Lions XV

Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis puts his neck on the line and announces his Lions team for the tour to Australia based on their performances during the Six Nations.

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 18/03/13 12:18pm

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As the dust settles on the final round of internationals before the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, head coach Warren Gatland will have plenty to ponder.

A number of players rose to the occasion over the course of the RBS Six Nations, while others failed to impress when it mattered the most.

And once again Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis puts his neck on the line and announces his Lions team to take on Australia in the first Test in Brisbane.

15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

Arguably the star of the RBS Six Nations. The Wales full-back was simply immense throughout and didn't put a foot wrong. He scored 74 points but was also a rock in defence. Scotland's Stuart Hogg put in a number of lively displays, Alex Goode covered a lot of ground for England and Rob Kearney worked hard for little reward, however Halfpenny was head and shoulders above.

14 Alex Cuthbert (Wales)

A formidable presence on the wing. He scored four tries in total, including two in the championship decider against England. With Halfpenny and George North, he helped form a talented back three that will be a test for any side in the world. Sean Maitland, Craig Gilroy and Mike Brown also caught the eye, while Tommy Bowe's injury means he is a doubt for the tour.

The Lions live on Sky Sports

The pinnacle of British and Irish Rugby, the Lions tour, returns and heads to Australia. Sky Sports will broadcast the entire tour live with all three Tests against the Wallabies plus all seven warm-up matches. For the first time, the inaugural tour match will take place in Hong Kong. The British & Irish Lions tour will be the fifth consecutive tour shown exclusively live on Sky.

13 Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)

Heart ruled the head over this selection. I am not convinced O'Driscoll has produced anywhere near the form that we have come to expect from him. Against Italy he looked frustrated - and a rush of blood could yet come back to haunt him - but there is no doubting his talent and a partnership with Manu Tuilagi could emulate his combination with Jamie Roberts from 2009. Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Brad Barritt are other contenders for the centres.

12 Manu Tuilagi (England)

A huge physical presence who attracts defenders to him like a magnet. Tuilagi is a human wrecking ball in the midfield and even if tacklers can stop him in his tracks, he creates gaps for others to exploit. The midfield remains the hardest selection area for Gatland, with few players producing a consistent run of form.

11 George North (Wales)

Part of a classy all-Wales back three. North has been a menace for defences throughout the tournament with his pace and power. He tormented England in Cardiff as he proved he has the temperament for the big games. He also proved he is strong in defence and seems nailed on to start the Tests.

10 Owen Farrell (England)

Had to think long and hard over this position but for all the right reasons given the quality of the contenders. To me it is a straight toss-up between Jonathan Sexton and Farrell and I just favour the England No 10 (cue the abuse). I feel Farrell is the better of two overall by the finest of margins and given the freedom to express himself - England tactics were very much built around the defence being the best form of attack - he can cut loose.

9 Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

A real wildcard pick here. Laidlaw's form over the tournament has been exemplary and he has played himself into contention. He was the heartbeat behind everything good about Scotland's play and has a superb kicking game. Mike Phillips has also played himself into form, while Ben Youngs and Danny Care have struggled to stake their authority on the No 9 shirt.

1 Cian Healy (Ireland)

His moment of madness against England aside, Healy has been in superb form. He is arguably the best loosehead in the northern hemisphere. He is powerful in the scrum but puts in a shift-and-a-half in the loose. Scotland's Ryan Grant has mounted a serious challenge for the jersey, while Gethin Jenkins will certainly be in the mix. I wouldn't rule out Mako Vunipola playing some part on the tour as well.

2 Richard Hibbard (Wales)

The Wales hooker has forced his way into contention for the tour. Rory Best had been the favourite for the No 2 jersey pre-tournament, however as his form faltered, Hibbard has come on strong. Hibbard was part of a dominant Wales scrum and he has been spot on in the lineout. Tom Youngs has also performed well over the course of five games, while Ross Ford has made a welcome return to form.

3 Adam Jones (Wales)

Another player who has come on strong. Jones has put his injury problems behind him to prove that he is back to his best. Controlled the scrum area throughout the championship and tackled superbly. Dan Cole offers more around the park, with impressive turnover stats, however he has had issues at scrum time.

4 Ian Evans (Wales)

One of the unsung heroes of the championship-winning side. Wales entered the tournament with a second row crisis however Evans stepped up to the mark and was a colossus throughout. Compatriot Alun Wyn Jones impressed on his return to the set up, while Donnacha Ryan and Joe Launchbury put in some encouraging shifts. Paul O'Connell and Richie Gray will also be knocking on the door if they can prove their fitness.

5 Geoff Parling (England)

The England lock has emerged as a serious contender for a place in the Lions side. I have been really impressed with him every time he has pulled on an international jersey. He controls the lineout superbly while his work ethic in the loose is immense, especially in defence.

6 Tom Wood (England)

The back row will give Gatland many sleepless nights given the quality of players available. Wood gets my nod at blindside ahead of Sean O'Brien for his work at the breakdown. O'Brien is the bigger ball-carrier and would make an impact off the bench but Wood gets down and dirty on the deck and is a superb option in the lineout. Ryan Jones, if fit, and the seriously underrated Kelly Brown are the other contenders for the role.

7 Sam Warburton (Wales)

This was a seriously tough call, with Chris Robshaw and Justin Tipuric both staking strong claims, however Warburton has shown signs he has put his dip in form behind him. He was a menace at the breakdown and made good yardage with the ball in hand. Robshaw's form throughout means he deserves to be seriously considered, while Tipuric has looked a natural.

8 Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)

The power and experience of the Ireland No 8 just gets him the nod ahead of the young pretender Toby Faletau - but again it is close. Heaslip has done his best to inspire an under-performing Ireland side and helped them got over the gainline - although I am not sure the captaincy has helped his game. Ben Morgan and Johnnie Beattie will be in the mix too - while if you are looking for a real Lions wildcard selection Billy Vunipola could fit the bill.

Replacements: 16 Rory Best (Ireland), 17 Dan Cole (England), 18 Gethin Jenkins (Wales), 19 Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), 20 Sean O'Brien (Ireland), 21 Danny Care (England), 22 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), 23 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

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