Welsh to get the Lions' share
Sun, 17 Mar 2013 17:39
They are under the microscope throughout the Championship
Wales are set to be the dominant nation when coach Warren Gatland announces his squad next month for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia after deservedly retaining their Six Nations title.
A tournament that started promisingly, before sagging badly in the middle, finished with a flourish as Wales routed England by a record 30-3 at the Millennium Stadium at the weekend to deny the visitors both the Grand Slam and the consolation of the Championship trophy.
But for the opening 43 minutes against Ireland, where they conceded three tries, Wales could have been looking at back-to-back Grand Slams.
However, they made amends by not conceding a try in their next four matches.
Wales came into the tournament on a run of eight straight defeats, a testament to their poor record against Southern Hemisphere nations that could prove costly at the 2015 World Cup.
But under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium they dispatched England with a fast and powerful running game that should be suited to the hard-pitch conditions the Lions are likely to encounter in Australia in June.
Back row forwards Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric combined splendidly and not even England captain Chris Robshaw, manful though he was, could repel their efforts in an area that could provide Kiwi coach Gatland with a real selection headache.
Leigh Halfpenny, wonderfully secure in defence, as well as a reliable goal-kicker, put himself in pole position to be the Lions' full-back while wings George North and Alex Cuthbert, whose two tries ended England's resistance, also advanced their tour claims.
Meanwhile the way Wales props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones monstered England at the scrum will not have gone unnoticed by Gatland, seconded to the Lions from his 'day job' as Wales boss.
Interim Wales head coach Rob Howley, a former Wales and Lions scrumhalf, said: "As a player you know coming into a Championship in a Lions year how important your performances are going to be."
"They are under the microscope throughout the Championship and they performed as you would expect, they turned up."
Before this tournament started, Jonathan Sexton was regarded as the Lions' flyhalf in waiting but the No.10 is one of several sidelined Ireland players on a long injury list that hampered his side's Six Nations chances.
Scotland's Greig Laidlaw, who can play at both scrumhalf and flyhalf, could find himself selected for his versatility - a useful trait on a Lions trip.
With Warburton reluctant to resume the Wales captaincy, the question of who should lead the Lions against the Wallabies remains a talking point.
Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll, despite nearing the end of his career, remains in contention for the honour and a place as a starting centre.
Despite their Welsh chastisement, England coach Stuart Lancaster is still expecting to lose a number of his youthful Red Rose brigade to Lions duty as he continues to build towards the 2015 World Cup on home soil.
"We've got some good players to come back into the equation and a mid-year tour [to Argentina] to look forward to while the rest of our players go away with the British Lions," he said.
Certainly the likes of Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury, as well as Robshaw, have played themselves into Tour contention during the tournament.
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