There may be no fan attendance, but the Six Nations is certainly living up to all expectations.
All of the games – apart from Ireland versus France and Ireland versus Italy – have been highly enjoyable and displayed brilliant Test-quality rugby.
Wales have been resurgent, putting their roller coaster 2020 year in the rearview mirror – clinching the Triple Crown in booming fashion with a thrilling display over their fiercest rivals England, who are playing with a shadow of the confidence they had in the build-up to and after the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Ireland have narrowly and unluckily been beaten by Wales and France respectively, with the French looking the tournament favourites even without Romain Ntamack. However, the prospect of cancellations against Scotland and uncertainty of rescheduling makes them a tad vulnerable to enforced squad changes.
Scotland were awesome in dominating England and a Zander Fagerson red card ultimately cost them the game against Wales. They have played some of the best attacking rugby, which should warrant plenty of Lions contenders for them.
Meanwhile, Italy – well, they’ve been Italy.
From what I have seen so far, considering ruled out players and the sizeable and dominant set-piece nature of the Boks, I’m picking a Lions forward squad which will be best suited to taking on the World Champions this summer and one that is most realistic to be selected by Warren Gatland.
LH 1: Rory Sutherland
Since his international comeback, he has been immense, both with ball in hand and at scrum time for Scotland. He and Zander Fagerson were architects of rattling England’s scrum earlier this February at Twickenham.
Against the prowess of Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, Sutherland will relish a chance to take on South Africa in what would define a remarkable comeback.
LH2: Mako Vunipola
Vunipola’s had some recent injury issues, which is the only major thing questioning his presence in the red shirt. He is always found at the top of the carrying and tackling charts for England.
The only other area of concern is his past outing with the Boks – will he have learnt how to deal with the Springbok scrum?
Only time will tell.
LH3: Wyn Jones
This is a toss up between Cian Healy and Wyn Jones. Jones always gives his all, ball in hand or not. He needs to brush up his consistency at scrum time – either he is very good and wins penalties, or the opposite and leaks them.
The Welsh bias comes into my mind in this selection.
Moreover, Cian Healy has helped the Irish scrum probably become the best in the northern hemisphere. This is a proper 50-50 call.
Up until this tournament, Ellis Genge was high up in the stocks as a travelling loosie, but his treatment by Scotland and further questionable performances have cast serious doubt about his Lions chances.
Hooker 1: Luke Cowan-Dickie
It’s a matter of time before he becomes England’s first choice hooker. Tasted a lot of success with Exeter and is rightfully a guarantee for the Lions.
Hooker 2: Ken Owens
The Sheriff is back in town and Wales hade dearly missed his ball carrying skills. He’s called Cannon-Ball Ken for a reason – easily Wales’ best carrier and always seems to make the gain line.
Hooker 3: Jamie George
Saracens’ relegation has not helped his form at all for England. However, he is a class act and a very likeable figure.
His performance in the lineout has been solid, up until this tournament, but his scrummaging, defence and soft hands are definitely in need for Gatland.
TH 1: Kyle Sinckler
His discipline has vastly improved and is showing his class more and more. England’s best scrummager and an influential ball carrier with soft hands.
Has had two very impressive games against Italy and Wales.
TH 2: Tadhg Furlong
Returning from injury, Furlong has had two solid outings against France and Italy. A fierce scrummager and ball carrier, he is no doubt to tour.
TH 3: Andrew Porter
Porter has made sure Ireland hasn’t missed Furlong. With Sinckler and Sutherland, he has been the best front-rower so far after three games.
On form, he deserves a go.
Lock 1: Alun Wyn Jones (c)
I have not rated AWJ since 2016 and am not a big fan of him in general, But watching his performances this Six Nations, on form, he warrants a place on tour.
He has carried exceptionally well, defended brilliantly and led Wales well. Regardless of his age, given his experience and great form so far, I am happy to see him lead the Lions.
Lock 2: James Ryan
On form, Ryan has not been impressive since 2019. He has constantly been outdone by Maro Itoje and other competing locks, which leads me to question how good he really is.
He still is a really good lock, but not on terms with an Itoje or Eben Etzebeth. Given his high praise from the Irish media and senior role in the Ireland camp, he’s too hyped a player for Gatland not to take.
Lock/flank 1: Maro Itoje
On reputation and merit, Itoje will always be on the tour, without a doubt. However, his chances of captaincy are fading – he gives away too many penalties, as displayed in the Scotland and Wales games.
But it’s probably a good thing he is not the captain – we will likely see the best of an extremely talented and athletic forward hoping to rewrite the wrongs of his World Cup final performance against Siya Kolisi’s men.
Lock/flank 2: Iain Henderson
Henderson and Tadhg Beirne make James Ryan look the (overrated) player he is. Henderson is a great leader for Ireland and Ulster and offers a consistent all-around line out, tackling and carrying game. Selfless and underrated player.
Lock/flank 3: Tadhg Beirne
He has been awesome for Ireland so far alongside Iain Henderson. Beirne is able to athletically cover blindside and is a total nuisance at ruck time – Squidge Rugby has shown how Ireland’s rucking tactics are superior to every side in the competition right now – and Beirne features heavily in it.
Flank 1: Tom Curry
Since moving to blindside before the World Cup, Curry has bulked up and retained most of his awesome fetcher skills, while becoming a very handy ball-carrier at six. His best position is probably seven, but his versatility and aggressive, energetic defence make him one of the definite picks for the Lions.
Flank 2: Sam Underhill
Like Mako, this pick depends on injury. He’s formed a formidable Michael Hooper-David Pocock-esque duo with Curry and is one of the most dominant tacklers in the modern game.
Flank 3: Josh Navidi
This spot is contested by Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Justin Tipuric and Josh van der Flier. All of the mentioned have been solid for the last few years and I would not be surprised if either of these names replaces Navidi, Curry, or both.
Navidi just has such a good work rate and defensive engine that makes Wales perform a lot better. He has had three battles with Curry and has outshone him twice, in 2019 and 2021.
The only issue with Navidi is his size to take on the biggest pack in world rugby.
No. 8/flank 1: Toby Faletau
Faletau has been awesome this Six Nations for Wayne Pivac’s side – his soft hands combined with cunning defence makes him one of the premier number eights in rugby.
No. 8/flank 2 – CJ Stander
Has been immense for Ireland since his qualification for them. Massive ball carrier – the clip of him bumping Faletau in their recent meeting is vintage.
One of the best number eights in the world with his rucking and defensive game complementing his big carries.