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Four rounds into the Six Nations, and Warren Gatland’s Lions notebook will be fit to bursting. With the Lions Tour of Australia looming, the latter stages of the Six Nations will be one of the last opportunities for players to impress before selection day. But which players have raised their hand to be counted as a potential leader of the pride?
A regular old warhorse of Wales, Jones has dragged Wales from the brink of disaster by the scruff of the neck, and flung them back into competitive rugby. He has outplayed Sam Warburton, and throws his body on the for club and country. He has been part of the last three Welsh Grandslams, and was one of the few players to come out of the 2005 Lions Tour with an enhanced reputation. Welsh caretaker Coach, Rob Howley, has kept his faith with Jones, and he is currently keeping fellow Lions Captain contender, Warburton, out of the match day XV. The question marks will be over his form, and whether he fits into the backrow plans for Gatland’s team. A lot will also depend on how Wales fair in the final rounds of the Six Nations tournament.
The English captain has epitomised the diehard attitude of Stuart Lancaster’s team. A constant threat in the loose, and constantly topping the tackle stats, Robshaw’s work rate is nothing short of phenomenal. He puts his heart and soul on the line each and every game, and hhis place on the Lions Tour seems a dead cert. The only thing that will keep him out of the starting XV, will depend on whether he fits into Gatland’s backrow plans. He is not an out and out open-side flanker, however his form at the moment is outstanding. He has earned himself a man of the match award in two out of three opening rounds, a feat which, in international rugby, cannot go unnoticed.
If O’Driscoll were to go to Australia, it would be a phenomenal achievement. It would be his fourth tour with the Lions, and he would be the only player in the squad to have survived since the last Australia tour in 2001. His experience and knowledge will be invaluable, but his starting spot is in no way certain. With pressure from the likes of Tuilagi, Roberts, and Barrett, he will need to be at his finest form. So far, he has not quite reached the lofty heights that he is capable of, and one must ask whether his age will even allow him to reach them again at all? All that said, O’Driscoll’s experience and level headedness will be a huge benefit to what is looking to be a very young Irish side, and his inclusion could be invaluable, whether he captains the side or not.
Warburton has had a rollercoaster of a year. One year ago, he was the first name on the team sheet. Now, he is struggling to maintain his spot in the Welsh squad. However, he has the expertise, when he is on top form, to fit in perfectly into the game plan Gatland seems to be hinting at. The Lions will need an out and out open-side flanker, and Warburton can be one of the best, given the chance. However, at the moment he is losing out on all the major stats tables. Are stats everything? No. But they cannot be entirely ignored. It could also be asked whether Wales’ inability to overcome Australia in their six meetings last year would be a psychological blow to Warburton’s captaincy. Right now, Warburton has a lot of work to do if he is to gain the captain’s armband.