The Irish and Welsh Lions

I am a World Class armchair sports fan – from the comfort of my living room sofa there is nothing I enjoy more than settling down to an exciting weekend of sport. And no sporting event captures my attention like the always thrilling Six Nations. In my opinion there is no other international tournament that is so passionately followed and evenly matched as the Northern Hemisphere’s showpiece. I prefer the Six Nations to every other major sport competition, including the World Cup (in any sport).

So I had a heightened sense of anticipation on Saturday waiting for the mouthwatering first round of fixtures – and once again The Six Nations delivered: France showed typical flair in outclassing the Italians; England battled the freezing conditions to edge past the Scots; but it was in Dublin that the competition really proved its value, with Wales’ inspired last minute victory over Ireland. Top notch armchair sport.

However if there is one other rugby event that can match this annual tournament, it’s the rare thrill of a British and Irish Lions tour. In 2005 I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand (with my dad) to watch one first hand. Unfortunately our boys were walloped 3-0 by arguably the greatest ever All Blacks side, but the tour itself will always rank as my most memorable live sport experience.

So at the end of a Six Nations opening weekend, and with a Lions tour of Australia looming in 2013, who would currently make the grade?

As an England fan I was hit with the stark reality that we are now far from the best Northern Hemisphere rugby nation. I honestly believe not one of our starting XV would get into a current Lions side. After watching Sundays match in Dublin the Lions line up would have to almost wholly consist of the Welsh and Irish.

The Welsh backs have to dominate. Phillips, Priestland, Roberts, Davies, North and Halfpenny would all stake a claim. And a few Irishman would also compete in a few areas: Bowe may start, with Kearney and Sexton also close to the lineup. Up front too the Celts stand tall: Adam Jones, Rory Best and Gethin Jenkins would be my front row, with Paul O’Connell and maybe Alun Wynn Jones completing the front five. With the captain Warburton in the back row, Heaslip and O’Brien (maybe Ferris) would form a formidable force.

Not an English (or Scottish) name in sight – although maybe I am being too harsh. The Northampton contignent of Hartley, Lawes, Foden and Ashton have a hope of making the starting XV, and a few Scots too might stake a claim: Hamilton and Gray in the second row, Evans on the wing and the young number eight Denton looked impressive.

I’m sure plenty of Scots and Englishman will stand out across the next two international seasons, but currently the Irish and Welsh hold all the jerseys in my opinion.

But please feel free to ridicule my team and suggest your own 2013 Lions XV. I was an average player at best, and despite enjoying my prostrate sofa analysis, I am far from an professional pundit…its amazing how after one weekend of international rugby we all profess to be seasoned experts!


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16 thoughts on “The Irish and Welsh Lions”

  1. Dear anonymous, if you don’t like a blog then fine, but why not offer some constructive criticism rather than “hilarious” insults?

    I enjoyed reading this, I think you’re being a bit harsh on some of the English/Scottish players; I thought Botha played well in the second row for England and, as you mentioned, Denton played well for Scotland. As long as they don’t touch Dan Parks with a barge pole!!

  2. Dear Anon (1)

    Knowing Matt reasonaly well, I can confirm he is indeed a World Class armchair sports person, and doubt that will change…

    The only change England currently have of having a player in the squad would be their Saffer Botha…I also think you are being a little harsh to Denton, the Scottish number 8, who in my opinion was one of the stars of the 6-Nations, albeit in a very dreary game; and Max Evans would have an outside chance (if the ball got to hime slightly more often). Kearney before Halfpenny, unless he is playing on the wing and hard to pick Gethin when is constantly injured.

    Anyway, maks no difference for the time being, lets just hope England are competitie on the weekend as if they play like that again Italy may pick up their biggest international scalp too date.

  3. Very interesting piece. I wonder how much emphasis will be placed on either picking existing national combinations for continuity or getting the ‘best’ players on the pitch regardless.

    If Warren Gatland is named as coach as has been heavily tipped – I would expect plenty of Welsh backs as you have said. North as Lions cult hero written all over him. I think a player like Kearney might get in, based on how well he played in SA 2009 for the Lions. Assuming it is Gatland in charge (and probably with Sean Edwards) – I wonder if he would stick with the Welsh backrow. The Irish use a completely different tactic at the breakdown, dont they and prefer to keep the man off the ground and rob him instead of the Welsh low-tackling and jackaling method. The fact that we will be playing Australia is also a factor – will he load up the squad with tough scrummagers to attack their infamous weakness at scrum (Stephen Moore is a great player though) or will he use more mobile props and play an expansive game on the hopefully running rugby-friendly hard surfaces.

    Based on what we saw in round 1, I agree with you that Ireland and Wales will make up the majority of the team supplemented by players like Richie Gray, maybe Denton, Lawes etc that are deemed to offer something special. Im sure it will all change after a few rounds. There is always the odd darkhorse that gets in – someone like a Luke Wallace at Quins or Joe Launchbury at Wasps could come from nowhere and feature! We are of course basing selections based on what we see on the pitch but there is the fact that players will be chosen based on their character and how they will behave as Lions tourists – Tom Croft wasnt selected in 2009 originally due to a perceived issue with him being too quiet I believe and they went with the streetwise Alan Quinlan instead. He then got himself suspended and Croft got in anyway – but the point remains that several high class performers may not make the team for reasons not immediately visible to the fans.

    Agree with SuperVD that the more urgent concern for England is to improve on last week’s performance. If we only have 32 possession and 28% territory vs Italy, we will lose heavily!

    1. Thanks Russ – your analysis is spot on in my opinion.

      I haven’t seen much from Launchbury, but as a bit of Quins man, Luke Wallace has got real potential, although unless something happens to Warburton the seven shirt will surely be his?

      England will have to improve – but I think (hope) they will. Scotalnd aren’t that bad, they’ve got a lot of grunt up front, and to win (however luckily) with seven new caps, at a cold tough Murrayfield is no mean feat.

      I always remain optimistic on England, but Wales and Ireland are so tough I still think the Lions team has to be primarily made up of the Celts.

  4. In response to ‘Anon’ – If you’re asking the question “who would start for the Lions based on the weekends performances?” then maybe Botha and Denton have a case, however, both have played just one game for their respective countries and would need to do something super-human to even be considered for a starting Lions spot.

    Interesting blog from my ‘commuter buddy’. With a fully fit roster of players, it is very poissible that Ireland and Wales could make up the entire starting 15 for the 2013 Lions on current form- I think Richie Gray would have to be considered strongly… I also think things will be more clear cut after this campaign – the current Six nations will unearth a few more gems of British rugby – we have already seen what Manu Tuilagi can do when he gets going and he would definately push Jonathan Davies for the 13 jersey when fit. Likewise I think it is a complete toss-up for the 15 shirt, with Kearney, Halfpenny and Foden all going great guns. Best isn’t guarenteed a spot with Ford, Hartley and Rees all having their eyes on the prize. I’m sure more competition for spots will develop.

    There is no denying that Ireland and Wales are the better of the four Triple Crown contenders at this time, and if the lions was selected at this moment, they would be strongly represented. However, as this ‘World Class armchair sports fan’ eludes to….16 months is a long time in any sport. Foden could have two kids by then- his wife may be reluctant to let him play more than 1 game a week!

      1. “King Greenwood” is probably a better shout than Cipriani at the moment…. watching him play in the “Help the Heroes” legends match last year, he’s still got it.

        I reckon he could still put in a useful 40minute stint at least!

  5. Anon 2, couldn’t agree more, he knows the conditions down under better than any one else. He is definitely a born winner, and reckon he will be a starter…

  6. Have to be honest – The opinions of the “named” commenters seem to be slightly more valid and intelligent than those of the the “Anonymous” commenters (and 1) – but I’ll always approve them (when the language is clean).

    And who knows, maybe Cipriani will turn it all around and become a “great player” (a bit unlikely though)…

  7. Who are these Anonymous T…ts? Cipriani? Seriously? Bog off and do something useful you plonkers, like taking a long walk of a short pier.

  8. I thought the Ireland – Wales game stood out as the best by a long way at the weekend, watch out for George North in the coming season, that’s what I say.

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