The England fullback may be leading the way in terms of metres made but he’s still an outsider for the Lions squad. He needs a big performance in Dublin while Payne also looks to reestablish himself in the Ireland set-up.
Being dubbed the new Brian O’Driscoll is a heavy burden, but Ringrose – who went to the same school as the great man and looks and runs like him – is coping well. Now tests himself against the vast experience of a revitalised Joseph, who ran in a superb hat-trick last time out.
Farrell isn’t only an accomplished goal-kicker, he’s probably the best player in the Northern hemisphere right now while Henshaw – still only 23 – is steadily growing in stature and influence. Both should make Gatland’s Lions squad.
The 25-year-old Irishman comes in for the injured Conor Murray while Youngs needs to shake off the shackles and rediscover his form from the Autumn if he wants to play a part in this summer’s Lions tour.
Powerhouse ball carrier Vunipola against the experience and know-how of Heaslip. The Ireland man has been one of Joe Schmidt;s most consistent performers while Vunipola, who is undoubtedly the better, has yet to regain his full fitness.
You could yet see these two as starting back-rowers for the Lions in the Test series against the All Blacks. Itoje has quickly adapted to life in the back-row winning numerous turnovers, while Stander’s stats, for carrying and tackling, just take the breath away.
Two men who have built their game around honest endeavour and a combative approach. Nevertheless, Launchbury has found a new level to performance in recent weeks and has probably been the player of the tournament.
A big challenge for consistent Cole, as Furlong has come flying up on the rails to establish himself as most people’s Lions tight-head. From farming stock in County Wexford, he’s a scrummaging brute who makes a big impact in the loose. The Leicester man will have to try and outsmart the up and comer somehow.
The fact McGrath is consigning Cian Healy to the subs speaks volumes for the strides the former St Mary’s College student has made in recent years. His work rate is outstanding but Joe Marler, who has kept Mako Vunipola out fo the side,is probably playing the best rugby of his career.