In Focus: Full-Backs

British & Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland named his 41-man squad that will Tour New Zealand, playing ten matches in all culminating in a three-match Test series against the world champion All Blacks. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

British & Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland named his 41-man squad that will Tour New Zealand, playing ten matches in all culminating in a three-match Test series against the world champion All Blacks.

Gatland’s squad includes 16 Englishmen that were crowned RBS 6 Nations champions earlier this year, 12 Welshmen, 11 Irishmen and two Scots.

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The touring party features two players who started every game of the RBS 6 Nations at full-back, while three others have extensive experience in the position.

Welshman Leigh Halfpenny is one of two 2017 Tourists to be going on their third Lions Tour – alongside compatriot Alun Wyn Jones.

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Click here for the official 41-man Lions squad

He will be joined by Stuart Hogg, the 2013 squad’s youngest member, who has been selected for his second Lions Tour after a stellar season in a Scotland jersey.

And Gatland will have plenty of options at full-back with the likes of Anthony Watson, Liam Williams and Jared Payne all featuring regularly in the position, while Elliot Daly could also be an option if called upon.

Gatland explained what he is looking for in his full-backs, in particular players who are strong under the high ball.

“The aerial battle is pretty paramount because a lot of teams are using tactical kicking as a weapon so you have to be good in the air both on attack and defence because you win that battle then you can control possession and territory it is huge at the momentum,” said Gatland.

“Defensively, sometimes you are left out on your own in that back three so you have to make some pretty good and difficult decisions.

“The final thing about playing in the back three is if you have pace, it is a massive advantage.”
Here we take a look at the wealth of options Gatland has for the No.15 jersey.

The 2013 Player of the Series Leigh Halfpenny has been selected on his third Lions Tour after being the youngest Tourist to play the Springboks in 2009.

Halfpenny’s haul of 49 points across all three Tests in 2013 made him the highest points scorer for the Lions as his superb performances off the tee helped the Lions to a 2-1 series win.

The Welsh full-back moved from Cardiff Blues to French side Toulon in 2014 following his return after the Lions success Down Under and contributed 14 points from the boot to help his new side win their third successive European crown.

Most notably, Halfpenny knocked over 17 points in Wales’ 27-13 victory over South Africa in the autumn and will relish the battle to reclaim the jersey he wore in all three Tests in 2013.

Halfpenny’s compatriot Liam Williams has proven his worth both at full-back and on the wing and the Saracens-bound flyer will be itching to impress the coaching staff in New Zealand.

Used more extensively on the wing by Wales, his versatility could be a major asset in New Zealand, while he even showed off his kicking skills with a penalty and conversion for the Scarlets last weekend.


Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has demonstrated his quality over the last two seasons as he has picked up back-to-back Player of the Championship awards in the RBS 6 Nations in 2016 and 2017.

Hogg was selected to tour in 2013 and made five appearances for the Lions at full-back and fly-half but he did not feature in the Test squads.

This time around, Hogg will be hoping to battle several other candidates for the No 15 jersey after a great year for Scotland and his club side Glasgow Warriors who reached the European quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

Hogg’s running game instils fear in many defenders worldwide and the All Blacks know they must kick accurately if they are to nullify his sparkling footwork and eye for a gap.

He also offers a long-range goal-kicking option and, as he showed in 2013, he can even fill in at fly-half when required.

Ulster and Ireland’s Jared Payne has been selected on his first Lions Tour after an impressive few seasons for the Irish province.

Payne will return to the country of his birth on Tour having been born in Tauranga and will relish the familiarity of the conditions in New Zealand.

Payne performed remarkably well for Ireland in their 13-9 victory over England in the RBS 6 Nations starting at full-back though he is just as comfortable operating in the centres.

And the Irishman will look to draw on the experience that 20 international caps brings including starting both November Test matches against the All Blacks including the famous victory in Chicago.

It remains to be seen if he will be used more at outside centre or at full-back, but when it comes to performing in the No 15 jersey in New Zealand, he has all the necessary experience from his time in Super Rugby, including for the Blues at Eden Park – where two of the Tests will take place.


While Anthony Watson has played all his Test rugby on the wing, he plies his club trade at full-back playing for Bath in the Premiership.

The explosive runner is adept playing on the wing or at 15 and impressed on his return from a broken jaw by dotting down to score in England’s victory over Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations.

And Watson’s ability to affect a Test match with his superb footwork and searing pace in either position will be of great value to Gatland.

Fellow England winger Daly is another versatile player, having played the majority of his club rugby in the centres or at full-back while being used out wide by Eddie Jones.

How he lines up in New Zealand will be decided on Tour but he certainly has the skillset to shine at the back.
Whichever Lion is selected in the full-back berth, Gatland will be confident they can deliver the defensive duties required against New Zealand as well as being a menace with the ball in hand.

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