The British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand may still be a speck on the horizon, but the debate on who should be on the plane in 2017 is gathering momentum.
RUCK have now weighed in with the starting XV we think Warren Gatland could select for the opening test…
Fullback: STUART HOGG (Scotland)
Six Nations player of the champions last season, Hogg has been the standout player in the Blues ranks for a number of years now. The Scot will have a lot of competition from the likes of Alex Goode, Leigh Halfpenny and Mike Brown for the number 15 shirt though.
Wing: GEORGE NORTH (Wales)
There is no winger with greater ability available to Gatland when fully fit. North has the most carries over the last 12 months with 79, and leads the metres made with 724. He also topped the men beaten category with 35.
Centre: JONATHAN DAVIES (Wales)
A proven operator at the very top level. Arguments could be made for Jonathan Joseph and in truth its a choice that could still very much go either way,
Centre: MANU TUILAGI (England)
Tuilagi will be hoping he can shake off his injury problems this season and rediscover the form that that once made him so irresistible. If so, he will be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Wing: JACK NOWELL (England)
Fly-half: OWEN FARRELL (England)
The number 10 shirt is always a difficult call but Farrell has to be the standout contender following a superb 2016. The Saracens man seems to have cooled his temper while remaining the best kicker of them all.
Scrum-half: CONOR MURRAY (Ireland)
Prop: JACK MCGRATH (Ireland)
England’s Mako Vunipola has claims on the loosehead shirt but McGrath has come on leaps and bounds as a player. Over the last twelve months, he tops the table among props for most carries – 89, and for his 115 metres made. The 26-year-old is also massive in defence with an impressive 114 tackles made and just nine missed.
Hooker: DYLAN HARTLEY capt (England)
The hooker has had an incredible year as England skipper. After missing the 2013 tour due to a last-minute suspension its time for him to thrive. Hartley has also been vigorous in defence in the last year, making the most tackles for a hooker – 77.
Prop: WP Nel (Scotland)
Any scrum needs an out-and-out powerhouse and Nel is, without a doubt, that man. Since coming into the Scotland set-up, their pack has vastly improved, making him a must for the British & Irish Lions front row.
Lock: GEORGE KRUIS (England)
Kruis has off stiff competition from Richie Gray, Ian Henderson and Devin Toner to claim the No 4 berth. His growth in an England shirt really has been extraordinary and the Saracen can be relied on to provide a solid performance at the lineout and the scrum. The lock also leads the way in defence with 104 tackles and contributes in open play with an impressive 37 carries.
Lock: ALUN WYN JONES (Wales)
The veteran Wales lock may not be at his best right now but he’s made of the right stuff to refind his best form for the 2017 tour. A competitive pack will be key and Wyn Jones would be giving everything to make that happen.
Flanker: MARO ITOJE (England)
The multi-talented young England forward has even been tipped by Lewis Moody to lead the tourists next summer. He has to be the first name on the teamsheet due to his pure athelticism, and sheer skill in whatever position Gatland feels necessary.
Flanker: JAMES HASKELL (England)
James Haskell was a revelation in Australia and his stats back up his man-of-the-match performance in the second Test in Melbourne.
Number 8: BILLY VUNIPOLA (England)
This was one heck of a tussle between Billy Vunipola and his cousin, Taulupe Faletau. Vunipola tops the table with 150 carries and metres made – an incredible 501. His improving fitness has also given him a greater presence around the field.