The Forgotten Lions

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The men who will be wearing the hallowed red jersey have been decided on.

The significance of strong individual performances in the Six Nations increases dramatically during a Lions year. Even with two games to go, the likes of Stuart Hogg, Owen Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny have all but secured their places within the squad.

But what of those players currently injured, currently out-of-favour, or otherwise unselected? The Six Nations is rightly seen as the main proving ground; however, Lions coach Warren Gatland will be casting his eyes over all of European rugby in the coming months.

A year ago Tom Croft was a certain member of the touring party. He came away with great credit from the 2009 tour to South Africa and capped a fine 2012 Six Nations with a brilliant solo try against France.

A brave, but technically flawed, tackle on Nick Easter resulted in a broken neck and near paralysis. Croft is lucky to be playing again, and under the careful management of Leicester Tigers is slowly building up his game time.

Croft has unique pace and lineout ability for a back-row forward, but Gatland has a wealth of options in the No. 6 jersey. He will be hoping his Tigers side can advance deep into the Heineken Cup and go all the way in the domestic league in order to boost his credentials.

Dan Lydiate, another contender for a spot on the blindside, is also returning from injury. As the standout player of the 2012 Six Nations, Lydiate would also have expected to tour. If he is able to replicate that form in domestic competition he will surely be on the plane to Australia.

Whilst Paul O’Connell appears resigned to the fact he will not complete a full-house of Lions tours due to a back injury, Tommy Bowe will be more optimistic, but is struggling with injury problems of his own. He is due back shortly before the tour, and so any setbacks will surely rule him out. However, his stock is high in world rugby and many pundits are still tipping him to tour.

Gatland has made no bones about the fact that he wants Scottish players in his squad and has already name-dropped Max Evans, Ross Rennie and John Barclay, among others.

Currently biding his time on the bench, Evans is a player that Gatland believes possesses the “x-factor”. However, with Visser and Maitland above him in the pecking order, opportunities to showcase his talent are hard to come by.

Former Lion, Jim Telfer, has backed the selection of Rennie as one of the few out-and-out No. 7s in the British Isles. Rennie though, who misses the Six Nations through injury, is in danger of being eclipsed by the performances of Justin Tipuric and Chris Robshaw. His propensity to injury may also be a bar to selection.

Barclay, returning from a hamstring injury, will hope to force his way into the Scotland team for the remaining games of the Six Nations. Gatland has highlighted Barclay’s experience, but with Kelly Brown in excellent form, Barclay will be relying on injuries to boost his selection chances.And what of those Englishmen plying their trade in France? Mr Wilkinson, unable to make an impact at the 2011 RWC, will probably only be injury cover. Andrew Sheridan, a name to strike fear into any Australian prop, is enjoying his rugby with Toulon but has said he does not expect to make the trip Down Under.

The best foreign player in the Top 14 in 2012, Steffon Armitage, is a dark horse for selection. However, England coach Stuart Lancaster has openly questioned his test-match credentials.

For all of these players, and others, missing the Six Nations is a huge set back. However, there is still plenty of rugby to play, and impressive performances with their club sides will not go unnoticed by Gatland and his coaching staff. As with any Lions squad, expect one or two left-field calls.

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