who now plays his club rugby in France. He started the tour in spectacular fashion against the Barbarians too. But Youngs has come of age this season and played some stunning rugby for the new English champions, Leicester.
He made a real mark in the hard-fought win over the Queensland Reds and has pace, aggression and the ability to keep the opposition guessing at all times. This one is 50/50.
Inside centre: Manu Tuilagi (England) v Jonathan Davies (Wales) v Jamie Roberts (Wales)
We are taking it as a given that Brian O’Driscoll is starting at outside centre right? He can’t play anywhere and he simply has to play. So, that leaves three very real possibilities to play on his inside.
Roberts has respect, age and experience on his side and has played in numerous big games with Gatland as his head coach.
Tuilagi has had a superb season for Leicester and England. He scores tries for fun and punches holes where there are seemingly no holes to be punched.
And Jonathan Davies has taken his chance on this tour with open arms when it has been offered. He is really physical and seems in excellent form.
One thing for certain is that one of the above is going to be both very unlucky and very disappointed come June 22.
All photos courtesy of @GrahamWilson