The 2017 RBS Six Nations has been historic. Teams have shone, but all teams showed signs of improvement. With that, it makes the impending British and Irish Lions tour that much more exciting.
The Six Nations is arguably the most prestigious annual rugby competition internationally. The aura and expectation that it brings each season, have been surpassed this year, which is awesome to see. Scotland in particular have defied expectations, with performances throughout the tournament key for Lions success. All four home nations have showed signs of excellence, which makes their tour to the New Zealand that much more exciting.
Steve Hanson is one of the most successful coaches in international rugby history, but even he was surprised with the success of this years Six Nations. In an interview that has gone viral throughout the rugby community, sees Hanson praising his rival in Eddie Jones (England coach). As well as that, he mentioned the tournament (Six Nations) as a “great tournament.”
“We’ve seen the depth of player quality and they will come with probably one of the best Lions teams ever selected.” – Steve Hanson
The level of performance seen in the Northern Hemisphere has developed immensely from the Rugby World Cup in 2015, where no team from the home nations managed to make the semi-finals. The skill sets of players has come a long way, so the expectation that comes with that is huge. Rugby experts, fans, players and more, have labeled the Lions tour as possibly being one of the greatest ever.
To those rugby fans who have watched the Six Nations, a few names in our minds, are certainties for the starting XV. The two that jump out the most are Stuart Hogg (Scotland) and Owen Farrell (England). Every week, these two manage to perform at a world class level. Hogg is a cool head, who can read the game like no other fullback in world rugby. He was named Six Nations player of the year last season, and has been nominated for European player of the year this season. Owen Farrell is a player who could possibly take Stuart Hogg’s throne as the best player in the Six Nations. He is playing in the second best team in the world (debatable), but his performances are a big reason for that. His goal kicking is incredibly accurate, a skill that could be vital to success against the worlds greatest team.
The forgotten man
Every Lions tour brings speculation on who will be included in the prestigious squad, but for so many players to put their hands up as genuine candidates for selection, some great players will miss out. One of those players, could be former English captain Chris Robshaw. As rugby experts have selected their starting XV and squads, his name seems to allude the list. He suffered a shoulder injury prior to the Six Nations, so he didn’t get to show off his ability. He missed out on the Lions squad to Australia in 2013, and due to key performances by CJ Stander and others, he will probably miss out again.
Greatness or disappointing
It’s simple, the Lions will either perform or they wont. They may be quality players, but history has shown that New Zealand’s depth is second to none. The Lions do have to play multiple warm up games prior to the tests, those including against Super Rugby franchises. For those of you rugby fans that watch Super Rugby, you will be able to understand that the pace of the game is world class. Players who are reserves, are elusive, and dangerous. Nobody is taken for granted. This could be the downfall for the Lions. They only take a squad of 37, but injuries are bound to occur prior to the test matches starting. No side plays ten games in New Zealand, injury free. New Zealand website ‘stuff’ reported in mid-February that All Blacks would line up for the Crusaders and Blues against the Lions.
“That’s all been sorted. the first two Super Rugby games before we assemble they’ll all be available. After that they’ll be with us (All Blacks). – Steve Hanson
Not only will injuries and fatigue be caused from these games, but possibly embarrassment. Just like Wales last year, a possible loss to a Super Rugby team is a possibility. All of these players get one shot at the Lions, so they will be mean, angry and ready. If a key player such as Owen Farrell was to get injured, this could be detrimental to the success of the Lions.
Not since the Lions of 1971, has a team gone to New Zealand, and returned victorious. This tour promises to be a battle for the ages, and regardless of the victor, history will be made. The Lions will be eager to rewrite history and win a series for the first time in nearly 50 years. As they are getting better, as is New Zealand rugby. It won’t be easy. New Zealand haven’t lost at home since 2009, largely due to the atmosphere that their fans create. Players have one more Six Nations game to really show what they are made of, and earn the right to try and quiet those fans. The Lions team will be named on the 19th of November, but until then, the speculation will continue.