At 6pm tonight (UK time) Steve Hansen will announce the All Blacks team to play the Lions on Saturday at Eden Park.
Two hours later we will know who Warren Gatland has decided can best deliver an all -important win in the first test.
The debate has cranked up a bit since the decent win against the Chiefs yesterday morning and there has been a notable ‘national’ bias to the selections chosen in the rugby press and on social media.
In the interests of fairness I have cast aside my Englishness (fat chance) and offer for your appreciation and delectation my chosen 23 for the first test –
Bench – McGrath, Owens, Itoje, Tipuric, Sinckler, Daly, Te’o, Rhys Webb
Its 5:5:5 Ireland: England: Wales to start – which is nicely balanced and with apologies to the Jocks.
No Warburton or North
My reasoning – one is not fully fit and the other not fully firing. Liam Williams is a more elusive runner on current form and whilst he doesn’t offer George’s bulk in defending against Savea – he tackles well.
AWJ stays for experience and without the weight of captaincy – Maro is a hell of a beast to come off the bench.
Farrell has shown he can operate exceptionally well at 12 (with George Ford) and this allows Johnny Sexton to show off his skills too. I’d take the responsibility of goal kicking off both and give the tee to Leigh Halfpenny.
Justin Tipuric seems to have been dismissed by most pundits – I think he would change the pace of the game in the Lions favour after 60 – especially if he comes on alongside Maro.
The team lose nothing when Rhys Webb enters and if there is a long shot to win the game then Elliott Daly is on hand.
The unluckiest blokes left out of my 23 are Iain Henderson and Courtney Lawes – they have played brilliantly when on the pitch and combine outstanding athletic ability with great strength.
A controversial selection of course – many will suggest that there are too many Welsh in the 23 – 8 to exact and point out that Scotland did well in the 6 Nations and have none. But this is a combined team and the best of Wales will help to give the Lions a fighting chance in my view. England have 9 and Ireland 6. if anyone is hard done by it is the Irish – they showed last year what it takes to beat the All Blacks – using not dissimilar tactics which Warren Gatland is likely to employ.
In the end there is no need to worry – Gatland won’t see this and if he did he wouldn’t take any notice – not after what I said about him over the disgraceful call-ups.
In any case, it is just 5 hours until we know just which 23 will be carrying the British and Irish Lions hopes into Eden Park.