By Alan Dymock
HANGING-OFF cliff faces, dodging bullets and zip-wiring down air vents may seem like a Mission Impossible, but even Ethan Hunt would think twice about taking on Warren Gatland’s Lions coaching job at present after two weekends of chastening Test rugby for the Northern Hemisphere.
If there was a Lions’ selection process underway right now, there would be few ‘bankers’ available to Gatland and his staff, but that’s not to say over the next six months certainties for the plane will emerge. There is a team of Wallaby-beaters among the Home Nations, the tough bit for Gatland is finding it. Still onwards, it will get better. No, scratch that, it must get better.
So here goes, my Lions XV on current form…
15. Leigh Halfpenny – Wales’ Mr Consistency in an inconsistent side, Halfpenny has kicked and run himself into the ground for the cause. The Cardiff Blues full-back offers a running threat, as well as being a genuine Test class, 80% kicker.
14. Charlie Sharples – Okay, so he’s just been harshly dropped but the Gloucester wing has impressed with his work rate, sickeningly swift set of hooves and nose for the try-line. There’s more to come from the Gloucester flyer.
13. Fergus McFadden – Of late, we’ve only seen the Leinster man on the wing, however, he is a 13 to his bootlaces and can burrow with the best of them. He was one of the stand-out performers against a limited Fiji side.
12. Manu Tuilagi –We all know what Tuilagi offers. Crash, bang and wallop before gluing a celebratory ‘L’ to his forehead every time he scores. At 21, he’s still raw and his distribution skills have been questioned. He may even be shunted onto the wing to further his education, but such go-forward cannot be ignored.
11. Tim Visser – You simply cannot see past the Flying, er, Scotsman who scored a brace against the All Blacks. He is Scotland’s sharpest weapon and fast making a name for himself on the international stage as a player of genuine class.
10. Jonny Sexton –Toby Flood and his drop-handle moustache may feel a little hard done by here, but Sexton is in the box seat by virtue of being the most consistent option available. He will set his jaw and just get on with it. And if the boot fails, you’ve always got Halfpenny as back up.
9. Danny Care – Pocket-sized he may be, but he isn’t exactly facing a goliath in the peerless Will Genia. Care brings quick service and zip around the base of the scrum. He’s also not lacking in confidence, which is no bad thing against the Aussies.
1. Cian Healy – He certainly looks the part, all brimstone and fire and is improving rapidly as a scrummager. He has overtaken an out-of-sorts Gethin Jenkins who is suffering from a lack of game-time with Toulon.
2. Sean Cronin – With Rory Best and Dylan Hartley crocked, let’s pencil in Sean Cronin to throw the arrows. Why? Because he is dynamic and his set-piece is sturdier than Ross Ford’s.
3. Dan Cole – Doesn’t seem much of an argument here. Can Adam Jones come back from his latest injury to challenge? Cole is Mr Dependable and probably the most important person in the starting line-up.
4. Richie Gray – Scotland’s only genuine world-class player, Gray has the engine of a Panzer tank and the roof of a Miami nightclub. However, he did knock himself out trying to carry Scotland against South Africa. To be treated with extreme care over the next six months.
5. Mike McCarthy –This McCarthy trial seems to have gone pretty well. He hits like a coffee enema and is just as refreshing for an Ireland team that seems to routinely offer 10-year contracts for its locks. A breath of fresh-air in a stilted Irish pack.
6. Chris Robshaw – Is he a six? Is he a seven? Is he a ‘fetcher’? Well, he may not be the full package for any of the above, but he has a prodigious work rate and innate leadership skills that make players think they can perform beyond their ability. A rare quality.
7. Sam Warburton – Another leader, and a destructive physical force able to cope with David Pocock at the breakdown. Yes, his form may have dipped from its World Cup plateau, but you’d be foolish forget his virtues. Expect him to be purring come Lions time.
8. Jamie Heaslip –Another back rower with leadership qualities, Heaslip is comfortable with the ball and was born to take a tap-and-pass. He would be a dependable and popular selection.
Okay, there’s still plenty of rugby to be played, who would you pick if you were in Warren Gatland’s shoes?