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

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Sat, 16 December 2017
Treviso v Scarlets 13h00 Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Montpellier v Glasgow Warriors 13h00 Altrad Stadium
Racing Metro v Castres 15h15 Stade Yves-du-Manoir
Leinster v Exeter Chiefs 15h15 Aviva Stadium
Bath v Toulon 17h30 Recreation Ground
Sun, 17 December 2017
Wasps v La Rochelle 13h00 Ricoh Arena
Clermont Auvergne v Saracens 15h15 Stade Marcel-Michelin
Ospreys v Northampton Saints 15h15 Liberty Stadium
Leicester Tigers v Munster 17h30 Welford Road
Fri, 22 December 2017
Wasps v Gloucester 22h00 Ricoh Arena
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins 22h00 Kingston Park
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs 22h00 Franklin's Gardens
Leicester Tigers v Saracens 22h00 Welford Road
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers 22h00 Sixways
Sale Sharks v Bath 22h00 AJ Bell Stadium
RESULT SCORE
Fri, 15 December 2017
Ulster v Harlequins 52 | 24
Mon, 11 December 2017
Saracens v Clermont Auvergne 14 | 46
Sun, 10 December 2017
Exeter Chiefs v Leinster 8 | 18
La Rochelle v Wasps 49 | 29
Harlequins v Ulster 5 | 17
Sat, 09 December 2017
Munster v Leicester Tigers 33 | 10
Castres v Racing Metro 16 | 13
Northampton Saints v Ospreys 32 | 43
Toulon v Bath 24 | 20
Scarlets v Treviso 33 | 28
Fri, 08 December 2017
Glasgow Warriors v Montpellier 22 | 29
Sun, 03 December 2017
Harlequins v Saracens 20 | 19
Sat, 02 December 2017
Cheetahs v Scarlets 28 | 21
Munster v Ospreys 36 | 10
Wasps v Leicester Tigers 32 | 25
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