All the talk this week has been about who will play for the British and Irish Lions and, as this is a debate I love, George and I will happily throw in our opinions without being asked. I have been amused but not surprised to see the majority of former players and pundits picking a very Welsh line up, which is to be expected after their excellent performance in Cardiff. Amongst all the excitement of thrashing England, the eight match losing streak that ended only a few weeks ago has been forgotten. I also remember watching ten of the current side tamely capitulating to Samoa the week after being outplayed by Argentina only a few months ago. Wales played well but let’s not pretend they are all world beaters.
The other punditry obsession of the week has been banging about the importance of Welsh experience. Once again this ignores the other area where Wales have a wealth of experience – losing to Australia. At the last count it was seven defeats in a row including four losses in 2012 alone. I can’t believe the Australia players are having sleepless nights. Wales in the Six Nations could be summarised as having two dreadful games, one average, one good and one excellent. If you reversed the chronology of these results they would still win the title but far more of the players could book their summer holidays with confidence. Momentum is very persuasive.
I’m not saying Welsh players should be ignored but some perspective is needed. There isn’t a glut of talent across the four squads and players need to be rated on more than one game. Several players performed well in losing teams and others were poor but made to look good after being given an arm chair ride by a dominant pack *cough* Mike Phillips *cough*.
Before you read, judge and disagree with our selections there are few observations and caveats to state.
- I’m picking purely on form in the Six Nations 2013 not reputation.
- I’m not considering players who were injured during the Six Nations 2013. This means no place for Corbisiero, O’Connell, Preistland or the excellent Dan Lydiate.
- I’ve not included players who weren’t picked for a Six Nations side which leaves out Armitage, Wilkinson, Sheridan and Wade.
- I am English so despite my good intentions this is inevitably biased.
- Very hard to pick wingers because no-one stands out; most were poor in defence and in the case of Chris Ashton the double whammy of poor in defence and attack.
- Very hard to pick the back row because so many players stand out. This is the only area of the team where there is genuine strength in depth and some excellent players won’t make the trip.
- Chris Robshaw has to be captain and anyone that disagrees will be spammed with the photo of me
touching his thighslifting him in a manly rugby fashion. I think BOD is worth considering as he will always lead from the front. I wouldn’t consider Warburton as he wasn’t good enough to make the Welsh team as recently as two games ago, isn’t the best Welsh player in his position and his form has been patchy for most of the last year. Robshaw leads from the front, hasn’t let his standard drop once and that includes several MOM performances.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny. There are some very good full backs but this is an easy choice to make as Halfpenny was easily the player of the tournament. Assured in defence, dangerous in attack and tactical kicking provides a real edge. Reserves: Hogg & Brown (both selected for their ability to counter attack).
14 – Craig Gilroy. Shackled North with ease, looked dangerous even with poor service and doesn’t need much space to score. Reserves: Cuthbert (good finishing makes up for his appalling defence) & Maitland (but secretly praying that Tommy Bowe is fit).
13 – Brian O’Driscoll. Only one choice in this position, his pace may be gone but his vision, handling and determination still at its peak. Reserves: Manu Tualagi & Jonathon Davies (both able to make an impact from the bench and have real pace).
12 – Bily Twelvetrees. I realise that Jamie Roberts is a more logical pick but I went with Twelvetrees for two main reasons. Firstly, Roberts hasn’t set the pitch alight this season and is below his best. The main reason is a want to see the Lions play with the creativity and flair that 36 has in abundance. Reserves: Jamie Roberts & James Hook (far better as a centre than as fly half).
11 – Simon Zebo. He didn’t play much due to injury but selected for the same reasons as Gilroy and provide a real cutting edge. Reserves: David Strettle (should have been given more of a chance for England) & Visser (wasn’t great but best of a poor bunch).
10 – Jonny Sexton. Able to replicate his club form at international level theses days and if the pack can give him a platform he is the best man to release the outside backs. Reserves: Own Farrell (lack of experience stops him from starting but a good man to have on the bench) & Toby Flood (most creative of remaining 10s).
9 – Greg Laidlaw. Played under pressure for the whole tournament but still managed to be creative in attack and strong in defence. Third kicker in my starting XV gives further flexibility. Reserves: Danny Care & Mike Phillips (only in the team cos of Irish injuries and Ben Youngs tendency to turn into a whinging liability under pressure).
1 – Gethin Jenkins: Hitting form at the right time and will provide leadership from the front. Reserves: Cian Healey & Ryan Grant.
2 – Rory Best. Has the best all round game and plenty of experience. Reserves: Tom Youngs (impact sub) & Richard Hibbard (to start if Best is injured).
3 – Adam Jones. Back to his best and has the potential to appear in Antipodean nightmares. Reserves: Dan Cole & Euan Murray.
4 – Jim Hamilton. Had a great tournament and fills the role of enforcer completely. Reserves: Donnacha Ryan is the only other 2nd row with the same amount of snap so unless O’Connell makes a comeback this final place will probably go to Gray or Evans .
5 – AW Jones. Returned from injury with a bang and provides athleticism to match the brute force of Hamilton. – Reserves Joe Launchbury & Geoff Parling (two athletic line-out jumpers).
6 – Chris Robshaw (capatain). Equally good at 6 or 7, will lead from the front and never tire of doing the dirty work. Essential. Reserves: Ryan Jones & Tom Wood (both good enough to start but are sacrificed in the name of balance -take note Gatland and Lancaster).
7 – Justin Tipuric. Best genuine open side in the 6 nations who out shone his more famous team mate in every game. As happy hunting the ball as he is playing with the backs. Reserves: Warburton (starting to show some form) & Sean O’Brien (not really an open side but adds plenty of power).
8 – Johnnie Beattie. Impressive defence and adds ball carrying grunt to balance out the back row Reserves. Jamie Heaslip (getting back to top form and provides strong leadership) & Ben Morgan (great hands and a much better ball carrier than Faletau).
I’m sure there are some of you that are wondering why I haven’t picked George North and the reason is simple – I don’t think he is good enough. Since the World Cup he has only scored one more try than the widely derided Chris Ashton (3 in 19 games), has developed a habit of disappearing for long periods of time and his poor positional sense makes him defensively weak. Without the space to get a long run up he lacks penetration and has very little to his game apart from the obvious physicality. In short, the flat track bully has been found out. If any Welsh fans would like to claim that North is international class please remember that the last Welsh winger to play for the Lions was Shane Williams. Remember him? He was quite good and I bet that even though he has retired he could walk into this team.
We have surprised ourselves by only picking two Englishmen in the starting XV but I think this is a well-balanced and genuinely threatening team. Enough from me and George for now as it is time for your opinions. Please put all thoughts and selections in the comment box below.