sports gazette

Five players who boosted their Lions stock this Autumn

Published: 6 Dec 2016

With the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand looming on the horizon, Sports Gazette takes a look at five players whose Autumn performances went a long way towards booking their place on the plane.

 

1.Tadhg Furlong

The Irish tighthead played down Lions rumours, claiming he was embarrassed by talk linking him to the number three shirt. Considering he has started just four tests for Ireland and only recently cemented the Leinster jersey as his own, talk would appear particularly premature.

It is impossible, however, to overlook the 24 year old's wonderful Autumn performances that have made him one of the more indispensable members of Joe Schmidt's side. Impressive victories over New Zealand and Australia were the highlights of a brilliant autumn for Ireland, and the young tighthead has put himself right at the forefront of the Lions discussion.

2. Billy Vunipola

The number eight jersey carries significant responsibility for the Lions next summer, not least because the man wearing it for the All Blacks, Kieran Read, has a decent claim as one of the best back row forwards of this generation.

Billy Vunipola was a man-mountain for England over the Autumn series and is quickly making a reputation for himself as one of the premier ball-carrying forwards in world rugby. His injury in the Argentina game only served to showcase how much England miss his presence, and if he misses the Six Nations that will be a major blow to their Grand Slam aspirations.

It's scarcely believable that he remains just 24 years old and health permitting he should be a prime candidate for a Lions starting role next summer.

3. Stuart Hogg

The mercurial full-back has long been the standout star on the Scotland team and he was in typically brilliant form this Autumn. Also just 24 years old, Hogg has been the starting 15 for over three years now and appears to be getting better and better.

The full-back competition is bound to be lively, with Mike Brown, Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney all hugely experienced and qualified alternatives.

Given his ability to score from anywhere on the field, Hogg provides genuine game-changing quality which would be crucial against a side as strong as the All-Blacks.

4. Conor Murray

Murray was absolutely instrumental in Ireland's historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago, pulling the strings with effortless ease and even kicking a penalty when Johnny Sexton left the field injured.

He is lethal around the fringes and is making a serious case as one of the best defensive scrum halves the game has seen. Where other nines would shy away from confrontation, Murray thrives on it.

Ben Youngs had an extremely impressive set of games for England and will push Murray all the way, but on current form it would be impossible to leave the gifted Irishman out of the starting XV.

5. Justin Tipuric

Considering they won three of their four games, Wales had a pretty miserable Autumn. From the thrashing at the hands of Australia to nervy victories over Argentina and Japan, the 2013 Six Nations champions were far from their best.

The absence of number eight Taulupe Falatau undoubtedly had an impact, but back-row partner Justin Tipuric shone in his stead, putting together some brilliant performances capped off by a MOTM effort against South Africa.

Tipuric may not be your typical ball-hawking seven, but there are few better operators in the loose and his athleticism would be an asset for the Lions. Besides, how many forwards in world rugby could score a try like this?

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