England hero picks the spots where Lions may struggle in the Southern Hemisphere
WARREN GATLAND and his Lions coaches have agonised for hours, making the toughest choices of their lives.
There is no doubt they have an idea of their XV for the First Test in Auckland on June 24.
But crunching the numbers for the New Zealand tour must have been mind-boggling.
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Even though they need to bulk up the size of the squad, there is still not enough room for everyone and some big names will miss out.
You can be one of the top stars in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland and still not get a ticket.
Today will be an anxious wait for guys around England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
This is the one tour that EVERY player wants to be on.
And it is also the toughest to get selected for.
Gatland will make and break a few dreams at noon today.
Every position has been scrutinised for such a brutal tour and I believe these are three key areas that needed looking at more than most . . .
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STUART HOGG is my first-choice full-back, no doubt.
Mike Brown had a solid Six Nations with England but he cannot do what the Scotland star does.
Leigh Halfpenny has not been the same player since he joined Toulon and the Lions no longer need to rely on his kicking with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell firing.
Liam Williams has even edged in front of Halfpenny now with his attacking threat.
And on the wings it’s Williams’ Wales team-mate George North who has hit form at just the right time.
Three months ago he might not have even been in the equation — it’s amazing how it has chopped and changed.
Anthony Watson has to be my other winger in Auckland.
Tommy Seymour, Jack Nowell and Simon Zebo are all quality but none of them have been tearing up trees.
WHAT a massive conundrum the hooker’s spot has been.
After leading England to that whitewash win in Australia last summer it was Dylan Hartley’s shirt — and captaincy — to lose.
But for out-and-out performances, he has been trumped by Jamie George.
Every time I watch the Saracens man he does something different.
George gives you that added edge and dynamism in the loose and turns up in areas where others hookers wouldn’t even know how to get to.
Hartley and his Ireland counterpart Rory Best have extra international experience — George has not even started a Test for England despite having 17 caps.
But George still gets the nod for me as Best and Hartley are similar players and neither of them have been on fire this season.
Watch out for him — he will prove you can be an outsider and go on to be a Lions hit.
But whoever plays in that first game immediately gets the coaches’ attention — and do not under-estimate the fierce rivalry inside the camp.
SAM WARBURTON lost the Wales captaincy and has not looked back since.
Injury will not keep him off the tour and he is now favourite to be Lions captain again after his success as skipper against Australia in 2013. Give him a sniff of a turnover and he will get you.
Then you have to pick between Billy Vunipola and Toby Faletau at No 8 while flanker Peter O’Mahony has stormed through with Ireland.
CJ Stander, his team-mate in the green shirt, has also been superb.
The pack looks strong and they cannot let the All Blacks have quick ball — they need to nullify that and keep the counter-attacking down.
But with all the talent for Gatland to choose from, I fear England pair James Haskell and Chris Robshaw will miss out — as will 2013 tourist Jamie Heaslip.