Following on from our initial look at British and Irish Lions contenders from the first half of the Gallagher Premiership clubs, we now turn our attentions to London Irish, Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks, Saracens, Wasps and Worcester Warriors.
There is an unending stream of domestic, European and international rugby between now and the beginning of the tour of South Africa in 2021, something which will give plenty of players an opportunity to impress head coach Warren Gatland and his senior staff.
Although many of these teams have historically had limited representation when it comes to the Lions, there are a number of candidates at these clubs putting their hands up for selection in what is arguably the most anticipated Lions tour in the professional era.
We round up each club’s standout candidates for selection, as well as a notable dark horse who could force their way into the mix with a strong 10 months of rugby.
Potential tourists – Ben Loader
Realistically, Loader is the only player at Irish who is potentially in the frame for the Lions. The gifted wing took his opportunities in the Greene King IPA Championship to cement himself into the Irish XV and he has since backed that up with strong displays in the Premiership.
It’s still a long shot for Loader to be involved, although a strong end to the 2019/20 season could help propel him towards an England call-up and that, as well as Sean O’Brien’s age and injury issues, makes Loader the front-runner in Sunbury.
Dark horse – Ollie Hassell-Collins
Hassell-Collins soared to public awareness against Gloucester earlier this season, when he bagged four tries in a 24-20 victory for Irish. He forms one third of an exciting home-grown back three which also includes Loader, as well as Tom Parton. Loader would seem to be the next cab off the rank for Irish in terms of international honours, although do not rule out Hassell-Collins if he continues to turn in clinical performances.
Potential tourists – Mark Wilson
Similar to Irish, Newcastle really only have one player currently who can be talked about in Lions terms and that is returning back rower Wilson. His time at Sale on loan is done, Newcastle were able to successfully secure promotion back to the Premiership and now the 30-year-old is ready to add to his plethora of appearances for Falcons.
It is a big ask for Wilson to make the cut, with his role with England having diminished amid the rises of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, let alone his rivals from Wales, Scotland and Ireland also coming into the equation. That said, Wilson does offer versatility to play across the back row and brings experience, as well as a toughness and resilience that would serve him well in South Africa.
Dark horse – Josh Basham
Unfortunately, there is no clear dark horse at Newcastle and certainly very few who would stack up alongside the riches that Gatland has to call upon from the four component nations. Basham, though, is a very exciting young back rower and if Dean Richards gives him an opportunity next season, he could well run with it, albeit if not likely all the way to a spot on the plane to South Africa.
Game on. https://t.co/26Sebj0qyk
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2020
Both Lawes and Biggar will be confident of being able to make strong cases for their inclusions, especially with the ages of Alun Wyn Jones and Johnny Sexton. Furbank went well in his first tastes of international rugby at full-back and could yet offer some competition for Lions incumbent, Stuart Hogg.
Ludlam was beneficial to England at the recent Rugby World Cup with the carrying that he brought to the back row and Hutchinson has excelled for Saints, although opportunities at international level with Scotland have been limited to this point. Isiekwe’s performances, away from the shadow of Maro Itoje and George Kruis, will be intriguing to watch.
Dark horse – Alex Mitchell
As mentioned in the previous article, there seem to be opportunities opening up for young English scrum-halves over the coming year and Mitchell could throw his hat into the mix with Harry Randall and Jack Maunder as someone who could contribute in the Lions set-up. Cobus Reinach’s boots will not be easy to fill, but if he can, Mitchell will have shown what a capable performer he is.
Remarkably, Wood has already been given the all-clear to begin non-contact training. https://t.co/Fcr0jqGf7v
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 3, 2020
Potential tourists – Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi
Curry is one player who has arguably cemented himself into Gatland’s plans barring injury and has shown his capability across the back row already for England. There is no doubt he would be licking his lips at the prospect of getting another opportunity against the Springboks, albeit in the red of the Lions rather than the white of England.
Similarly, Tuilagi, if fit, is surely on the plane to South Africa. He brings an ability to get over the gain-line to the midfield that no other players in the British Isles can match. Whether it is through his pace and his outside break, or through his ability to step inside and carry over and through defenders, very few players in the world can match up with a fit and in-form Tuilagi.
Dark horse – Ben Curry
If you like Tom Curry enough to pick, why not double down with another player built in the same mould? In fairness, Ben is a slightly different player to his twin brother, with more skill as a natural fetcher, although the trade off is that he does not quite have Tom’s level of physicality. Gatland does not lack for options in the back row, although doubling down on the Curry twins wouldn’t be the worst move.
This celebrated sextet should all head out to South Africa assuming they are fit and it is unlikely that a season in the Championship and/or a loan spell to France is going to change Gatland’s mind on that. At least five of the six would seem strong bets to be in Gatland’s strongest XV.
Whether or not a lower calibre of opposition in the Championship prompts Gatland to rethink one or two of the players’ spots in his starting XV is a potential debate, though it should not see any of them miss making the overall squad.
Dark horse – Duncan Taylor
Injuries have blighted Taylor’s career, but when fit there is arguably no better defensive outside centre in the British Isles. That may not be enough to see him earn a place amongst the likes of Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph and Garry Ringrose, though he does offer something different to the other players in the mix.
Launchbury is the standout player at Wasps and has led the club on and off the pitch admirably. That said, lock is one of the positions of real strength for Gatland and it is that level of competition, both in terms of quality and quantity, that has seen Launchbury miss out in the past.
Shields’ first moments in an England jersey came in South Africa and he flashed his ability then, whilst Robson is a player that fans have called for to be involved with England for years now, only for Eddie Jones to turn a deaf ear. The trio have plenty of talent between them, though it would not be surprising to see Wasps go without representation next year, either, such is the intensity of the position battles going into 2021.
Dark horse – Jack Willis
If Gatland wants to hurt South Africa in transition and pick a player built to provide turnovers, he could do worse than have a look at Willis. Whether or not he has done enough to keep out players like Curry, Underhill, Justin Tipuric and Dan Leavy is a valid question, but his performances at club level have been consistently excellent.
Ibitoye leaves Quins with immediate effect. https://t.co/q2mzzRayVy
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 3, 2020
Potential tourists – Ted Hill
Having recently been named club captain at just 21 years of age, Hill is a player with a swiftly-filling rugby resume. He has already made his England debut and brings an almost scary level of physicality to his tackling as a blindside flanker. In any era which does not boast two such exciting young back row talents as the ‘Kamikaze Twins’, Hill would be being ordained as England’s future.
Can Hill turn himself into that Pieter-Steph du Toit prototype on the blindside this season? It will not be an easy task in a Worcester side that could struggle at times over the next year, though he is clearly a young man with his head well and truly screwed on and intent on improving as a rugby player.
Dark horse – Ollie Lawrence
There are not many more exciting rugby players than Lawrence and he has shown that he has the maturing all-round game to go alongside the exhilarating attacking moments that he is capable of creating at the flick of a switch. He has not looked out of his depth at all since transitioning from age-grade rugby to regular appearances in the Premiership and if Gatland wants to inject power and pace into his midfield, Lawrence could be at the top of a relatively short list of bolters.
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