Sir Ian McGeechan is expecting The British & Irish Lions’ back-rowers to come to the fore this year, and is backing their strength to play a major part of the summer’s Tour to New Zealand.
And with the RBS 6 Nations beginning this weekend, a final opportunity to impress on the international circuit is approaching for all the home nations.
For McGeechan, that’s certainly the case in the back row, highlighting a number of potential candidates bidding to get the better of New Zealand across three Test matches.
Twice a Lion himself in 1974 and 1977, McGeechan is no stranger to what it takes to be part of the squad, particularly with the added experience of four Tours as head coach, with the most recent of those coming in 2009.
And the 70-year-old, speaking in a video interview for Lions Principal Partner Standard Life Investments, picked out some names to look out for, with the countdown to the Tour to New Zealand well and truly on.
“Billy Vunipola has been outstanding, while Taulupe Faletau has been the most consistent No.8 over the past year,” said McGeechan.
“Jamie Heaslip has played the best I’ve seen him since playing in 2009 when he broke through as a really good ball-carrier.
“In the back-row, you can potentially have two of these guys to join two second-rowers that you know can handle it, while a third back-rower can be there doing serious damage as well.
“If you can do that and keep on the front foot, then the likes of Stuart Hogg or those on the wing or in the outside channels can play their natural game.
— Standard Life Invest (@SLI_Global) January 27, 2017
“Then, you can put together a tactical game and not overcomplicate things – that could be a real real threat.
“One of the advantages I think the Lions will have over New Zealand is the strength in depth.
"The match-day 23 should match or better New Zealand’s with their front-line Test experience. That could give them the edge.”