Did somebody order a Power of Four wristband?

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…

Scrum half

Pole Position: Ben Youngs is exactly the sort of scrum half you’d want to take on the Aussies.  Struggled a little in the latter portion of the season but has plenty of time to iron out the kinks in his game.

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.

Fly half

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.

Centres

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.

Back Three

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.

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Ireland’s World Cup 30 – Outside Backs

Phew, we are finally there. After naming 24 who we would bring and 24 who Deccie will (guess which category Denis Leamy fits into), we get to the last line – the piano players.

How many will go? Six we think – Ireland are well-stocked out wide, so there should be need to do an Eddie and bring a Brian Carney to hold tackle bags. There are going to be some quality players, and Gavin Duffy, left disappointed.

Who is certain to travel? Because of the competition in this sector, there are only two nailed-on certainties to go – Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls. Bowe is the classiest footballer in the squad, apart from Him, and all Ireland’s attacking invention appears to come through him (or Him) these days – he pops up everywhere in the line and his intelligent handling opens gaps for the rest of the backline. We heart him. Earls is another key component of the backline – his defence and open-field running are top class, and even Ludd McGahan seems to have worked out he isn’t a centre.

In addition to the above, Lukey Roysh and Andrew Trimble, B.Div. (2011) are around 95% sure of going. In Luke’s case, its scarcely deserved – his form this season has been poor, especially after the statements he was making in August about being the Leinster and Ireland 15. An easy case can be made that there are six players in better nick than he is – he’s a lucky boy that form is firmly below familiarity in Deccie’s list of priorities. Trimble has gone from strength to strength this year, and is finally becoming better known for his try-scoring than his God-bothering. After out-Bathing Bath last year, this season was less spectacular, but more consistent and ultimately fulfilling. He could be starting.

These four can start learning how to say “If you love Samoa so much, why don’t you play for them” in Maori, for sledging Mils Muliaina and Jerome Kaino in the final.

Who is scrapping out for the last spots? Here’s where the fun starts. Even with the unfortunate Shane Horgan out of the equation, Deccie will have to pick two from Gavin Duffy, Felix Jones, Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden (if he doesn’t fit in at centre) and Geordan Murphy. And if Ian Dowling wasn’t forced to retire hurt, this list would contain no extra names.

Even though Bob can’t pass the ball, there is a place in the squad for a rock solid full back with a huge boot, especially with one eye on Italy and half an eye on the Boks in the quarter finals. Presumably he will get enough game time to prove his fitness in August, and if he can manage to jog from one end of Grafton Street to the other. he is on the plane.

Which leaves 1 from 4. Three full backs and a wing/centre. Of the full backs, Felix Jones in undoubtedly in the best form, but he has never played HEC or international rugby, and would represent a gamble. Gavin Duffy plays consistently at a lower level, but he has RWC experience (seriously!) and would represent Connacht’s only tourist if he made it, as Sean Cronin will be a Leinster man in September. Geordan Murphy is injured, but on form adds an extra counter-attacking dimension to the 15 shirt – he would be the horse for the Australia course if he was at 100%. Similar to Kearney, we expect Murphy to get good game time in August to get his fitness up, which doesn’t bode well for Jones and Duffy – its hard to see them getting a chance to make a case for their inclusion.

McFadden offers more versatility and is to some extent a known quantity. You will see him getting a wing shirt ahead of Fitzy or Trimble in August if he is in the mix in this position.

Any bolters? Felix Jones has been great since he came back, and is deservedly in the shake-up, albeit distinctly unfortunate with the stellar names ahead of him in the queue. In most other countries, Craig Gilroy would qualify as a bolter too, but we have too many options for that.

Should go (fitness permitting): Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney, Geordan Murphy, Andrew Trimble (note: we have selected McFadden at centre – if he is overlooked there, we would have him in ahead of Fitzgerald). Jones should be ahead of Duffy on the standby list.
Will go (fitness permitting): Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney, Geordan Murphy, Andrew Trimble