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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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The Lions Form XV – Round Four

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Jim Kayes     13 Mar 2017     Getty Images

 

His timing was superb as he found space to score three tries in England’s demolition of Scotland. His timing was spot on in that he needed an impressive performance in the penultimate round of the Six Nations as he pushes for inclusion in the British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand. And his timely return to form was good for England who are now poised on the brink of history.

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The 61-21 win against Scotland at Twickenham was the most points they’ve scored against their oldest foe and a record equaling margin. But this win was so much more than that.

It secured the Six Nations with a game to play. Beat Ireland in Dublin next weekend and England have secured the Grand Slam. They will also have won 19 consecutive tests, moving ahead of the All Blacks for the record of wins on the trot by a top tier country. There’s a wonderful symmetry that they must beat Ireland, the team that stopped the All Blacks run last year.

Former England midfielder Will Greenwood reckons the Grand Slam will mean more to England than the test record, but that’s not the case for All Blacks fans. Greenwood, who toured three times with the Lions, is also convinced England will make up about half of the starting XV for the first test against the All Blacks in June.

It’s tricky to see where those seven or eight players will slot in, but let’s give it a crack. Stuart Hogg was injured early in Scotland’s thrashing but remains the form fullback of the competition. George North’s return for Wales gives him the right wing with England’s Elliot Daly a chance on the other wing. Joseph was outstanding against Scotland but Greenwood is quick to say Jonathan Davies has been good for Wales, as has Garry Ringrose for Ireland. Equally, Wales’ Liam Williams could start ahead of Daly on the left wing.
Owen Farrell had his best Six Nations match this year against Scotland and his goal kicking will help him start at second five but Scott Williams was in man-of-the-match form for Wales and has been consistently good throughout the competition. Ireland’s Jonny Sexton kicks goals so that works in Williams’ favour.

At halfback Ben Youngs was very good for England but so too was Rhys Webb for Wales and Ireland’s Conor Murray has been excellent throughout the competition. Any of those three is odds on to make a Lions test 23.

That’s three England backs in the run on team at best (but for me, just the one in Joseph).

In the pack, Joe Launchbury should start at lock, but he and perhaps a prop could be England’s lot in the starting eight. Ireland’s CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien, and the Welsh trio were again the pick of the loose forwards from the weekend, and with none of the scrums overly impressive, it’s anyone’s guess what Warren Gatland does in the front row. The All Blacks should have an edge in the scrums.

England will have plenty of players in the large squad Gatland brings to New Zealand, but may have to share the spoils with Wales and Ireland when it comes to the starting XV for the first test.

*I’ve shifted Stander to No8 again.

Round four form XV
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14 George North (Wales)
13 Jonathan Joseph (England)
12 Scott Williams (Wales)
11 Liam Williams (Wales)
10 Jonny Sexton (Ireland)
9 Rhys Webb (Wales)
8 CJ Stander (Ireland)
7 Sean O’Brien (Ireland)
6 Sam Warburton (Wales
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
4 Joe Launchbury (England)
3 Tom Francis (Wales)
2 Rory Best (Ireland)
1 Joe Marler (England)