Cian Tracey and I have chosen our Lions squads. Below are the choices, as well as some reasoning on the different picks. Let us know what you think, and what you’d change! This is the last day we’ll all be able to speculate and debate, so get involved.
Murray: Halfpenny, Kearney Cian: Halfpenny, Kearney
Agreement here in both squads. Cian has Halfpenny down as the starter after his Player of the Tournament-winning 6N campaign, and says he’ll run the outhalf close for place-kicking duties. Kearney’s relatively quiet season means he’s usurped as the starter. Murray would expect the Lions environment to bring the best out of Kearney. Halfpenny is first-choice due to his form and complete game.
Murray: North, Cuthbert, Zebo, Bowe Cian: North, Cuthbert, Zebo, Bowe
Again total agreement, making both squads identical in the back three. Cian’s got the two Welsh boys as Test starters, and Zebo down to cover fullback. Bowe’s finishing ability and experience amongst a group of young outside backs gets him the nod. Murray has Zebo down for sheer talent, despite a nervy game against Clermont. Bowe’s Lions experience gets him in. On form, Cuthbert ahead of North, but the latter a more polished player. The only disagreement was on first reserve, Cian going for Visser, Murray for Maitland.
Murray: BOD, Roberts, Tuilagi, Hogg Cian: Roberts, BOD, Tuilagi, Davies
Murray has BOD and Roberts down as his Test partnership. Roberts hasn’t has the best season, but past glories are enough beside BOD’s sheer class. Tuilagi is the impact sub. The same three are in Cian’s squad, although he felt that Roberts actually had an excellent 6N. He has Davies in the squad as another bench option. Murray went for Hogg as back-up in the centre and at full-back.
Murray: Sexton, Wilko, Hook Cian: Sexton, Farrell, Madigan
No need to discuss Sexton. Murray went for Wilko as back-up, with Cian opting for Farrell. Murray feels that Wilko can place-kick and tackle just as well as Farrell, as well as offering more passing ability and a good touring presence. Cian felt that Farrell is being underrated and controls his backline superbly well and is capable of setting a quick attacking platform for those outside him.
Cian went on to question what James Hook offers, bringing us to the third choices. Murray selected the Welshman because he offers different skills to his other two 10s, namely flair, creativity and vision. Cian went for the ‘wildcard’ in Madigan, saying that he could profit from Gatland’s tendency for putting faith in youth.
Murray: Phillips, Care, Murray Cian: Phillips, Youngs, Murray
Both squads have Phillips and Murray in them; Phillips because he can dominate games and Murray for the fact that he has hit form at the right time, offering a ready-made replacement for Phillips. Cian has gone for Youngs as the man to offer a different style, highlighting his speed and control of tempo. Murray picked Danny Care, despite his woeful form, purely as a bench option. Cian worries that Care would be outmuscled by Genia.
Murray: Healy, Vunipola, Jenkins Cian: Healy, Vunipiola, Jenkins
Resounding agreement here and not too much to discuss. Healy is seen as first-choice Test starter by both. Vunipola is the explosive impact from the bench. For Murray, Jenkins tours as third-choice, but Cian reckons he could have an important role to play.
Murray: Hibbard, Youngs, Ford Cian: Hibbard, Youngs, Best
This was highlighted by both selections as an area lacking in quality candidates. Hibbard is the likely Test hooker for both, with Youngs as back-up. Cian goes for Best based on his experience, while Murray picks Ford for his offloading game and skills around the pitch. No mention was made of Dylan Hartley.
Murray: Jones, Cole, Murray Cian: Jones, Cole
Cian decided to take an extra back-row at the expense of a third tight head, so there was no real argument here. Murray has gone for Eaun Murray as his third-choice based on the fact that he is slightly more destructive. Jones is number 1 tight head in both squads, with 25-year-old Cole to serve his apprenticeship.
Murray: POC, Hines, AWJ, Evans, Gray Cian: POC, AWJ, Gray, Ryan, Evans
The only difference here is Murray choosing Hines, and Cian going for Ryan. Murray feels that Hines can do everything Ryan does and more. Cian reckons that Ryan has had an immense season, and that the return of POC has overshadowed that fact. He’s going for Ryan, saying it’s maybe a case of heart over head!
Murray: Tipuric, Warburton, O’Brien, Lydiate, Wood Cian: Warburton, Lydiate, O’Brien, Wood, Tipuric, Robshaw
Identical selections, except for the fact that Cian picks an extra flanker in Robshaw. He feels that the back-row will be the key to the series. Murray feels that Robshaw is just too one-paced, but Cian thinks he is being written off too easily. He highlights his performance vs. Ireland at the Aviva as an example of what he could bring to the party.
Murray: Faletau, Heaslip Cian: Faletau, Heaslip
Faletau is down as Test No.8 for both squads. Murray feels the Welsh man has had a serious upturn in form in 2013 after adding some bulk. Heaslip is in for his excellent surge in form recently, nudging ahead of Scotland’s Beattie. Cian also highlights Heaslip’s late surge, saying he’s lucky there isn’t a plethora of specialist No. 8s out there.
Murray: Paul O’Connell Cian: Paul O’Connell
There was no real doubt for either of us in selecting O’Connell. For Murray, the captain being on the pitch for the Tests is vital, and he would go with Tipuric to start at 7. Furthermore, he remains unconvinced by Warburton as a captain. Cian agrees, saying that O’Connell is the man, with an honourable mention for O’Driscoll. He feels that Gatland was always going to go with a forward as captain. O’Connell commands respect and has great influence over others. When he says jump, you ask how high.
Cian is a freelance sports journalist currently writing for The Irish Examiner, Independent, The Sun, Balls.ie & Fantasy Premier League Transfers. You can follow him on Twitter here.