Much has been debated over the last few weeks about who will make the 37-man playing squad for forthcoming, mouth-watering Lions tour to New Zealand in June.
Facing the world champions in their own back yard is rugby’s equivalent of scaling Everest, and tomorrow the men tasked with bringing the bacon home will be announced.
Ruck.co.uk have picked 5 players the tourist need to be fit and raring to go if they are to have any chance.
1. Dan Cole (England)
Steve Hansen will be looking for his team to dominate the scrum from the go.
The scrum is a traditionally strong area for Northern Hemisphere sides, and Coles has proven repeatedly to be the rock that provides the platform for scrum dominance.
His play around the pitch has got better with time, but it is in the scrum where his value is most felt.
Going into that first test without ‘The Viking’ at the helm, would make the All Blacks very happy, so his inclusion is a must.
Maro Itoje (England)
In all the years I have been watching the game, I have never seen a player make the sport looking so easy, as Maro Itojie does.
This beast of a player mixes technical expertise with his incredible power and unbelievable fitness to become one of Eddie Jones’ ‘first name on the team sheet’ picks, and the same should go for Gatland.
He is changing the way second rowers are required to play the game today, and his versatility means that he can help the team in the back row should it be required.
The 22-year-old hasn’t played against the All Blacks yet, but the NZ public will know is name when the tours complete…that’s for sure.
3. Sam Warburton (Wales)
Big Sam has been flirting with being the best 7 in world rugby for several years now, and only a catalogue of injuries during that time has stopped him cementing that position.
Once again, we wait with baited breath whilst awaiting updates on his current injury, but the signs are good and it looks like he’ll be on the plane. His desire and committed attitude, whenever he plays, makes him a force to be reckoned with at the top table of test rugby.
He’s the kind of player that other players respond to, and would much prefer to have in their team than play against him.
The breakdown will play a massive role in determining the outcome of the series, and if the Lions have Warburton competing at the top of his game, they will be very happy.
4. Johnny Sexton/ Owen Farrell combo (Ireland/England)
I’ve cheated here by naming two essential components in one but it is these two players, and the combination at 10/ 12 that I believe hold the key to Lions success.
Sexton is the classical fly half who can operate as effectively whether his pack are going forward or back, with Farrell acting as his foil. The multi- phased style of the gam these days means having interchangeable 10’s of the standard of Sexton and Farrell can only add significant value to the team.
This combination still needs to work together, and we’ll know more after the first few provincial games, but if it works as we expect it to, the Lions will have strong field position control as well as a robust, complete partnership that could be the difference between success and failure.
5. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Fullback is a strong position for the Lions, with a number of variations that the management team can look at. But Stuart Hogg must be pencilled in for the 15 shirt at this early stage and for good reason.
He has consistently excelled in a team that isn’t always going forward, and has been the main reason for Scotland’s strong showing in this year’s 6 Nations.
He’s got a great ability to see opportunities others can’t, and I can’t wait to see how he functions with 14 other world class players alongside him.
This is a luxury Hogg hasn’t been afforded too much in his career, but I believe his light will shine bright this summer, and it will need to be if the Lions are going to triumph.