Following on from the previous post about my picks for the Lions backs, here are my picks for the forwards. As always the aim is to build team of balance who can build dominance in the set piece and compete at the breakdown and in the loose.
1 Loose Head Prop
Contenders: Jack McGrath, Mako Vunipola, Cian Healy, Rob Evans, Gethin Jenkins, Alasdair Dickinson
- Rob Evans had an excellent Six Nations, with strong carries and solid scrummaging. However I think it’s a bit soon for him. He’s behind a number of other props.
- Gethin Jenkins has served Wales well for years, but is now past his best and unlikely to make another Lions tour.
- Cian Healy would have been my first choice for the number 1 shirt over the last 3 seasons but has been troubled with injury and unable to show whether he’s back to his best.
- Jack McGrath has stepped in admirably for Healy and it’s testament to McGrath that Ireland haven’t really missed him.
- Alasdair Dickinson had a decent Six Nations, but probably isn’t at the same level as the other contenders.
- For England, Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola are in close contention for the number 1 jersey. For me, Marler has not proven to be the answer as a scrummager. To be fair, neither has Vuniploa, but Vunipola offers a lot more in open play, as shown by his offloading game.
Contenders: Rory Best, Jamie George, Dylan Hartley, Sean Cronin.
- For me, none of the Wales or Scotland Hookers made a name for themselves during the Six Nations. I like Ross Ford – he reminds be of Bismarck Du Plessis, but is not as good.
- Sean Cronin offers something a bit different from the others. He surprised me with his cameos from the bench for Ireland.
- Hartley was excellent leading England to their first Six Nations Grand Slam for 12 years. He could probably offer a bit more in the loose but his lineout throwing was top notch and he was solid in all other aspects of play.
- Jamie George hasn’t really had enough game time to prove himself at international level. I think he will, but given that he’s currently behind Hartley it’s hard to pick him for the Lions.
3. Tight Head Prop
Contenders: W.P. Nel, Samson Lee, Dan Cole, Kieran Brookes
- As the Anchor of the scrum, this position is mightily important. During the Six Nations, W P Nel was the standout scrummaging tight-head.
- Samson Lee was solid after his return form injury. Not the most dynamic carrier, but doesn’t let the side down.
- Dan Cole seems to be first choice for England, but in my opinion he’s a liability for his penalty count, both in the scrum and in the loose. The only
- I think Kieran Brookes will overtake Cole as England’s starting tight-head on 2017. However, I’m picking a team as if they were playing this summer so he’s out of the equation due to lack of game time.
My Picks for the Front Row
1. Loose Head: Jack McGrath – Has been excellent over the last 2 seasons. Commitment and scrummaging ability are not in question.
2. Hooker: Rory Best – a tough call between Hartley and Best.
3. Tight Head: W.P. Nel – The best scrummager
The Second Row
Contenders: Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Devin Toner, Luke Charteris, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray.
- Both Gray brothers were notable during the tournament with Jonny slightly edging above Richie in the pecking order.
- Charteris was notable for some excellent steals in the maul with his long arms wrapping up the ball where others can’t reach. Does he have enough effect in other areas
- Alun Wyn Jones was solid as ever. Maybe not his most notable tournament, but didn’t do a lot wrong.
- I’m not sure if Devon Toner is good enough. He’s tall, but is that enough for a Lions player. Probably not.
- Itoje is new to international rugby, but all the hype seems to have been justified. His line-out steals alone have given England turnovers where they weren’t expected. Came in for England due to injuries but is now in front of Launchbury and Lawes, who just a year ago both would have been contenders for Lions places. England are so strong in the Second row now.
- Kruis was another contender for player of the tournament.with barely a mistake in tackling, carrying, scrummaging and calling the line-out. Is there a better second row in the NH right now?
My Picks for the Second Row
4: George Kruis – Probably the best 2nd row in the NH at the moment.
5: Maroe Itoje – Athleticism, carrying and line-out turnovers to cause havoc.
The Back Row
6. Blindside Flanker
Contenders: Dan Lydiate, Chris Robshaw, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahoney, Josh Strauss, James Haskell
- Dan Lydiate has been injured, and refs have started to notice that his signature “chop” tackle is often not a real tackle. A solid performer but hasn’t marked games in the way he used to.
- CJ Stander has proven an excellent find for Ireland – a great ball carrier and solid tackler.
- Chris Robshaw has found his proper position at 6. He has an engine like no other, regularly tops the tackle charts and is an underrated lineout option.
- Peter O’Mahoney has been injured for too long, so it is as a sign of respect that I’ve included him.
- Josh Strauss has been a great find for Scotland. Given a bit more time I think he will be a contender, but right now he’s close, but no cigar.
7. Openside Flanker:
Contenders: Sean O’Brien, Chris Henry, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Jack Clifford, John Hardie, Steffon Armitage
- John Hardie came out of nowhere to make an impact on the Six Nations for Scotland.
- Sean O’Brien has been one of Ireland’s best ball carriers but injury problems mean he can’t really be picked right now.
- I haven’t seen enough of Chris Henry so can’t pick him
- Similarly Jack Clifford has done well for short periods for England but can’t really be a contender for the Lions just yet,
- Steffon Armitage is difficult to judge without international games. But he’s that good for Toulon and has contributed so much to their European victories that you have to keep him in the picture, especially since he can play 7 and 8.
- The contest for the Wales 7 shirt was clearly won by Warburton this year which puts Tipuric out of the picture. Warburton has been strong, is a leader and fits the bill for a ball-winning 7.
8. Number 8
Contenders: Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola, Jamie Heaslip
- David Denton and Jamie Heaslip are fine players, but if this Six Nations taught us one thing it is that Faletau and Vunipola are head and shoulders above the rest.
- Faletau is the king of tackling. Such a strong player in the tackle area and not a bad carrier. Good under the high ball and at the back of the scrum.
- Vunipola is a monster ball-carrier. His game has developed since Eddie Jones took over the England job and now you can’t see another English 8 overtaking him. Good
My Back Row Picks
The back row is about balance. I could pick any number of combinations and maybe the best players wouldn’t be in the team. For me, Vunipola and Faletau have to be in the team. If we include them both then it;s obvious that BV is no.8 and TF is no.6. In that case we have to have a proper 7 alongside them to SW gets the nod.
6: Taulupe Faletau – He’s really is a player that has to be included, but has to move to 6 to include the Six Nation’s other outstanding back rower
7: Sam Warburton – a proper 7 who can get over the ball and win turnovers.
8. Billy Vunipola – His Six Nations speaks for itself.
My Forwards Substitutes
Mako Vunipola – Vunipola offers a change for the end of the game. Decent in all areas but probably the most skilful openside there is when the game opens up/
Sean Cronin – A tough call, but like Mako Vunipola he’s a bit different and will cause problems later on.
Samson Lee – Another scrummager. Brookes might be a better option here to provice more dynamism, but Lee’s so close to taking the 3 shirt that he deserves the bench.
Alun Wyn Jones – a massive amount of experience and leadershipo to bring on and inspire a team during the last 20.
Steffon Armitage – Can cover 7 and 8 and has a fearsome reputation.
I believe that give a great starting pack and a dynamic group of forwards coming off the bench. It covers all positions with dynamism, skill, experience and leadership.