Lions battles spice up Six Nations

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 09:17
Large rhys webb wales steps 2017 800

B&I LIONS SPOTLIGHT: The Six Nations returns this week to begin its rapid run towards a climax, with the contest for British and Irish Lions tour places sure to provide plenty of compelling sub-plots.

In just over a month's time, Lions coach Warren Gatland will announce a squad that he hopes will feature the very best players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales for the three-Test series against his native New Zealand in June and July.

Of the three countries the Lions tour every four years (South Africa and Australia are the others), it is New Zealand that is considered the acid test for the combined side.

They have won just one series in New Zealand, in 1971, and the fact that the victorious players from that campaign - JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Mike Gibson, Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Willie John McBride and Ian McLauchlan to name a few - are still revered more than 45 years later shows that sporting immortality lies in wait for this year's Lions if they can upset the odds and beat the reigning world champions.

The final two weeks of the Six Nations represent the final proving ground for Lions hopefuls and the tournament offers Gatland the chance to witness a number of head-to-head contests between potential tour rivals.

Perhaps the most eye-catching duel in the opening fourth-round match in Cardiff on Friday will involve Wales's Rhys Webb and Ireland's Conor Murray, widely regarded as the two best scrumhalves currently available to Gatland.

Murray, 27, already knows what it is to be a Lion, having featured in the successful 2013 series in Australia alongside Ireland halfback partner Jonathan Sexton, also tipped to feature against the All Blacks.

The halfback pair knows what it means to beat New Zealand, having been involved when Ireland ended their 111-year wait for a maiden win over the All Blacks with a 40-29 success in Chicago in November.

And yet the fit-again Webb has clearly added a new snap to Wales's back division and was arguably their best player in a 13-29 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield. Certainly, if Webb delivers an on-field performance to equal his pre-match comments, it will be a masterclass.

"I am not one to get too caught up in individual battles. He [Connor Murray] and Sexton are a big part of the Irish team. They have a good kicking game which we have to be aware of and apply lots of pressure to them.

"There will be a lot of focus on the nine [scrumhalf] battle, but that is for you [media] and spectators," Webb said.

England, looking to equal New Zealand's record of 18 successive Test wins by defeating old rivals Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday, are sure to boast a strong Lions contingent of their own.

But it says much about Scotland's revival under Kiwi coach Vern Cotter, which includes wins over Ireland and Wales already this Six Nations, that both fullback Stuart Hogg and lock Jonny Gray are widely tipped for Lions' selection and not just to make up the numbers.

Scotland, for all their recent progress, however, have not won at Twickenham since 1983.

As for the tournament itself, if Wales beat Ireland and England see off Scotland, then defending champions England will have all but retained their title, although bonus point considerations - a new factor this season - could yet delay a trophy presentation until the tournament finale on March 18.

This week's other Six Nations match sees Italy at home to France on Saturday, with both the Azzurri and Les Bleus looking to bounce back from defeats by England and Ireland respectively.

Agence France-Presse

There are currently no matches being played
FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Sat, 24 February 2018
Sunwolves v Brumbies 04h15 Tokyo
Crusaders v Chiefs 06h35 Christchurch
Waratahs v Stormers 08h45 Allianz Park
Treviso v Connacht 12h00 Stadio Monigo
Lions v Jaguares 13h05 Johannesburg
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints 14h00 Sandy Park
Ireland v Wales 14h15 Aviva Stadium
Harlequins v Newcastle Falcons 14h30 Twickenham Stoop
Gloucester v Wasps 14h30 Kingsholm
Bath v Sale Sharks 14h30 Recreation Ground
Bulls v Hurricanes 15h15 Loftus Versfeld
Scotland v England 16h45 BT Murrayfield
Ospreys v Cheetahs 17h30 Liberty Stadium
Scarlets v Ulster 19h35 Parc y Scarlets
Sun, 25 February 2018
Zebre v Cardiff Blues 13h00 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
London Irish v Worcester Warriors 13h00 Madejski Stadium
Saracens v Leicester Tigers 15h30 Allianz Park
Fri, 02 March 2018
Blues v Chiefs 06h35 Eden Park
Reds v Brumbies 09h00 Suncorp Stadium
Kings v Dragons 17h35 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Edinburgh v Munster 19h35 Myreside
Cardiff Blues v Treviso 19h35 Cardiff Arms Park
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors 19h35 Kingspan Stadium
Harlequins v Bath 19h45 Twickenham Stoop
Sat, 03 March 2018
Sunwolves v Rebels 22h00 Tokyo
RESULT SCORE
Fri, 23 February 2018
France v Italy 34 | 17
Leinster v Kings 64 | 7
Dragons v Edinburgh 12 | 25
Munster v Glasgow Warriors 21 | 10
Rebels v Reds 45 | 19
Highlanders v Blues 41 | 34
Mon, 19 February 2018
NWU-Pukke v UJ 18 | 15
Maties v CUT-Ixias 75 | 12
UCT-Ikeys v Shimlas 27 | 32
NMMU-Madibaz v Wits 29 | 32
Sun, 18 February 2018
Dragons v Treviso 15 | 18
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs 13 | 7
Sat, 17 February 2018
Cardiff Blues v Munster 25 | 18
Lions v Sharks 26 | 19
Leinster v Scarlets 20 | 13
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
B&I Lions 0 0 0 0 0
Australia 0 0 0 0 0
Barbarians 0 0 0 0 0
Force 0 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 0 0 0 0
Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0
Brumbies 0 0 0 0 0
Rebels 0 0 0 0 0
NSW-Queensland 0 0 0 0 0
Blues 0 0 0 0 0
Highlanders 0 0 0 0 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 0 0
Crusaders 0 0 0 0 0
Chiefs 0 0 0 0 0
NZ Barbarians 0 0 0 0 0
Maori All Blacks 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0