By Alan Dymock
IN THE aftermath of the Six Nations and with time running out we are all confronted with the starkest of choices: who are our Lions?
An obvious point of conjecture, there were at least some standouts in recent weeks. So in the interest of making clear what Warren Gatland, Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Andy Farrell face before the squad announcement on 30 April, Rugby World will sift through runners and riders in each key position.
At the back, of course, are the guardians of the line, those flitting full-backs.
As a matter of taste, this selection comes under scrutiny. Each nation has candidates and the battle lines are drawn whenever this question comes up. Ask who the best candidate for 15 is and be prepared to hear a skirl of pipes, the banging of bodhráns and shouting in Welsh and English.
What makes this debate all the more interesting is that each candidate offers something different.
Stuart Hogg of Scotland offers an adventurous streak that outstrips all comers. He can break in an instant and he has grown so much in confidence over the last few years that running is more often his first thought. He also has a cannon of a boot.
The problem with Hogg, however, is that he does not inspire great confidence when a team is back-peddling.
Mind you, people used to say that about wee Leigh Halfpenny and the sight of him hurling his body into contact like a stick in the spokes of Harley Davidson is now taken for granted.
The Welsh full-back is the in-form, en vogue choice and he has had such a fine season and a half that it would be absurd not taking him on tour. He can dance, but he is smart with it. He can kick, but he rarely hoofs ball away. He can tackle, but his selflessness can hurt him. Halfpenny jumps out at you.
Then again, hang time is the forte of Rob Kearney. He has also been jumping out at gamblers too, with the amount of money spent on the Leinsterman causing his odds to shorten on the market.
The problem for Kearney is that he was lost among the bodies during Ireland’s poor RBS 6 Nations and Leinster have not been headline grabbing like in seasons gone by, affording him less time to punch into your consciousness. Nevertheless, while others dance and flirt, Kearney will square up to a collision and windmill his way through it.
Maybe there have not been enough sexy moments from Kearney this season, or at least not on the international stage. Stability and reliability are handsome qualities in a full-back, though. Which is why Alex Goode has plenty of admirers.
The Englishman’s positioning is enviable. He occupies the right area of the pitch more often than not and offers a link that can be missing from the English midfield at times. He floats to the right areas. He rarely scorches the turf or delivers a shell-shocking hit, but he does the right thing more often than not.
In England there are auxiliary full-backs buzzing around Goode anyway; men who can do the flashy jabs while the Saracen holds it together.
There are hushed tones rather than shouts, but some are asking about Mike Brown and Ben Foden.
In truth they need a someone in the Lions camp fighting for their inclusion because, like Delon Armitage and Lee Byrne over in France, they are just not at the forefront of the public’s hive-mind. Gatland needs to truly yearn for their inclusion.