So here’s the question. If you were picking a Lions team right now on the back of the Six Nations, what would it look like? Well, the answer is it would look very different to the one that took the field in South Africa last summer.
Nine players started all three Tests against the Springboks – Duhan van der Merwe, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Biggar, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Jack Conan, Tom Curry and skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
In addition, a further six were in the match-day 23 throughout the series – Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ken Owens, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Elliot Daly, Ali Price. You can read more about that acrimonious trip here.
So, out of those 15, how many would make a Lions side if it was being selected today, based on form and fitness? As you will see from the team we have picked, the answer is just two, while a number of the players we have gone for didn’t even make the tour of South Africa.
It just shows how much can change in rugby in the space of nine months. So here’s our Lions team for 2022. See what you think.
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15. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
Only made his Test debut in October 2020 but is now one of the first names on the Irish team-sheet. He just has the complete all-round game at full-back, with his solidity in defence and under the high ball, his running threat and his ability to act as an additional playmaker. A worthy mention for England’s Freddie Steward who had a fine campaign.
14. Darcy Graham (Scotland)
The one player from north of the border to make our team. Amid Scotland’s decline during the tournament, he continued to shine, delivering a fine finish against Wales and also crossing versus Italy, with his quick feet and elusive running making him a real handful. Made 392 metres in all.
13. Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
Missed out on selection for the last two Lions tours and was arguably unlucky to do so, but you would have to think he’d be firmly on board if one was being selected this summer. He has matured into a real quality Test centre, a midfield lynchpin in attack and defence, making the third most carries in the Championship as he racked up 389 metres.
12. Nick Tompkins (Wales)
If you look at the inside centre contenders, Tompkins was the one who delivered most consistently during his Six Nations outings, while he’s also been one of the best 12s in the English Premiership this season. Tremendous leg-drive in contact and non-stop energy, he was really missed when concussion stalled his progress. You can read more about Tompkins here.
11. James Lowe (Ireland)
Fellow Irish wing Mack Hansen had a memorable introduction to Test rugby, but Lowe just edges it for a starting spot. He is the tournament’s joint top try scorer with three touchdowns and made some 439 metres – the fourth highest – while he also provides an effective kicking game.
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
Ignored by the Lions last year, he has cast fresh doubt on that decision with his form over these past couple of months. He may have his 37th birthday coming up this summer, but there are still few players able to navigate a ship as effectively, while the trademark loop remains in good working order.
9. Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland)
The fact he pushed Antoine Dupont hard as scrum-half of the Six Nations speaks volumes. International rugby has come pretty late in the day for the 30-year-old, who had to bide his time on the residency road, but he is certainly making the most of it now. Produced four try assists, the joint highest with Ntamack. Don’t take your eyes off him for a second.
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1. Ellis Genge (England)
Unlucky not to be short-listed for player of the tournament because he has been simply immense. Got the better of Tadhg Furlong in the scrum, which takes some doing, while his carrying and tackling have been really destructive. An absolute force of nature and just so driven.
2. Dan Sheehan (Ireland)
Handed his chance by the unfortunate injury to Ronan Kelleher, he has taken it and how. Big for a hooker at 6ft 3ins and 17st 5lbs, he is a hard man to stop, a real battering ram who is in the top ten for tournament carries, while his lineout throwing has been on the money. Grew in stature, finishing with a try-scoring Man of the Match display against Scotland.
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
Yes, he had a tough time at the scrum at Twickenham, but everyone has an off day and he had a decent campaign overall, with his collective contribution in all facets of play making him a key figure. Has plenty of credit in the bank and, looking at the candidates, he remains the man for the job.
4. Maro Itoje (England)
Along with Furlong, the other Lions Test starter from last summer to make this team. He continues to set really high standards with his remarkable work-rate, while he was joint top of the pile for turnovers and third on the lineout list. Just an absolute pain to play against.
5. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
Will Rowlands had an excellent tournament for Wales and you can read more about that here. But Beirne’s brilliance means there has to be a spot for him in this side somewhere. Only Gregory Alldritt made more carries among the forward ranks, while, like Itoje, he is so athletic and so good over the ball. Together they pulled off 11 turnovers and won 45 lineouts. That will do for me as a second row pairing!
6. Caelan Doris (Ireland)
Missed the whole of last year’s Six Nations due to worrying concussion symptoms, scuppering his Lions chances, but all that is behind him now. Such a dynamic carrier, on the blindside or at No 8. When he gets into his stride, good luck trying to stop him. Makes so much ground, puts in so many tackles and is really effective at the breakdown too.
7. Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
Yet another member of this side – the eleventh in total – who didn’t even go on the Lions tour. The fact he is the only player from the Home Nations to have been short-listed for Player of the Championship says it all about his efforts, amid 58 tackles and 44 carries. The flying Dutchman – from Wicklow!
8. Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
Former Cardiff Met student Alex Dombrandt had a very decent tournament, but the way Faletau hit the ground running on the back of so little rugby was quite remarkable. Huge against England and then Herculean versus France where he outplayed Player of the Six Nations contender Gregory Alldritt. Proof that class is permanent.
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