The fifth in a seven-part series in the run up to this summer’s selection, taking a look at the 2013 incumbents and their chances of being selected again.
2013 tour: Comfortably the most experienced of the 2013 halves, Phillips made his case for the test team with two tries against the Barbarians, forcing many of us to admit against our own will that he was in fact good. He played four matches on tour, and like much of the Welsh population he started the third test.
Since then: Having previously announced his intention to never move back to a Welsh club, Phillips was sacked in late 2013 by Bayonne for ‘repeated misconduct’. He was later welcomed by Racing Metro. Internationally he found himself losing ground to Rhys Webb and was eventually dropped for the 2015 world cup, and didn’t play even when Webb was injured. Stuck on 99 caps, he retired from internationals after the tournament. Now playing back in England for Sale, Phillips announced his retirement from all pro rugby would come at the end of the season.
Touring chances: 3%. He’s still playing, so it’s not completely outside the realms of the possible, but anyone who thinks it’s necessary is probably Mike Phillips.
2013 tour: Most likely a pick for the midweek side, a 23-year-old Murray made appearances against each of the club teams before coming on as a sub in the latter two tests.
Since then: He has become the nailed-on starter for the Lions. Murray’s strength is in his consistency and decision-making, but marries it with an all-round game of high quality service, close-range tries and fine kicking game. Best on field the last time anyone beat the All Blacks. His wikipedia page is enormous.
Touring chances: 99.5%. I’m not saying 100% for anybody, because strange things happen. But it’s fair to say he’s been telling people he’s busy this summer.
2013 tour: The England scrum half was one of the young talents to emerge from Martin Johnson’s time as coach with some credit. Youngs competed for a starting test spot on the tour but only did so in the second Test, which the Lions lost. He was dropped for the third.
Since then: A mercurial talent whose unpredictable flashes of brilliance occur in entirely predictable places – that is, whenever he has plenty of front-foot ball, Youngs has been in and out of the England team but has been an important cog in the recent string of victories, particularly last autumn. A dodgy six nations (in which England’s first choice back row were injured) and questionable European cup appearances (in which Leicester’s increasingly unimpressive pack were beaten up front comfortably) re-established the pattern.
Touring chances: 65%. Ben Youngs being a Lions player is something that we’re just going to have to get used to. Probably competing for third place rather than first now, so it’s likely that he’ll look the best of them by only playing in matches where the Lions have that pack dominance he craves.
2013 tour: Went as first choice and stayed there, starting all three tests on tour and bagging a fine try to start the Lions backs’ party in the third.
Since then: Kept doing what he has been doing, which is being the best 10 in the six nations. Went to play in France for a bit, as they all do now. Gets a few murmurs about no longer being the man for the job, usually while injured and someone like Paddy Jackson is being above average. Continues to look the assured maestro of Ireland’s game every time he comes back.
Touring chances: 98%. Booked and will start the first test except in an emergency. Negotiations between Leinster and Lions staff regarding keeping him frozen in carbonite until the tour begins are ongoing.
2013 tour: An excellent goal kicker, strong tackler, and consummate northerner, Farrell was second choice in 2013 after having established himself in the England side the previous year as a 20-year-old. One of only two fly halves, he played the majority of midweek games as well as all three tests as a sub.
Since then: Went through a period of battling the similarly backgrounded George Ford for his England place, with Farrell being out of favour for the 2015 world cup. The less said about that the better, Eddie Jones’ solution was to successfully pair up the two as 10 and 12. Farrell’s re-emergence as an international goal-kicking 12 has made him arguably the most improved international of the last four years, all while continuing to impress in the 10 shirt for Saracens. And Saracens have turned into the principle European super-club on his watch too. So that’s handy.
Touring chances: 99%. Like Sexton, Farrell has a few games this season to not get injured.
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