Picking a Lions XV based strictly on Autumn Nations Cup form
The Autumn Nations Cup concluded with a narrow victory for England on Sunday, and it brought the curtain down on a patchy November for the Home Nations. Having gone unbeaten across October, November and December, and picking up the Six Nations and ANC along the way, England were the best team from the four. Ireland finished third, Scotland fourth and Wales fifth, which is probably a fair reflection of where each country stands.
But with the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa on the horizon, this was the penultimate international window for players to impress for their country ahead of the Six Nations in the spring.
There are of course injured personal to return for each country, but based on this autumn alone, this is the form Lions XV:
1 MAKO VUNIPOLA
Mako Vunipola’s output is freakish for a loosehead prop, and he was a vital cog in England’s relentless defence over the autumn.
2 JAMIE GEORGE
England’s Jamie George was probably the favourite to start against South Africa going into the autumn, and after opening his ANC with a hat-trick against Georgia, did nothing to damage his case.
4 MARO ITOJE
A man of the match performance against Ireland, and a consistently high performer for England, Maro Itoje’s defensive contribution is the cornerstone of his team’s success and he seems certain to start against the Springboks.
5 JAMES RYAN
Itoje’s Irish counterpart James Ryan was equally at his best throughout the autumn, and even captained his country for the first time. Though Alun Wyn Jones will be in the reckoning based on his reputation, Ryan is one of the form locks in the world, let alone in the Britain and Ireland.
6 TOM CURRY
Nomination for the ANC player of the tournament for his effervescent performances, Tom Curry continued to dominate in all aspects of the game as one half of the ‘Kamikaze Kids’.
7 SAM UNDERHILL
Sam Underhill’s place may have been under threat going into this international window given the welter of loose forwards England have, but he proved why he is still Eddie Jones’ first choice and a leading contender for the Lions. He not only has a defensive workrate that is virtually unrivalled, but it is his percentage of dominant tackles that makes him unique.
8 TAULUPE FALETAU
Wales’ Taulupe Faletau showed he is nearing his best again after an injury-ravaged few years, and capped off his autumn with a man of the match display against Italy. His power and ability to make hard yards has never been questioned, but his subtle hands could be needed to unlock a watertight South African defence.
9 BEN YOUNGS
In an autumn that was defined by kicking, Ben Youngs is one of the leading exponents of the box kick and executes Jones’ game plan for England with aplomb.
10 JONATHAN SEXTON
This autumn was a chance for Finn Russell to impress after reconciling with Gregor Townsend, but he managed just over a half of rugby in total before succumbing to a groin injury. With no standout fly-half in the tournament, Ireland looked far more comfortable when captain Jonathan Sexton was on the field, despite missing two matches with a hamstring injury.
11 JONNY MAY
Having scored one of the great tries in recent years against Ireland at Twickenham, Jonny May is at the top of his game. He may not get a huge amount of ball given how England play, but his kick chase is supreme, and he is always dangerous when in possession.
12 OWEN FARRELL
Although Owen Farrell had an uncharacteristically ropey day off the tee against France, the England captain is another player who was pivotal in the way his team played.
13 ROBBIE HENSHAW
With the likes of Garry Ringrose and Manu Tuilagi injured, and Jonathan Davies still working his way back after a knee injury, Robbie Henshaw showed he is an option in the No13 shirt.
14 DUHAN VAN DER MERWE
A controversial call but Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe managed three tries in his first five Tests, including a brilliant solo effort against Ireland last weekend. The powerful winger could be a potent weapon against the country of his birth.
15 STUART HOGG
Will be pushed all the way by Liam Williams who is struggling to overcome injury issues, but Scotland captain Stuart Hogg always carries a threat from fullback, although it was not necessarily a season of free-flowing rugby.
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