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.

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Aviva Premiership Preview: Sale Sharks

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Steve Diamond

Captain: Josh Beaumont

Stadium: AJ Bell Stadium (Capacity: 12,000)

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th

Sale Sharks overperformed last year with a solid pack providing some quality ball for a backline lead by the maverick Danny Cipriani.

Sale despite having lost a few big names have a squad with some special players finally getting the recognition they deserve. Mike Haley and Sam James provide the excitement whilst Josh Beaumont is developing into an elite back row forward who is now captaining Sale.

HALEY.jpg

Sale fullback, Mike Haley.

Sale’s strike plays from deep make them hugely dangerous, the ability to attack at pace and without structure makes them deadly from 60-70 metres out. Sale use their pacey wingers and centres to score tries.

Sale have done exceptionally well to become such a successful club near Manchester having to compete with football and rugby league. The defence built by director of rugby Steve Diamond is excellent, they make hit after hit and can absorb pressure and work their way out of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Josh Beaumont

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 2.01m  Weight: 113kg

The captain is unlucky to be around at a time where Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Ben Morgan are playing. Beaumont is around the England squad and will fight his hardest as do his club to grab a place.

He will lead by example his work around the field are beneficial to the signature strike plays as he runs off the first and second receiver offering an effective crash ball carrier in the midfield.

Mike Haley

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 91kg

Mike Haley is a very dangerous fullback, he can attack with loose ball and that puts him up there with the very best fullbacks in the league. Haley has an attacking mindset and it makes him the focal point for Sale.

The fullbacks also has an abrasive edge and he certainly has time on his side having only turned 22 in June.

AJ MacGinty

Position: Fly-Half  Nationality: American  Age: 26  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 95kg

MacGinty won the Pro12 with Connacht last season and with him bringing that winning mentality and also a big game mentality to the club.

MACGINTY

AJ MacGinty lines up a kick for USA.

The international fly-half will hope to ignite the Sharks backline and get them firing in the absence of England international Danny Cipriani. MacGinty can act as a playmaker and one of the strike runners.

TRANSFERS

IN (11)

Halanki Aulika (London Irish, ENG)

Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors (rugby league), ENG)

Curtis Langdon (London Irish, ENG)

Kieran Longbottom (Saracens, ENG)

AJ MacGinty (Connacht, IRE)

Bryon McGuigan (Exeter Chiefs, ENG)

Dan Mugford (Nottingham, ENG)
Laurence Pearce (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Mike Phillips (Racing 92, FRA)

Lou Reed (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Rob Webber (Bath Rugby, ENG)

OUT (10)

Tom Brady (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Danny Cipriani (Wasps, ENG)

Vadim Cobilas (Bordeaux Begles, FRA)

Chris Cusiter (Retired, RET)

Mark Easter (Retired, RET)

Viliami Fihaki (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Joe Ford (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Phil Mackenzie (San Diego Breakers, USA)

Nick Macleod (Dragons, WAL)

Tommy Taylor (Wasps, ENG)

The signing of MacGinty is huge, he couples playmaking with serious pace and will be key to Sale’s play off chances. The recruitment of Aulika, Longbottom and Webber in itself is a frightening front row they add depth to Sale. Phillips is also a massive coup for the northern powerhouse. And as for Charnley…Jason Robinson comes to mind.

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Former Wigan Warrior, Josh Charnley.

The loss of English duo Taylor and Danny Cipriani will be big misses. Chris Cusiter brings his illustrious career to a close having represented his country 70 times and the Lions on one occasion. Tom Brady heading to Leicester depletes the wingers slightly, and losing Macleod sees the club have few playmakers left.

My Sale Sharks 23

15 Mike Haley 14 Tom Arscott 13 Johnny Leota 12 Sam James 11 Nev Edwards 10 AJ MacGinty 9 Peter Stringer

1 Ross Harrison 2 Rob Webber 3 Brian Mujati 4 George Nott 5 Lou Reed 6 David Seymour 7 TJ Ioane 8 Josh Beaumont

16 Neil Briggs 17 James Flynn 18 Halani Aulika 19 Andrei Ostrikov 20 Magnus Lund 21 Mike Phillips 22 Will Addison 23 Josh Charnley
Sale’s squad has very few star players. They do have a team that compliments each other and I believe a stronger team than last year, then again who does not this season will see them challenge for Champions Cup rugby.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Exeter Chiefs

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Rob Baxter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Stadium: Sandy Park (Capacity: 12,600)

Last Season: Runners-Up

Prediction: 3rd

Exeter Chiefs stunned everyone as they made the Premiership play-offs for the first time and went on to lose to Saracens in the final.

Baxter is known for his developing of young talent and with the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie finally gaining international recognition his plan seems to be working as he strengthens the squad with overseas talent.

NOWELL

Jack Nowell scoring for Exeter.

Exeter were happy to play expansive, attacking rugby by using their triumvirate of playmakers in the midfield all offering different styles. Gareth Steenson very much the measured controller, Slade the speedy creator and Ian Whitten the explosive link-man.

With the three outlets they can recycle ball quickly to set up two or three waves of attack one after the other sucking in defenders along with sending their big forwards ball carriers into the holes.

THREE TO WATCH

Luke Cowan-Dickie

Position: Hooker  Nationality: English  Age: 23 Height: 1.84m  Weight: 112kg

The young hooker has been pushing for an England place for a while and last season got a run in the team.

 

His work in the loose and effective carrying make him a valuable asset. He will overtake Yeandle as first choice if he can continue to produce the rugby that made him an international.

Jack Nowell

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.77m  Weight: 97kg

Nowell’s defensive ability make him a useful winger to have in the side, he covers kicks well and also has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one despite not being the quickest of wingers.

A determined competitor and a man that will make his mark on the season without a doubt, expect to see him challenge for a Lions spot.

Henry Slade

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 92kg

The playmaker will provide pace and bravery in equal measure and with his ability to play 10,12 or 13 he is versatility personified.

SLADE

Henry Slade is versatile player

Arguably the most naturally gifted back in the league. He is determined to play for his country watch him challenge Owen Farrell and George Ford to break into the team. Exciting times ahead for the 23 year old.

TRANSFERS

IN (4)

Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Greg Holmes (Queensland Reds, AUS)

Lachlan Turner (RC Toulon, FRA)

OUT (8)

Chrysander Botha (Welwitchias,NAM)

Alex Brown (USA Perpignan, FRA)
Adam Hughes, (Dragons, WAL)

Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils (rugby league), ENG)

Bryon McGuigan (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Jerry Sexton (London Irish, ENG)

Lewis Stevenson (Connacht, IRE)

Brett Sturgess (Ampthill, ENG)

Lachie Turner is an impressive coup the former Australia international is a real talent,  Ollie Devoto adds to a plethora of playmaking options in the already saturated Exeter midfield.

TURNER

Turner scoring for Australia.

None of the departures will be too much for Exeter. More of a cutting of the deadwood than any major moves away.

My Exeter Chiefs 23

15 Lachlan Turner 14 Jack Nowell 13 Henry Slade 12 Ian Whitten 11 James Short 10 Gareth Steenson (Captain) 9 Will Chudley

1 Alec Hepburn 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Tomas Francis 4 Damian Welch 5 Geoff Parling 6 Don Armand 7 Julian Salvi 8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Dave Ewers 21 Dave Lewis 22 Sam Hill 23 Olly Woodburn

Exeter should comfortably qualify for the play-offs again and don’t expect them to lie down in Europe either.

Likely Lions

With approximately a year to go until the Lions tour New Zealand I analyse my XV that I would have if the first test were to be played tomorrow. Following English and Scottish test series wins and Ireland’s victory in their first test, the northern hemisphere looks to be recovering from the World Cup.

  1. Mako Vunipola

It has to be the English prop. Jack McGrath is very close behind. The Saracens man has a hugely improved scrummaging game and his work in the loose is wonderful. This man carries as much as and makes as many tackles as any back row. Streets ahead of any of his home nation compatriots.

2. Dylan Hartley (Captain)

The England skipper has led England to nine wins in nine games. His abrasive nature and dogged determination make him a hugely influential player. He has to go and he has to go as captain. He has tempered the fiery nature that saw him pick up 54 weeks worth of bans and has become a totem of self control and power. He leads from the front and he won’t be found wanting in the desire category either. Does his bread and butter of the set piece to perfection.

hartley

Dylan Hartley winning the Calcutta Cup.

3. WP Nel

Nel is a hugely important part of Scotland’s scrum as well as being a key defensive cog in Scotland and Edinburgh’s systems. Dan Cole is very close to the South African born prop. The scrum will be key in New Zealand and Nel is possibly the best scrummaging tighthead in the world.

4. Maro Itoje

Anyone who thinks Itoje should not go on tour with the Lions must have been living under a rock for the last year. The Saracens lock is fast, strong and in form. His work over the park in the loose is wonderful. He is so talented he has become one of the best in is position in the world and just thinking about him matching up against Retallick is a mouth watering battle.

5. Alun Wyn Jones

Jones gets in due to the contribution he can give in terms of experience. He is a physical player and will add another lineout option for the Lions. Jones is one a very few Wales players that has played well in New Zealand. Kruis, Toner and both the Gray brothers aren’t far away.

6. Chris Robshaw

The Harlequins man has been redeemed well and truly since Eddie Jones took over, the best blindside England have had for years. His tackle rate and the amount of work he gets through is monumental. Lydiate is close but after this man’s performance in Australia he is impossible to leave out. England now have one of the finest back rows in the world and Chris Robshaw is a huge part of that.

7. James Haskell

The Wasps man is the man of the series despite only playing in two of the tests in Australia. Led on a path of redemption by Eddie Jones, he has come to the forefront. He is a fighter, he has eclipsed Warburton this year. One of England’s top performers in the Six Nations as well, he is well and truly nailed on to start on the Lions openside flank.

8. Billy Vunipola

The eight has been up there with the best this year. It seems as though he is finally becoming the player we always knew he could be. Another powerful ball carrying forward and a man that can go toe to toe with Read. Vunipola powers over players but contrary to popular belief has a bit of speed to himself as well. Faletau isn’t far away.

9. Rhys Webb

Webb is electric, his pace and sniping breaks make him the frontrunner for the ‘9’ jersey, he has a pass too. Webb has been one of Wales’ stars for the last couple of years and has inspired Wales to a few massive wins lately. Youngs’ kicking is superior but Webb just nicks it.

10. George Ford

Only one player could displace this player at the moment however he’s at 12 but we’ll talk about him later. Ford’s game management is becoming superior to any other player. His decision making is growing as well. The Bath fly-half has been among England’s top performers in Australia and his tackle counts would suggest his defensive frailties are no longer such a concern.

fordy

Ford is back to his best for England.

11. Liam Williams

The Welsh winger had to be included after his performances against the All Blacks he terrorised Fekitoa in the first test, he could not be stopped, he tore through at pace. His abrasive edge and pace make him a lethal weapon in the wide channels. Would have had him at fullback but a certain Scotsman has that nailed down.

12. Owen Farrell

The Saracens centre is the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere, only problem with that is he’s also the best inside centre in the northern hemisphere. He works miracles for England here with Ford inside him. He is the best goal kicker in the world, that makes him priceless at international level. He is also a hugely influential defender, his desire is huge and his appetite to be the best is insatiable.

13. Robbie Henshaw

Could just as easily be Joseph but Henshaw’s power is important if we don’t have a powerful carrier at 12 we need one at 13. Henshaw is a hugely important player for Ireland and if given space by the two English playmakers inside him he will be given acres of space to wreak havoc in New Zealand. His defensive capabilities also make him important, defence will be key against the All Blacks.lions logo.png

14. Anthony Watson

Deadly, lethal two words that perfectly describe the Bath flyer. His feet are electric and his pace scintillating. He is also very capable under the high ball and he uses this to his advantage leaping up for cross field kicks which will be implemented due to his club mate Ford is being deployed at 10. Watson can score at will and he will score tries down under.

15. Stuart Hogg

Jared Payne unlucky to miss out but the fullback is truly sensational, his speed makes him an asset to any team he plays for. Hogg is one of the most exciting fullbacks in the world, he attacks with verve and pace. The Six Nations player of the championship is going to be a massively important man for the Lions should he play.

So the player count is hugely skewed in England’s favour but surely after the Grand Slam and Australia series that is justified. England have nine players, Wales have three, Scotland two and Ireland just one.  Let’s just hope whoever is named can produce the result we got in 2013 in Australia.