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GARETH THOMAS: My Lions starting XV – who’s in and who’s out

by Josh Powell | June 13, 2013

Gareth Thomas byline

He’s been there, done that and got the ice-skates. Former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas has pretty much done it all. In an exclusive column for the Paddy Power Blog, he gives you his new and improved Lions starting team.

Everything can change at full-back. George North has got a wing spot and Tommy Bowe would have got the other one but now he has broken his hand. That means Alex Cuthbert could come in as a straight swap but given Cuthbert’s defensive ability in the big games then the option is Leigh Halfpenny to go in on the wing with North, and put Stuart Hogg in as full-back. Hogg has stood up to the challenge quite well so it will all depend on Cuthbert in the next two games.

Gareth Thomas updated team

Jamie Roberts is in at 12 sorted. Brian O’Driscoll has stood up and he’s been inspirational on this tour so far. I’d now put him in there with Jamie Roberts. The one man who is missing out in the centre and the man that will push both players for a place is Jonathan Davies. He has played really well and the next two games are crucial for him as he fights for his place.

Johnny Sexton and Mike Phillips are nine and 10. On the back row I’ve stuck with Jamie Heaslip although Toby Faletau has pushed him all the way for a spot. The skipper Sam Warburton stays at seven.

At six Dan Lydiate is hot on the heels of Tom Croft. Everyone is saying about Sean O’Brien and he plays really well but he doesn’t contribute to a back three. He is playing out of his skin individually but in a unit he shouldn’t be included.

Despite his fancy footwork Sean O'Brien hasn't done enough to impress our GT

Despite his fancy footwork Sean O’Brien hasn’t done enough to impress our GT

Alun Wyn Jones is nailed on in the second row but Richie Graham hasn’t done much so far so replace him with Paul O’Connell who has been massive. Obviously losing Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins on the front row is huge. Make Vunipola has played well up until now but it will be interesting to see how he copes in the heated environment of the next two games.

Nobody has really put their hand up as hooker, they’ve all made mistakes, and they’ve all overthrown line-outs. Richard Hibbard is pushing for a place but I’m sticking with Rory Best in my starting line-up. The other prop then is my first choice Adam Jones.

You can argue there was more point playing the Combined Countries than the Western Force but both games were non-starters. To be fair these guys can only play what is in front of them.

SIMPLES: George North demonstrates how easy it is to score a try against Combined Countries

SIMPLES: George North demonstrates how easy it is to score a try against Combined Countries

The match against the Waratahs will be a shadow-test game. It has to be a complete performance so defensively they have to tighten up. They really need to stop leaving dog-legs in behind.

The line-outs are a concern for the team. This is where now potential test hookers need to stand up. It only needs one solid performance from one of them in the line-outs and they’ll guarantee themselves a spot. This week they’ll be working hard on that.

The attack, even though they haven’t had much of a challenge yet, looks in really good shape and they’re in need of a test now. There shouldn’t be too many concerns about the Lions scrum. They might not dominate but they can stand their ground and that’s more than enough.

SCRUMMING IT: Gareth Thomas has no worries about the Lions scrum so neither do we

SCRUMMING IT: Gareth Thomas has no worries about the Lions scrum so neither do we

The Lions should win against the Waratahs because they will play presumably the first team. It will be a tough game but they should still win by about 10 points.

The following match against the Brumbies will be interesting. That team could be made up of a lot of the disappointed players who didn’t make the test game and they’ll be dealing with that. The Brumbies might be a bet because they are the top team this year and they have some great talent in their squad. The Lions will come unstuck there.

They could lose that and in the greater scheme it could be good as it will galvanise them and pull the team together ahead of the opening test against Australia.

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