With the 2015 Six Nations barely over, it’s time to fast forward two years ahead in time to the British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand for some reason. Who makes the XV for the starting test against Richie McCaw’s All Blacks?
1.) Graham Rowntree
Despite starting the tour as scrummaging coach, Rowentree’s frustration and impatience have seen him return to the fold at loosehead prop. Being quoted as “sick of this sh*te”, Rowntree added that instead of him trying to aid young props in their development, he would now take joy in destroying everything they value. Criticized for picking himself over younger, fitter options, he responded “Why get others to do it when you can do it yourself?”
2.) Andy Titterell
Embarking on his second Lions tour, Andy Titterell’s experience in the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour to the New Zealand makes him an ideal candidate to lead the lineout. Lucky enough to win a place on the 2005 Lions Tour from a Golden Wispa, Titterell said he looked forward to the rugby aspect of this tour. Clive Woodword’s approach of a 6 Week Slumber Party did not aid the 93 man panel in the ’05 tour, so Titterell has said he is “excited, but slightly disappointed” at this rugby led approach. Amassing 5 caps for England, Titterell’s international experience is crucial to his selection.
3.) Tom Court
After holidaying in Auckland and staying in the same hotels as the British and Irish Lions for the last 5 weeks (what a coincidence ha), Court earns his call up at tighthead prop after a series of bizarre injuries to Samson Lee, Dan Cole, David Wilson, Euan Murray and Marty Moore. Yet to play a game, the coaching staff have ensured he is up to the level.
4.) Simon Shaw
Inspired by Paul O’Connell’s inability to age, Simon Shaw made a huge impact upon his return the Guinness Premiership in 2016. With a renewed vigour, Shaw’s dedication to capture a winning Lions Series is a key instrument to the team. An engine of a player.
5.) Paul O’Connell
Paul O’Connell leads the Lions from the second row, his second tour as Lions tour captain. At the tender age of 37 Paul O’Connell has gone from strength to strength. After winning the Heineken Cup, Pro 12, RBS Six Nations, Super XV and Munster Schools Junior Cup all within the same year, O’Connell provides a winning mentality to the second row. Inspiring, motivational, the man can do no wrong.
6.) Tom Croft
Sustaining an injury after the 2013 Lions Tour, Croft remained on the sidelines until two weeks before the touring party to 2017. Playing 34 minutes rugby during those two weeks saw him emerge as the prime candidate to take the blindside shirt, as “the hard ground of New Zealand will suit his pace”. Never one to shy away from contact, Croft made two tackles on the tour thus far, hitting zero rucks. He has also popped up on the wing to score 8 tries – the Lions’ top scorer.
7.) Clive Ross
Turned down contracts from New Zealand and South Africa who wanted him to qualify under residency, Ross enters New Zealand with a point to prove. Spurred on by remarks from Stephen Ferris, Ross has become what many would describe as the best back row to enter the concept of rugby. Ferocious on the ground, “tremenjus” with the ball, he tackles like Dan Lydiate on acid. Has vowed to cut the All Blacks in half figuratively, and literally.
8.) Andy Powell
The Welsh number 8 has been in great form since switching back to rugby union, terrorizing defences for the Llanelli Scarlets. Turning to religion saved the former Lion’s career after a well-documented driving charge leveled at him for his golf caddy escapades. With religion at his side however, he is a new man on and off the pitch.
9.) Mike Phillips
Despite the electric form of Conor Murray, Rhys Webb and Ben Youngs, the physicality of Mike Phillips allows him to secure the starting role. With a status as a “Test Lion”, his experience – and physicality – have seen him leapfrog all the form scrum halves. His physicality has been touted as the main reason he has been picked, alongside his experiences in ’09 and ’13. Here he forms an extremely physical half back partnership, providing a lot of experience to Kelly Haimona’s unexperienced physicality. Experience. Physicality.
10.) Kelly Haimona
With the Lions introducing a “Wildcard” selection ahead of the New Zealand Tour, there was only ever one man for the job. After a memorable first Six Nations for Italy in 2015, Kelly Haimona’s move to Toulon saw him become the most entertaining fly-half in professional rugby. Starring in Toulon’s 2015 European Cup victory, contrasted with his performance in their relegation from their Top 14 the following year, his versatile attacking game has set the rugby world alight. Many have touted the highlight of the 2017 Lions Tour to be the return of Kelly Haimona’s attritional kicking game.
11.) Johnny May
In what must be a typo on behalf of the coaching staff, clarity has yet to emerge on the left wing spot.
12.) Andy Goode
Goode is somewhat lucky to get the starting 12 jersey over Danny Barnes, however that is largely due to his fantastic chemistry with current out half, Kelly Haimona. Initially held by New Zealand police over facial hair concerns, Goode has been in top form since joining the camp. The 10-12 axis is crucial to Lions hopes, and this is where Goode and Haimona thrive. The pair work excellently together, after sparking up a successful working relationship over Snapchat. They remain best friends on Snapchat to this day.
13.) Billy O’Driscoll
Spellbinding on his Irish debut in the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Billy O’Driscoll’s ascension from mini rugby to 2017 British and Irish Lion is an inspiring tale of passion, and commitment. Yet to go a game without being compared to his father, BOD 2.0 hopes to avenge the infamous spear tackle that ruled Brian O’Driscoll out of the 2005 series. Opposing Malakai Fekitoa Billy O’Driscoll gives up 22 years in age and over 90kgs in weight, but O’Driscoll’s canny sidestep and ability to run between players’ legs has become a trademark.
14.) Zayn Malik
After making a career in winging it for One Direction, Zayn Malik has taken his career in another direction aiming to legitimately wing it. His dancing feet have proved useless on the rugby pitch as he has notched up a record 12 concussions in 7 games, yet he returned to finish each game under the new concussion protocols. On the pitch primarily for shirt sales, he is expected to be killed by Julian Savea within the opening 5 minutes.
15.) Joe Hart
Following in the footsteps of David Bentley and Aaron Kernan, Joe Hart swapped his goalie gloves for the oval ball in the second season of “The Toughest Trade”. He hasn’t looked back since. An intense gym programme, further shampoo commercials, and honing his craft under Stuart Lancaster, Hart has made his claim as England’s number
1 15. Mike Brown’s decision to quit rugby to star in the sequel to Green Street alongside Halfpenny’s signature with the Miami Dolphins allowed Hart to scale the heights of world rugby quickly.
Coaches – Neil Francis and Warren Gatland
Joe Schmidt was the favourite for the post, however after he took the Irish political scene by storm the Taoiseach – a mere rugby coach at the time – announced that he was no longer interested in the position. The favourites tag then fell to Neil Francis and Warren Gatland. Although they didn’t see eye to eye initially, this tale of two foes soon became a whirlwind romance. After a successful venture together in the butter and margarine industry, the world was at their feet. With the dairy sector conquered, there was only one feat left for the dynamic duo to overcome. The All Blacks, in New Zealand.