With the Northern Hemisphere rugby season drawing to a close - and, in the aftermath of a thrillingly competitive RBS Six Nations Championship, we at rugbsytuff.com were wondering what the ultimate British and Irish Lions squad would look like, were they to be on the prowl this summer… With various British and Irish players hitting the peaks of their careers, enjoying glorious patches of good form or playing poorly and encountering injuries: How would the team differ one year on?
Obviously, there was a large Welsh contingent present in the squad that toured Australia in 2013. However, given Wales’ unreliable form in the 2014 Six Nations, we believe that this would change drastically. A lot of the places which we have selected in this hypothetical dream team have been chosen because of the players’ performances in the Six Nations Championship 2014, due to the fact that this competition is a strong indicator when it comes to determining how world-class players are performing at an international level: A key factor when selecting viable options for a strong Lions squad; On this note, however, club performances have still been taken in to account.
What can we say? This England full-back was in outstanding form, scoring four tries at this year’s Six Nations and winning player of the tournament. Brown gained 543metres (the most in the tournament) and beat 25 defenders in five games. He has also scored 9 tries in 22 games for his club side Harlequins and remains one of the strongest full-backs in the league. No contest.
Up until the 2014 Six Nations, Andrew Trimble had played just one test match for Ireland in 18 months and had only managed to run over the try line 3 times in his previous 21 Six Nations games before 2014. This made his three tries in 2014’s individual tournament even more impressive. He was extremely aggressive in attack and his defence was outstanding. He is extremely consistent for his club side, Ulster and has scored six tries in the 2013/14 season, with a whopping 12 in the previous season.
We know that there may be some complaints about this one. Whilst Brian O’Driscoll was excellent in his last season as a professional rugby player, he put in solid performances rather than outstanding ones. Also, given that we are talking about a tour in 2014, would BOD have put himself through another year of grueling physical training, only to get battered around in another Lions tour? This debate could go on and on, however, what is not debatable is the fact that Luther Burrell, in his debut Six Nations, was excellent for England, breathing new life into the back line and scoring three tries to boot: We sense that there is a lot more to come from this young man.
Despite Wales’ lack of gusto in 2014, North was one of the only consistent players in the team and managed to look dangerous every time he got the ball. In the 2014 tournament he made 7 clean breaks, scored 3 tries and beat 16 defenders. This winger was a ray of hope in an otherwise under-performing Welsh team.
Sexton was superb in the Six Nations this year. From his goal kicking, kicking from hand and running-game to his link-up play. He commanded the Irish back line extraordinarily and, with 4 tries and 66 points in the competition, was the leading points and joint top try-scorer, deservedly.
It's got to be the England number nine. Care was exceptional in the Six Nations. He played with real confidence and after being out of favour he really came back into the side with a bang. His speed at getting the ball away from the breakdown was integral to England's high-tempo game and he was a constant threat around the fringes with his speed off the mark. All in all a huge influence with two tries and two drop goals during the tournament as well.
Successful teams are built from the front and Cian Healy certainly lends credit to this adage. Healy was very good in the scrum at this year’s Six Nations and his mobility around the field and ball carrying were a major weapon in the Irish armoury. His physicality in the loose and in defence is a key component of the Irish game and, combined with a series of strong scrummaging displays, that’s enough to convince us that he’s worthy of his spot.
This England hooker's line-out throwing was immaculate during the 2014 Six Nations, losing only 2 out of 55 line-out throws. On top of his performance in this field, he was always at the heart of the action for England either tackling or carrying aggressively. Hartley is a good presence to have in the pack for England and for a possible Lions squad.
Ross had a fine Six Nations at the heart of the Ireland scrum, which had the best success rate in the tournament, winning 89% of their put-ins. Immovable throughout the competition, the 34-year-old may not have the explosive carrying game of many modern props, but he takes some shifting and is worth his weight in gold to the Irish. After making his Six Nations debut as a 31-year-old in 2011, Ross has started every one of Ireland's 20 games in the tournament since.
Launchbury was simply superb throughout the Six Nations. Regularly appearing towards the top of the tackle charts, the Wasp was a reliable source of turnover ball for England and put in some mammoth defence efforts. At only 22 he’s definitely got a promising future ahead of him for England.
Lawes made a huge impact in this year’s Six Nations, leading a ferocious England back line, making some excellent carries and calling the line-out superbly. Lawes won 28 line-outs in the 2014 Championships and stole 6: The most of either in the tournament.
This Irish flanker was a revelation for Ireland in the recent Six Nations tournament. Beating Dan Lydiate to this spot (despite Lydiate making 66 out of 66 tackles in the tournament) because of his huge work rate, especially at the break-down. O’Mahony won the most turnovers in 2014 with 7, even after missing one game because of injury. We like an enforcer too!
The England captain is constantly improving as a player, no doubt due in part to his monstrous work rate. He never stops running and is always right in the thick of the action. At this year’s Six Nations, he played every single minute of every game for England and made 66 tackles in those five games.
Despite missing the Six Nations Championships in 2014 because of injury, Vunipola has progressed a long way in a year. During the Lions tour last year he was merely an exciting prospect with lots of promise but nothing to show yet. Now he is one of England’s premier ball carriers and would be strong in a Lions squad. The 21-year-old has seen huge success with Saracens this season – however, injury has once again restricted his progression. Without injury we would take Billy Vunipola on a Lions 2014 tour in a heartbeat.
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