By Alan Dymock
ALL GOOD things come to those who wait and the final round of the 6 Nations was certainly something worth the wait after a dreary, stodgy middle section that was punctuated by penalties and a disturbing lack of tries.
Like all the best nights out, though, we are now colouring in from memory the best bits of the Championship, trying to put names to faces and performances to the elite. We have considered everything we have seen, good and bad, and to a fan everyone has picked their own Lions XV.
Here is our Lions XV, based on what we saw in the Championship:
Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
We are often told nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. However, in the last few months the sight of wee ‘HP’ claiming high balls, running into open space and slotting kicks has become as near to a certainty as you get in Championship rugby. As consistent as he is entertaining.
Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
A brace against England is impressive, but Cuthbert already had two tries in the competition and has been dotting down like an over-officious administrator. When a thoroughbred like this is on a roll like this you do what you can to clear the way.
Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
He was petulant and frustrated in his last outing against Italy, and could be punished beyond his yellow card after a stamp on Simone Favaro. He also faded a little bit through the competition, but even after lacerations and concussions and family births and hideous headband wrapping, the totemic centre has shown enough guile, flicks and warrior-like attitude to suggest that he could be of use to Warren Gatland.
A sentimental choice? Perhaps, but he is a leader, respected by all.
Matt Scott (Scotland)
Both England midfielders had glimpses of excellence, but Manu Tuilagi coughed up ball when the pressure was on and Billy Twelvetrees was not used when a Slam was on the horizon. Jonathan Davies was good but is an outside centre and really Jamie Roberts will be in the driving seat from the off but dark horse Matt Scott must get some accolades.
The Edinburgh man was consistent throughout the championship and showed a deftness that allowed a mercurial back-three to strut their stuff, when the occasion presented itself. He could be a facilitator if Gatland wanted crash and bang at outside centre.
George North (Wales)
We all know what North offers. He just draws too many defenders to be left out, topping the charts with four clean line breaks and 14 defenders beaten. Tim Visser may be worth a mention, but if Visser was to tour he is likely to be a free-running foil for the gargantuan Scarlet.
Owen Farrell (England)
With Sexton now having to prove himself in the Amlin Cup in order to show that he is able to play at an intensity before the tour, England’s tyro at 10 Farrell is in the box seat.
Of course he would be pushed all the way by Dan Biggar, who had an increasingly influential 6 Nations, but there is something of the TMA (Test Match Animal) about Farrell Jr.
Mind you, outside of the Championship there is still the persistent brilliance of Jonny Wilkinson…
Mike Phillips (Wales)
On-form and working his mojo (steady, ladies) Phillips has risen to the occasion (seriously, steady!). There are other nines who are worth considering –Ben Youngs runs well, even if he went missing against Wales, and Greig Laidlaw is an impressive kicker – but Phillips is a man for the big occasion, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Lions.
Cian Healy (Ireland)
‘Church’ Healy was not exactly saintly in this tournament, but his scrummaging, particularly against England, was sound. He likes to carry, but works well across the board. Gethin Jenkins has grown into the tournament, improving with every game, and Ryan Grant has made sure his name is remembered, but Healy has all-round quality. He just needs to be told to channel his aggression before being let loose on the Aussies.
Richard Hibbard (Wales)
Arguably the surprise package of the tournament, Hibbard has backed up fine Ospreys form and translating that into masterful Welsh performances. Heaven only knows what he will look like should the sun gets at his bleach-bright barnet, but he has certainly outshone all the other hookers. The phrase, ‘disregard for his own safety’ has been coined for players like Hibbard.
Adam Jones (Wales)
There is a warning that comes with the worship of false idols, but in Adam Jones there is nothing false about him. He showed that much against the English with a demonstration of wily nous and raw power to usurp understudy, Dan Cole.
Undoubtedly the man to lead the scrum against the Wallabies.
Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Reinstated, revived and relied upon to out-snarl all-comers, Alun Wyn has done remarkably well considering he was not involved at the start of the 6 Nations. His Ospreys partner in crime Ian Evans also deserves a doff of the cap for his efforts and Joe Launchbury has had a mightily productive first tournament, but the Osprey captain is a cut above.
Geoff Parling (England)
He and Donnacha Ryan take some separating as masters of the lineout. Both just do the job without fuss, being the happy cart horses that allow their team to play. Parling just offers that little bit more in the loose, making 17 tackles against Wales and carrying strongly.
Chris Robshaw (England)
The England captain has had a inspirational tournament and although his side fell short he has to take plaudits in Cardiff. At blindside he could play his normal game without too much fuss, and really the decision is whether or not it is now Sam Warburton’s shirt to lose. There are other candidates, Dan Lydiate needs a speedy return to fitness and Tom Wood has impressed but the position is an area of strength for Britain and Ireland.
Justin Tipuric (Wales)
It is no longer hype that surrounds Tipuric. He has injected pace and precision whenever introduced and when it counted he helped create championship winning moments. In Australia, it’s horses for course and on the hard grounds, it’s difficult to see anyone else with 7 on their back.
Toby Faletau (Wales)
Nods could come in for Johnnie Beattie, but with Jamie Heaslip’s crown slipping as Ireland toiled, the Welshman has quietly and efficiently cornered the market in effective No 8 play. He picks, he carries, he wrecks, he tackles. Repeat but he has quick feet and a deftness. The only real option right now.