Likely Lads for 2017 Tour

So, Warren Gatland will lead the British and Irish Lions for a second time following his series win over Australia in 2013.

Across the four nations, debates are being had and one of those debates is who should captain this team? There are only two contenders really either Cardiff back rower Sam Warburton or Grand Slam winning captain Dylan Hartley.

Hartley has to skipper the Lions, he recently led his England side to a 3-0 win over Australia as for Warburton he failed to tour due to injury.

I think it is fairly widely assumed Eddie Jones’ all conquering England squad will dominate the 34 man squad that is due to be announced towards the end of the season.

France based players is another contentious issue due to the fact the French season finishes comparatively late it is unlikely some players will be able to join up with the squad at the right time. This therefore means some France based players could effectively miss out on selection.

Head coach of Wales Warren Gatland celebrates after beating Ireland in their Six Nations rugby match at Croke Park in Dublin

Gatland will lead the Lions in New Zealand.

New Zealand is the pinnacle, a series win over the All Blacks is going to take something seriously special, you could even argue miraculous.

These are the 34 players I think could maybe win that series.

Props: Dan Cole, Joe Marler (both England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), WP Nel (Scotland), Mako Vunipola (England)

Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland), Jamie George, Dylan Hartley (Captain, both England)

Locks: Jonny Gray (Scotland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England)

Flankers: John Hardie (Scotland), James Haskell (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Sam Warburton (Wales)

Number Eights: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England)

Scrum-Halves: Conor Murray (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)

Fly-Halves: Dan Biggar (Wales), Owen Farrell, George Ford (both England)

Centres: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

Wings: Jack Nowell (England), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England)

Fullbacks: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales)

Squad by Nation

England: 15

Ireland: 6

Scotland: 6

Wales: 7

That is my pick but with a year to play plenty of time for players to play their way in or out of Gatland’s plans.

Continued Failure Stunting English Growth

England have their new manager and luckily have their first win courtesy of Adam Lallana’s first international goal.

The problem is the new England regime already shows signs of weakness and this mindset prohibiting progress, accepting failure and once again underperforming.

Prior to kick off against Slovakia, new England manager Sam Allardyce was all too happy to point out he would be happy with a draw. What sort of message is that? Happy with a draw? England should be beating Slovakia, and a draw was the same shameful result we achieved in France in England’s final group game.

allardyce

England manager, Sam Allardyce.

England are kidding themselves if they think this new regime is progressive, Slovakia have a few good players but most of that squad wouldn’t even challenge for a place in the under-21’s squad.

This mindset that second best is good enough, the we’ll take a point mantra, the idea that we can defend our way to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Roy Hodgson was a poor manager but Sam Allardyce so far is no better, I see no progress or difference, the same old problems and failings are present.

The squad is practically the same, the same prima donnas that let down the nation and disassociated the public with the team.There is no connection there, the fans no longer feel they can relate to the team.

Another telling failure of the new regime is the men in suits at the FA have decided that winning the farcical 2022 World Cup is out the window. But nobody questioned why.

That tournament is six years away, and with a country like ours with the money we have available, the facilities we have and the playing pool we have to select from we should be planning to be making the semi-finals of any major tournament but now somehow we have ruled out winning a World Cup we have six years to build for.

The whole system is a joke and before this regressive, negative mindset changes we will forever be the the underperforming laughing stocks of international football.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Bristol Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Andy Robinson

Captain: Jack Lam

Stadium: Ashton Gate (Capacity: 27,000)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: 10th

The long wait was finally over for Bristol, they secured promotion back to the Premiership at the seventh time of asking and they have made some serious progress.

There are a number of star names in the Bristol camp, a man with Gavin Henson’s CV is always going to be a talented player pair that with the new duo of Jordan Crane and Tusi Pisi and the squad has quality.

lam

Bristol captain, Jack Lam.

Bristol have a creative backline led by Samoan fly-half Pisi and the creative midfield should give space to the pace and flair of the quicker players out wide such as former Leicester and Wasps winger Varndell.

The pack is match for most Premiership sides without having any big names and lacking internationals. They should not encounter much in the way of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Gavin Henson

Position: Fly-Half/ Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 34  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 100kg

The playmaker has it all as an inside centre, he kicks, passes and tackles well, his pace is not quite what it used to be as he enters his mid-thirties but his playmaking ability make him a valuable player.

Henson also brings international experience and a big game knowledge to a team lacking much of that, he is among a splattering of internationals brought in by Andy Robinson to help Bristol acclimatise to the high level Premiership and Challenge Cup games they will face.

Jack Lam

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 28  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 103kg

A ferocious tackler who’s size makes the tackle area a really difficult area to establish any dominance against the Bristol skipper. This coupled with effective breakdown work sees the Bristol captain dominate the immediate tackle situation.

Lam is also no stranger to attack and is more than happy to pop up on the inside shoulder of a fly-half to terrorise opposition tens.

Tom Varndell

Positon: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 30  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 101kg

Varndell is an absolutely unbelievable finisher, up there with the likes of Cueto and Hanley he can score from anywhere due to his pace. He adds some ‘X Factor’ to the Bristol backline.

VARNDELL.jpg

Varndell in action for Bristol.

The 30 year old will be Robinson’s main attacking outlet this season, and it is a joy to ahve the talented winger back in the Premiership.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Luke Arscott (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ryan Bevington (Ospreys, WAL)

Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Nick Fenton-Wells (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Jon Fisher (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Will Hurrell (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Giorgi Nemasadze (Tarbes, FRA)

Thretton Palamo (Saracens, ENG)

Tusi Pisi (Sunwolves, JAP)

Martin Roberts (Ospreys, WAL)

Soane Tonga’huia (Oyonnax, FRA)

Jordan Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

Rhodri Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

OUT (10)

Tommaso Benvenuti (Benneton Treviso, ITA)

Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Craif Hampson (Wasps, ENG)

Darren Hudson (Released, REL)

Marco Mama (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Josh Ovens (Released, REL)

Dwayne Peel (Retired, RET)

James Stephenson (Released, REL)

George Watkins (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Tusi Pisi is a good signing providing them with talent at fly-half. Arscott also has a lot of top level experience making him a clever capture along with number eight Crane. Everyone knows what Tonga’huia is capable of.

PISI.jpg

Pisi lining up a kick for the Sunwolves.

Genge is a hot prospect and will be missed especially as he is now gaining recognition from Eddie Jones. Mama is a good player and could have been hugely influential for Bristol. What a way for Dwayne Peel to end his career and a glittering one at that.

My Bristol Rugby 23

15 Luke Arscott 14 Tom Varndell 13 Will Hurrell 12 Gavin Henson 11 David Lemi 10 Tusi Pisi 9 Will Cliff

1 Soane Tonga’huia 2 Ross McMillan 3 Gaston Cortes 4 Mark Sorensen 5 Ian Evans 6 Jon Fisher 7 Jack Lam (Captain) 8 Jordan Crane

16 Chris Brooker 17 Ryan Bevington 18 Anthony Perenise 19 Joe Joyce 20 Olly Robinson 21 Martin Roberts 22 Thretton Palamo 23 Charlie Amesbury

Bristol will not be challenging for the top half but relegation doesn’t look likely.

Can Kei Grab Grand Slam?

Kei Nishikori has defeated Andy Murray and marches into the semi-finals of the US Open.

For years the top four was dominated by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and of course Murray. Every Grand Slam would belong to one of the top four. Nadal’s powers may now be waining but another player has stepped into the breach that being Stan Wawrinka.

Wawrinka has now claimed two Grand Slam titles and is one of the only players in my mind that can rattle undoubtedly the worlds best current player, Djokovic.

nishikori

Kei Nishikori shakes hands with Murray following his quarter-final win.

As Wimbledon showed nothing is assured as Milos Raonic made the final to play Andy Murray, the world number six took Andy Murray to two tie breaks and only got broken once in the opening set.

Nishikori though could once again show that the level of the top four is not unattainable, currently 7th in the world he has a golden chance coming into a semi-final against, world number three Wawrinka.

The Japanese number one has already overcome formidable opponents and Wawrinka’s astonishing Grand Slam wins which started in Australia will serve as inspiration for Nishikori.

Kei Nishikori’s win over Andy Murray is one of a large number of shocks recently, Querrey beating Djokovic, Lucas Pouille defeating Nadal, the list goes on, there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion now at the major championships and Opens.

Kei Nishikori has a chance to make history as the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam, Wawrinka will give Nishikori a tough test but Nishikori has beaten players like him before and he certainly looks ready to do it again.

Novak’s Slump Looks Over

Novak Djokovic is the best player in the world right now, undoubtedly. Since his victory in Paris though the Serb has endured a slump.

His loss in the first week of Wimbledon to Sam Querrey then losing in the round of 64 in Rio de Janeiro to Juan Martin Del Potro looked to possibly turn sour what had been a wonderful year for the world number one.

His victory over France’s Jo-Wilfred Tsonga takes him into a semi-final meeting with Gael Monfils later this week.

NOVAK.jpg

Djokovic is playing well.

Djokovic is by no means guaranteed to win that match as Wimbledon at the Olympic Games proved he is not the invincible player we thought we witnessed at Roland Garros as he took apart Andy Murray with ease.

This US Open has already provided us with what looks to be the end for former world number one Rafael Nadal and one of the most iconic players of a generation, one of the most exciting players of the modern era.

Djokovic will hope to not fade like the Spaniard as he pushes for his 13th Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows.

His emphatic quarter-final win shows us just how good he can be, form is temporary, class is permanent. And Djokovic has proved just how classy he can be.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Newcastle Falcons

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Dean Richards and Peter Russell

Captain: Will Welch

Stadium: Kingston Park (Capacity: 10,200)

Last Season: 11th

Prediction: 11th

Newcastle survived comfortably last season due to London Irish imploding throughout the season.

Newcastle have some impressive individuals such as winger Sinoti Sinoti. They have a squad that has achieved and is capable of achieving success especially at the hostile Kingston Park.

sinoti

Sinoti Sinoti dives over for a try.

One of Newcastle’s biggest assets is their home ground, the weather conditions and long trip to the north east corner of England in itself is sapping, couple that with Newcastle playing on an artificial pitch makes Kingston Park a notorious place to visit.

Newcastle also have a dangerous back three that will be lethal on the counter, pace aplenty among the backs that thrive on the artificial surface up at Newcastle.

THREE TO WATCH

Vereniki Goneva

Position: Wing  Nationality: Fijian  Age: 32  Height: 1.78m  Weight: 102kg

Your typical Fijian, powerful and fast in equal measure. The former Leicester wing was one of the stars at Welford Road and at first the move seems strange. It is a coup for Dean Richards though and he should be able to get the best out of Goneva.

He scores tries naturally by either powering through the defenders or burning them for pace on the outside.

Sinoti Sinoti

Position: Wing  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 30  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 100kg

Another Pacific Islander in the Newcastle backs, electric feet and devastating pace are two weapons the opposition have to deal with.

Undoubtedly individually sublime if he can link up with his team he can be used to huge effect due to his natural talent.

Will Welch

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 26  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

Welch is a natural leader and has been at Newcastle Falcons for a while now, he is an asset at the lineout and breakdown.

welch

Captain, Will Welch.

He is a big ball carrier and us happy to take the ball on to get Newcastle moving forwards working to break the gainline.

TRANSFERS

IN (14)

Joshua Chisanga (Kenya Sevens, KEN)

Nick Civetta (RC Medecei, ITA)

Kyle Cooper (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Andrew Davidson (Glasgow Hawks, SCO)

Sam Egerton (England Sevens, ENG)

Opeti Fonua (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Joel Hodgson (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Tyrone Holmes (Glasgow Warriors, SCO)

Sam Lockwood (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Evan Olmstead (London Scottish, ENG)

Harrison Orr (Ealing Trailfinders, ENG)

Ben Sowrey (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

David Tameilau (San Francisco Rush, USA)

OUT (17)

Jamie Booth (Manawatu, NZL)

Todd Clever (Released, REL)

Michael Cusack (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Joshua Furno (Zebre, ITA)

Eric Fry (Sacaramento Express, USA)

Andy Goode (Retired, RET)

Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory Sungoliath, JAP)

Rob Hawkins (Retired, RET)

Scott MacLeod (Retired, RET)

Richard Mayhew (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Kane Thompson (Manawatu, NZL)

Gonzalo Tiesi (Retired, RET)

Ruki Tipuna (Bay of Plenty, NZL)

Alesana Tuilagi (Released, REL)

Anitelea Tuilagi (Released, REL)

Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre, ITA)

The addition of Goenva is a real coup for Falcons, Holmes could also be an important player for Newcastle.

goneva

Goneva following his summer move to Newcastle.

McGuigan is a loss and Andy Goode will be hugely missed he was key last season.

My Newcastle Falcons 23

15 Alex Tait 14 Vereniki Goneva 13 Dominic Waldouck 12 Juan Pablo Socino 11 Sinoti Sinoti 10 Mike Delany 9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers 2 George McGuigan 3 Scott Wilson 4 Andrew Davidson 5 Mouritz Botha 6 Nili Latu 7 Will Welch (Captain) 8 Opeti Fonua

A struggle this season for the Falcons but survival is likely.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Worcester Warriors

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Carl Hogg

Captain: Gerrit-Jan van Velze

Stadium: Sixways (Capacity: 12,024)

Last Season: 10th

Prediction: Relegation

Worcester they have never been the team to set the league alight but always look as though they are building a squad something that Dean Ryan was working towards.

Worcester have some serious firepower in the backs Biggs and Vuna two gifted winger with pace and for the most part bravery. Cooper Vuna is deadly and Biggs eye for the line is unmatched.

Rugby Union - Greene King Championship - Worcester Warriors v Bristol - Saturday 25th April 2015 - Sixways Stadium - Worcester

Vuna in action for Worcester.

Worcester have no expectation and with Ryan leaving a lot of people are not expecting much from this Worcester side but I think they could surprise a few and take some big scalps this season.

The back row is an area of strength for this club, Mama, Potgieter, van Velze, Kirwan, Dowson these names know the Premiership, they know how hard they have to work. It will be interesting to see how they function.

THREE TO WATCH

Francois Hougaard

Position: Scrum-Half/ Wing  Nationality: South African  Age: 28  Height: 1.81m  Weight: 94kg

The deadly scrum-half is a worthwhile addition, his pace is remarkable and he has the ability to carve open defences with his shift in gear that allows him to burn defenders on the outside.

He also has a great ability to pass and open spaces for his playmakers in the midfield, a really exciting new face at the Sixways.

Ben Te’o

Position: Centre  Nationality: New Zealander (English qualified)  Age: 29  Height: 1.88m Weight: 106kg

The cross code convert made some serious noise at Leinster and he is an effective crash ball carrier in the middle of the park and his carrying is that sets him apart.

TEO

Te’o training with England.

He can take the ball to the line causing all sorts of problems for opposition defences all over the pitch.

Cooper Vuna

Position: Wing  Nationality: Tongan  Age: 29  Height: 1.80m  Weight: 110kg

A deadly winger who Worcester rely on to find the line. His blistering pace and electric feet make him one of the most deadly finishers in the Premiership.

Vuna is sure to be a key part of Worcester’s Premiership campaign this season due to his attacking brilliance.

TRANSFERS

IN (9)

Biyi Alo (Saracens, ENG)

Alafoti Fa’osiliva (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Francois Hougaard (South Africa Sevens, SAF)

Marco Mama (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dewald Potgieter (Yamaha Jubilo, JAP)

Will Spencer (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ben Te’o (Leinster, IRE)

Matt Williams (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Jackson Willison (Grenoble, FRA)

OUT (13)

Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier (Nevers, FRA)

Ravai Fatiaki (Released, REL)

Dan George (Released, REL)

Matt Gilbert (Hartpury College RFC, ENG)

Alex Grove (Birmingham Moseley, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Harlequins, ENG)

Darren O’Shea (Munster, IRE)

Joe Rees (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Dan Sanderson (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Sam Smith (Retired, RET)

Ben Sowrey (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Heath Stevens (London Welsh, ENG)

Andy Symons (Gloucester Rugby, ENG)

Hougaard and Te’o show real intent and ambition from Worcester and will improve them massively the recruitment of Potgieter and Mama bolsters the back row.

HOUGAARD

Hougaard scores a try for the Springboks.

Mulchrone will be a miss and Symons effective midfield presence could hurt them.

My Worcester Warriors 23

15 Chris Pennell 14 Cooper Vuna 13 Wynand Olivier 12 Ben Te’o 11 Tom Biggs 10 Tom Heathcote 9 Francois Hougaard

1 Nick Schonert 2 Niall Annett 3 James Johnston 4 Tevita Cavubati 5 Donncha O’Callaghan 6 Dewald Potgieter 7 Marco Mama 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze (Captain)

16 Jaba Bregvadze 17 Val Rapava-Ruskin 18 Na’ama Leleimalefaga 19 Will Spencer 20 Alafoti Fa’osiliva 21 Jonny Arr 22 Ryan Mills 23 Bryce Heem

Worcester will not expecting trophies and relegation could be looming for Carl Hogg’s side.