Lions watch 2017: Who’s hot and who’s not?

Which tour hopefuls need an improved performance in Six Nations round two?

Leigh Halfpenny was back to his metronomic best in as Wales won their opener against Italy. Photograph: Getty/David Rogers

Leigh Halfpenny was back to his metronomic best in as Wales won their opener against Italy. Photograph: Getty/David Rogers

 

Hot

Stuart Hogg

While Hogg’s performance against Ireland didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, it did cement his credentials as the Lions starting fullback. He was exceptional at Murrayfield, scoring twice in a man of the match display. His second score, which saw him sell opposite number Rob Kearney a sublime dummy before scorching into the 22 and over, was special. It remains to be seen if Vern Cotter’s side can carry their early momentum throughout the tournament and make a challenge for the championship, but if Hogg maintains the standards shown against Ireland they have a very live chance.

Leigh Halfpenny

Hogg wasn’t the only fullback to enjoy a good opening to the Six Nations, and Halfpenny’s display in Wales’ victory over Italy - while lacking the same x-factor - will have been equally satisfying. Once the tournament’s dominant 15 and most metronomic goal-kicker, Halfpenny has been plagued by injuries and when fit has looked a shadow of his former self, particularly struggling last autumn. However his performance against Italy was enough to suggest he is playing his way back towards his former glories and if he is fit and kicking goals it is almost certain Warren Gatland will take him to New Zealand.

Tadhg Furlong

Furlong’s astronomical rise from young prospect to certain starter for Ireland continued as he decimated the Scottish frontrow in the early stages at Murrayfield. In what was largely a dismal Irish showing he was one of the few positives and delivered a typically destructive display both in the loose and at the scrum. He already has experience of beating the All Blacks so if he can continue to impress it would be very hard for Gatland to ignore him.

Not

George Ford

While Ford didn’t neccessarily have a bad game against a resurgent France it said a lot that England finally took the game by the scruff of the neck when Owen Farrell was switched to 10. That move was to accomodate try-scorer Ben Te’o at 12, with Ford the man to make way for the rugby league convert. Farrell’s control of proceedings at outhalf and Te’o’s impressive cameo inside him could persuade Eddie Jones to break up the 10-12-13 axis which has played for much of England’s unbeaten run - with Ford the man who would miss out. With two outhalves likely to go to New Zealand Ford would stand little chance if he was on the bench for England.

Iain Henderson

An injury to Donnacha Ryan gave Henderson a start against Scotland and like much of the Ireland side he was slow to get going at Murrayfield. He picked up in the second half, scoring a try, but a hamstring injury means he misses the second round trip to Italy. That leaves Henderson with three fixtures - against France, Wales and England - to impress Gatland. And with Jonny Gray, Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje all having stormers on the opening weekend, he has a lot to do to force his way up the pecking order for New Zealand.

Jamie Roberts

One of the stalwarts of Gatland’s Welsh tenure Roberts looks to have finally fallen out of favour in the national set-up. He played a big role on the last two Lions tours, starting two Tests in South Africa and the decisive third in Australia, but the 30-year-old’s destructive powers in midfield have started to wane. Roberts found himself on the bench for Wales’s opener against Italy and the fine performance of Scott Williams alongside a resurgent Jonathan Davies suggests he will be refined to cameo roles for much of the tournament. As loyal a servant he has been to Gatland it looks very unlikely he will make the tour.

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