After plenty of thrills and spills the dust has settled and the Six Nations is packed away for another year. There is now just over a year to go until the British and Irish Lions head for Australia to look for their first series win since 1997 in South Africa. We have a look at what players would make the cut - even though an awful lot can happen between now and then…
Full Backs - Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney both had excellent 6 Nations and would expect to be there based on that form. Stuart Hogg has showed some real promise, while Ben Foden has returned to close to his best. Foden just shades Hogg based on experience and could cover 9 in an emergency (don’t laugh.)
Wings - Tommy Bowe was at his deadliest best during the tournament and has Lions experience. George North terrified defenders and is really establishing himself as a force in world rugby. Alex Cuthbert showed his predatory instincts as well as sheer power while neither England winger set the world on fire, although Charlie Sharples could well make a case going forward. Max Evans is an outside bet but his form has been stuttering.
Centres - A real area of strength at the moment, both Welsh centres Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies has fine tournaments, with the latter really impressing. Manu Tuilagi continues to cause problems in midfield, while Brad Barritt was very dependable but who could forget Scott Williams Twickenham heroics. Is there one final hurrah for Mr O’Driscoll, the romantics (including us) would certainly hope so. Gordan D’Arcy’s international career is surely heading to a close but Keith Earls is always a threat. What of Luke Fitzgerald though? So impressive in 2009 but will have to have a superb season to make the grade now.
Outside halves - Owen Farrell looks set to take the international scene by storm, while Jonny Sexton has made the number 10 shirt his own. His understudy, Ronan O’Gara is an outside bet based on his experience, while his Welsh look-a-like Rhys Priestland offers a very similar game.
Scrum halves - Mike Phillips seems someway back to his best and will be there injury permitting. The other places really are up for grabs though; Ben Youngs had a terrible start to the championship but finished strongly, while Lee Dickson impressed in places. Lloyd Williams and Conor Murray are two raw talents and either could make the plane. Mike Blair and Chris Cussiter both seem to be short of finding top gear but both have Lions touring experience.
Props - Gethin Jenkins and Alex Corbisiero both had fine tournaments and one can expect the latter to develop his game further over the next year, Irish tight-heads beware. On the tight side of the scrum, Adam Jones is still a rock and will be in Australia if he stays fit. Dan Cole also impressed but Ewan Murray still has all the attributes to take on the Aussies.
Hookers - Dylan Hartley had a fine tournament and could be a huge asset down under if his discipline doesn’t hold him back (the latest citing for allegedly biting Stephen Ferris). Matthew Rees has proven himself at this level and will hope to stay fit next year. Rory Best had a fine championship and did a fine job of captaining Ireland in BOD/POC’s absences. Ross Ford, too, looks comfortable as captain even if his side are struggling.
Locks - Huge strength in depth here. Donncha Ryan appears to be POC’s natural successor but the 2009 captain will relish the opportunity to take on the Wallabies. In Wales, Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris returned to fitness to impress, while Ian Evans was an undoubted star for the Grand Slam winners. Richie Gray was immense and looks set to be a true world class performer. Honourable mentions for Mauritz Botha, Jim Hamilton and Geoff Parling too.
Back row - More competition here - Sam Warbuton is probably favourite to skipper the team if he can shake off more injury problems, while his team-mates Lydiate and Faletau will both expect to tour - the former being voted player of the Championship. Tipuric and Ryan Jones provided more than able back-up too. Ferris and Heaslip toured in 2009 and have all the attributes to make the grade again, while Sean O’Brien’s physicallity could be a huge aid. Ben Morgan made his mark on the Six Nations and is likely to improve further in the next year and the same could be said for David Denton. Ross Rennie and John Barclay also played well in places and both are more natural 7’s than Ireland or England have to offer.
Full backs - Kearney (IRL), Foden (ENG), Hogg (SCO)
Wings - Halfpenny (WAL), North (WAL), Cuthbert (WAL), Bowe (IRL)
Centres - Earls (IRL), Roberts (WAL), J. Davies (WAL), O’Driscoll (IRL)
Outside halves - Sexton (IRL), Farrell (ENG), Priestland (WAL)
Scrum halves - Phillips (WAL), Murray (IRL), Youngs (ENG)
Props - Jenkins (WAL), Corbisiero (ENG), A.Jones (WAL), Cole (ENG)
Hookers - Ford (SCO), Best (IRL), Rees (WAL)
Second row - Ryan (IRL), Gray (SCO), Evans (WAL), O’Connell (IRL)
Back Row - Lydiate (WAL), Ferris (IRL), Warburton (WAL, Capt), O’Brien (IRL), Heaslip (IRL), Faletau (WAL), Morgan (ENG), Denton (SCO)