Six Nations Lions Watch: Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola, CJ Stander

When or where the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour will take place remains uncertain, but that will not stop us talking about who might pull on the red jersey.

Other options are playing behind closed doors in South Africa or taking the tour to Australia.

We are expecting an official announcement in March but while we wait for that, let’s take a look at who played themselves in or out of Warren Gatland’s squad in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Leaders in the pack

The Lions’ future looks increasingly Welsh after Wayne Pivac’s side defeated England in Cardiff, with many of Eddie Jones’ men blowing their chance to shine.

Maro Itoje has been discussed as a potential Lions captain but his ill-discipline let England down and would be equally unacceptable against the world champions this summer.

The lock was as energetic as ever, but perhaps over-zealous at times as he conceded five of England’s 14 penalties and was outshone by the stoic leadership of opposite number Alun Wyn Jones.

Competition for places in the back row continues as Ireland flanker Will Connors stood out with two tries in the side’s win against Italy.

Fellow flanker Tadhg Beirne also impressed, showing versatility in his move from lock to the back row. The 29-year-old is top of the turnover charts for the tournament so far with five.

But Gatland – who was at the Principality on Saturday – is spoilt for choice in this area.

Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau won man of the match as he came out on top against England’s Billy Vunipola.

Two-time Lion Faletau is second in the standings for carries across the tournament so far on 38, with Ireland’s 2017 tourist CJ Stander way out in front on 46.

Also leading in the stats tables as well as on the pitch is Wales flanker Justin Tipuric, who has the most tackles on 55.

Elsewhere in the Welsh pack, loose-head prop Wyn Jones is slowly staking an unlikely claim on a spot in Gatland’s squad after more than holding his own against England’s scrum.

Quick-thinking nines catch eyes

Arguably one of the most unpredictable positions in the Lions squad at the moment is scrum-half, where there is no stand-out candidate.

A few players put their hand up for selection this weekend though, starting with Ireland’s Jamison Gibson-Park.

The New Zealand-born 29-year-old made his Ireland debut in October 2020 and has started the side’s past two matches in place of 2013 and 2017 Lion Conor Murray, who is out with a hamstring injury.

Gibson-Park took the opportunity to show Gatland the quick-thinking he could offer the Lions, showing good initiative with a savvy tap-and-go penalty as well as setting up several of Ireland’s six tries thanks to fast hands.

Another nine giving Gatland a taste of life in the fast lane was Wales’ Kieran Hardy, who made his first Six Nations start against England.

Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson said Hardy showed “an instinct that I’d like to see more of from scrum-halves around the world”, as he took a quick penalty to score Wales’ third try.

The 25-year-old later went off with what looked like a hamstring injury, but here is hoping he recovers in time for Wales’ game against Italy to continue to prove himself.

Not wanting to be upstaged by his opposite number, 2013 tourist Ben Youngs showed he has a heads-up game as well as his reliable tactical prowess.

The England scrum-half showed great awareness from the base of the ruck to slice through defenders and level the scores before England’s charge was quelled in Cardiff.

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Conspicuous in their absence

Gatland named just two Scottish players in his initial squad for the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.

It looks as if the Scottish contingent could be far greater this time around after the side’s impressive Six Nations win against England before a one-point defeat by Wales.

Scotland were set to prove themselves at the most challenging venue in the 2021 Six Nations – the Stade de France – before their third-round game was postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak in the French squad.

Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Ali Price, Matt Fagerson and several others will be hoping the match is rescheduled soon so they get their chance to impress.

Six Nations organisers are considering several options, including a midweek game in the week commencing 8 March or the weekend of 27 March, and say they will make an announcement “in due course”.

Meanwhile, calls continue for Exeter number eight Sam Simmonds to be included in Jones’ England squad and no doubt the 26-year-old is on Gatland’s radar after scoring his 12th try of the Premiership season in a loss to Sale.

There is no shortage of support for Simmonds on social media, with former New Zealand back row Jerome Kaino and ex-England fly-half Andy Goode both giving Jones a nudge.

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