Now that everyone in the 41-man squad has had a decent run-out, we’ve predicted the selection we think Warren Gatland will pick for the first Test against New Zealand in two weeks times.
This is the team we think he’ll pick, not our personal preference.
Fullback: Leigh Halfpenny
The Welshman did very little wrong and was his normal steady self in general play against the Blues. His experience in big Test matches also makes him a favourite for selection under Gatland, who will likely show loyalty to some of the heroes of 2013. He’s also another option off the tee.
Wing: George North
There are no other viable options given the opening three games had some very iffy showings out wide. The Wales powerhouse actually made a game-high four turnovers against the Crusaders, tackling strongly throughout. Again has that big Test match experience that could be crucial.
Centre: Jonathan Davies
Only lasted half an hour today but combined with Te’o well in that brief time. He’s a very dangerous player who has a world-class ability to break through the gainline. He’s also a big favourite of the Lions head coach.
Centre: Ben Te’o
Raised a few eyebrows when picked in the 41-man Lions squad given Eddie Jones kept the former rugby league star on his England bench as one of his ‘finishers’. Two good performances on tour so far nevertheless mean he’ll be in Gatland’s XV. The head coach loves a powerhouse centre with good hands and that is exactly what he provides.
Wing: Anthony Watson
Got the first try of the tour against the Barbarians last weekend and made the most metres against the Crusaders, despite only playing an hour after replacing Stuart Hogg. Gatland could put him at fullback but his finishing ability could be crucial out wide.
Fly-half: Owen Farrell
Farrell has to play. The question simply was where? We’ve decided Gatland will stick with him at his more natural fly-half where he can control and dictate the play a lot more efficiently. He will want to play with the same sort of style that was successful in 2013 with a big man, Te’o, at 12.
Scrum-half: Conor Murray
Is there really any other choice?
Prop: Mako Vunipola
An exceptional performance against the Crusaders means Gatland won’t be able to leave out the big man. His intelligent running and willingness to carry develop every attack while his scrummaging much vastly improved over the last 12 months.
Hooker: Ken Owens
His lineout throwing and leadership skills against the Blues make him the current favourite for the spot. We’d personally go with Jamie George, but Gatland will probably use the destructive Englishman as an impact player off the bench.
Prop: Tadhg Furlong
He’s been odds on to feature in Gatland’s Test XV for a while now and there’s a reason for that. The Ireland and Leinster tighthead is a destructive ball carrier and solid scrummager. He’s one of the first names on the teamsheet for us and probably Gatland.
Lock: Alun Wyn Jones
The Welsh connection continues in the second row. Jones put in a well-received display against the Crusaders making him the current favourite to get the shirt. We’d personally go for Itoje as he works well in tandem with Kruis, but Gatland is unlikely to leave the Wales captain out of his XV.
Lock: George Kruis
Kruis has organised the lineout superbly and often destroys the line, making space for others. He’s also a relentless defender. Quickly becoming a big favourite of Gatland.
Flanker: CJ Stander
The flanker spots are going to be fiercely contested but we’ve decided he’ll go for CJ Stander. He’s a potent ball carrier that offers a genuine try-scoring threat. His ability to be destructive at the breakdown will suit the muscular style of play Gatland is looking for.
Flanker: Sam Warburton (Captain)
If the Lions captain is fit he’ll play. On current form, you’d go for Sean O’Brien but that might not make a big difference when it comes to Gatland picking an XV.
Number 8: Taulupe Faletau
Picks himself. Two good performances and is a big Gatland favourite.