No Farrell or Itoje as House of Rugby selects Lions team
"He’s got to be in the driving seat to start there."
As one leading journalist remarked, this week, putting out your Lions Test XVs on social media was the online equivalent of sticking 'Kick Me' on your back. There were always be disagreements and folks appalled that their favourite player has been snubbed.
And so it was, into that maelstrom, that the House of Rugby crew are bravely stepping into.
Their staring 15 selected to take on the world champion Springboks in the First Test - all of four months away - is made up of:
On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 29:00], Eimear Considine teased out a strong Lions XV with Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan.
When selecting their Lions team for the First Test against the Springboks, McFadden made the case for Leinster and Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher as a 'bolter'. Eventually, the trio settled on a front row of Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tadhg Furlong.
"Tadhg is probably the best option to start," said McFadden. And he has shown from the cameos he has had in the few games – the performance against England, outstanding. Scotland, he had the dancing feet that everyone saw and was really brilliant. So I’d imagine that he is in the driving seat for tighthead."
One big call in the second row - proposed by McFadden - could have English supporters claiming this team was selected with green-tinted glasses. The former Leinster and Ireland centre believes James Ryan would be a better option to start alongside Wales veteran Alun Wyn Jones.
"James will hopefully have a run-in of games, if Leinster beat Toulon, to show what he's about. Because I didn't think Itoje was playing his best rugby, to be honest. He put in a strong performance, in one or two of the games, but no consistently. James Ryan just has that consistency and Alun Wyn is looking nailed-on to be captain."
On to the back row and Tadhg Beirne gets the nod at blindside, alongside the Welsh duo of Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau. That being said, cases were made for Hamish Watson, Tom Curry and CJ Stander.
When it comes to the half backs, Conor Murray gets the nod to start, with both McFadden and Madigan suggesting the other travelling scrum-halves will be Gareth Davies and Ben Youngs. For the 10 and 10 jerseys, there is an Irish flavour:
MADIGAN: I think Johnny should be going again. He was the form 10, for me, in the Six Nations. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Finn Russell – and he was incredible last year, especially in the Champions Cup and for Racing in the Top 14. But, for me, in every head-to-head this year, Johnny has out-played his opposite number. We know what he can do with his goal-kicking, which is something that Finn (Russell), for me, struggles with – he doesn’t look like he has figured it out yet.
MCFADDEN: I think with Johnny, if you’re leading into a Lions year. Some guys can go, a little bit, on reputation. But you’ve got to be playing really well, and Johnny is playing really well. Owen Farrell probably isn’t playing really well. People are talking about him at 12 but Robbie has got to be at 12. He’s got to be. He’s been one of the best backs in the world, probably this last year in that position. So he’s got to be in the driving seat to start there.
Jonathan Davies is the unanimous shout for outside centre, with the wing spots going to Louis Rees-Zammit and Anthony Watson. The cases were made for Jonny May and Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe, who Madigan spoke up on behalf of.
The final jersey, No.15, goes to Stuart Hogg. McFadden feels the Scot brings kicking from hand and off the tee, as well as a counter-attacking threat.
HOUSE OF RUGBY'S LIONS XV
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14. Anthony Watson (England)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
11. Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
1. Wyn Jones (Wales)
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4. James Ryan (Ireland)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
6. Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)
8. Toby Faletau (Wales)
SUBS: Ronan Kelleher, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Jonny Gray, Maro Itoje, Gareth Davies, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.
Warren Gatland will name his British & Irish Lions touring party for the South Africa tour on May 6.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE: