On tuesday, Egg Chaser took a look at the forwards he expects to be jostling for position on the flight down under. It’s still a long way off, so we’re not all going to agree. One commenter even made a case for Mushy Buckley as a Lion, so at the risk of upsetting any Johne Murphy fans out there, here we go with the backs…
Look out for: Conor Murray. The Munster scrum half had a breakthrough lat year, and looks every inch the complete player. Should be Ireland’s first choice nine next season.
Needs to improve: The 2009 Lions Mike Philips and Tomas O’Leary will need to get their mojo back to be in the mix.
Too late for: Eoin Reddan will be pushing over the hill by 2013.
Pole Position: Jonny Sexton looks by far the most complete and reliable of the options. Needs to bring consistency to his game at test level, and the shirt is his. Toby Flood would provide ample back-up.
Look out for: George Ford is already causing excited mutterings among England fans, who wouldn’t overhype a player lightly. He is just 18, but served notice of his considerable talent in the recent U20 World Cup.
Needs to improve: James Hook has talent in abundance and wants to play more at fly-half but must learn to boss the game to be a Lions 10.
Too late for: The 2009 fly halves ROG and Stephen Jones will be past their best by the time 2013 rolls around.
Pole Position: Brian O’Driscoll will have to have the shirt torn from his back. His body may give up before 2013, but for now he is still in poll position. No inside centre currently stands out.
Look out for: Manu Tuilagi is the man who could take over from BOD. He has some work to do on his defence, but looks explosive with the ball. Fergus McFadden will be the established Ireland 12 by this stage and should be pushing for a spot.
It’s early days for two very young players who should make big strides between now and then: Scottish centre Mark Bennett has just signed for Clermont and is hoped to be the quality centre Scottish rugby has lacked for so long, while Luke Marshall will become a key player at Ulster next year.
Needs to improve: If Jamie Roberts can regain the form he showed in 2009, he is a nailed on tourist. But he has never looked the same player since.
Too late for: Possibly BOD and almost certainly Dorce.
Pole position: Generally the most unpredictable, as form plays a huge part. On the left wing, Keith Earls and Max Evans look the most likely, while on the right it is hard to see Ashton and Bowe being displaced. Ben Foden looks the real deal at 15, though Rob Kearney can challenge if he recovers from injury and adds greater variety to his counterattacking game.
Look out for: Lee 0.5p has been bedevilled by injuries, but if he can get back on track he can be world class. Llanelli’s starlet George North also looks set to make a big impression, while Tim Visser becomes Scottish qualified next year, and if he can take his try-scoring exploits to test level will certainly be a Lion.
Needs to improve: Luke Fitzgerald endured a difficult season and needs to get back to his pre-injury form. If Oooooooooohhh Matt Banahan can add pace, a sidestep, softer hands, a brain and defensive positioning to his bulk, he could contend for a spot on the plane.
Too late for: Lee Byrne will be pushing 32, while it looks a tour too far for Shane Williams.
After the Six Nations next season, we’ll revisit and see how our Lions Ladder is looking. No doubt we’ll try to rewrite history to make it look like we were right all along.