Lions Watch: Team of the Week
September 17, 2012
Stephen Jones made a perfect start to his Wasps career © Getty Images
With the Aviva Premiership, RaboDirect PRO12 and Top 14 campaigns all underway, the countdown to the eagerly-awaited British & Irish Lions tour to Australia is well and truly on.
As we all tick off the days until the team depart Down Under, ESPNscrum will cast an eye across the action and pinpoint those players eligible for the elite tourists who are pushing their selection claims with strong performances. Lions coach Warren Gatland has revealed that he is prepared to cast the selection net beyond international rugby so expect competition to be fierce.
There is a lot of rugby to be played until the squad board the plane for Hong Kong and plenty of time for hopes to rise and fall with many international stars yet to return to the domestic fray but the excitement is already building.
15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Brown continued his sensational early season form against Sale at the Stoop. He looks odds on to be England's full-back for the autumn internationals, especially with Ben Foden suffering a worrying injury at the weekend, and from there a Lions spot would be within his sights.
14. George North (Scarlets)
North will already be at the forefront of Warren Gatland's plans and another impressive showing for the Scarlets against Connacht, in which he scored one try and set up another for youngster Jordan Williams, will have further pressed the winger's compelling claims.
13. Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster)
After Manu Tuilagi's explosive start to the season for Leicester Tigers and Jonathan Davies' consistent quality for the Scarlets, O'Driscoll made a timely return in his seasonal debut and showed he is still the master with a crucial try in Leinster's one-point win over Treviso.
12. Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues)
The Wales centre, who made such an impression during the Lions' last tour to South Africa in 2009, made his comeback a month earlier than expected as he came off the bench for Cardiff against the Dragons on Saturday night. He will hope to be hitting top form for Wales' autumn internationals.
11. Tim Visser (Edinburgh)
The opposition may not have been the best but Visser's two tries for Edinburgh against Zebre underlined the winger's finishing ability and scorching pace that can be so crucial at the highest level. He is sure to be scrutinised further in the autumn internationals.
10. Stephen Jones (Wasps)
While youngsters Toby Flood and Owen Farrell struggled at Wembley and Rhys Priestland fails to convince, there is hope for the elder statesmen such as Ronan O'Gara, Jonny Wilkinson and Stephen Jones, who was terrific in his debut for Wasps with 23 points.
9. Joe Simpson (Wasps)
The Wasps scrum-half immediately struck up a strong understanding with fly-half Jones, adding incisiveness to the Welshman's calm control. Simpson setup Tom Varndell's second try, made breaks and was at the centre of Wasps' attacking game.
1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)
The loose-head prop played a key role in helping to setup Quins' win over Sale and it promises to be fierce battle between him and Alex Corbisiero for the England No.1 shirt, which could catapult both players on to the plane to Australia.
2. Joe Gray (Harlequins)
The Harlequins hooker may be coming from a long way back but hooker is one of the fewest positions looking rather light for the Lions and Conor O'Shea is in no doubt he has the potential, saying "I don't think there is a better lineout thrower in the game and his work in the loose is excellent".
3. Dan Cole (England)
It was hardly the most inspiring game between Leicester and Saracens at Wembley on Saturday but the Tigers edged their opponents up front and Cole furthered his reputation as one of the prime candidates for the starting tight-head role on tour.
4. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
The combative second-row made his long-awaited return to action as a replacement for Northampton Saints against Bath. It may take him a couple of games to hit his best form but just to see him back playing will have heartened Gatland.
5. Ian Evans (Ospreys)
Wales' giant second-row was on the score-sheet in the Ospreys' losing effort against Glasgow. But he continues to impress in the engine room as Alun Wyn-Jones and Ian Gough vie to partner the 27-year-old.
6. Dan Lydiate (Dragons)
Blindside flanker promises to be the most competitive position in the Lions squad next summer with a wealth of options for Gatland. The Wales flanker, who was Player of the Six Nations last spring, continues to hold his own with another tireless and effective display despite Dragons' loss to Cardiff.
7. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues)
The Wales skipper remains many peoples' first-choice to lead the Lions in Australia, despite the form and growing influence of Chris Robshaw for Quins and England, and his fierce and scavenging performance against the Dragons will have only enhanced his chances.
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
The Ireland No.8 has struggled to discover his best form in recent seasons but with a Lions tour on the horizon and plenty of competition from the likes of Toby Faletau, David Denton and Ben Morgan, Heaslip upped the ante against Treviso.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Proposals to remove promotion and relegation from the Aviva Premiership would be for the good of the game overall, argues John Taylor
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery