SCRUM Columnist Matt Horsman looks ahead to next year’s British & Irish Lions tour:

It’s that time of year again now unfortunately. The 6 Nations has passed.

What better time to begin the excruciatingly long countdown to next summer’s Lions tour.

This is the ideal stage to examine the prospects for selection, and by going through each position I will give you my take on who – at this very early stage – I believe should be on the plane, whilst giving my thoughts on those right on the brink and any potential ‘wildcard’ options.

Props – 

In terms of looseheads, Joe Marler has performed consistently in recent matches and Mako Vunipola’s potency in the loose could make him an asset on the firm grounds of New Zealand, while Cian Healy needs to stay injury free to give himself any chance of making the cut.

Al Dickinson also deserves a mention for making himself an extremely useful part of a dominant Scottish front row. On the tight side our very own WP Nel is my frontrunner to anchor the scrum. I think the other spot will go to Samson Lee if he is fit, but he faces stiff competition from England’s Dan Cole.

On the Plane: Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, Cian Healy, WP Nel, Samson Lee

Unlucky to Miss Out: Al Dickinson, Dan Cole

Wildcard: Gethin Jenkins

Hooker – 

England’s Grand Slam winning Captain would have my vote for the starting jersey, but he isn’t half under pressure for it.

Not just from other nations but from his own teammates. Jamie George would start for any other of the five nations at the moment, with the exception maybe being Scott Baldwin who I rate very highly. Rory Best is on the decline, and his poor throwing at the line out would be picked off.

On the Plane: Dylan Hartley, Scott Baldwin, Jamie George

Unlucky to Miss Out: Sean Cronin

Wildcard: Stuart McInally

Second-row –

The only definite for me is Alun Wyn Jones – who I think should Captain the side. Alongside him both Gray brothers definitely have a shot, whereas

England are producing second-rows faster than they can cap them. Kruis and Itoje were exceptional in the Six Nations whereas Ireland’s second row isn’t what it once was despite Devin Toner’s lineout prowess.

On the Plane: Alun-Wyn Jones (c), Jonny Gray, George Kruis, Maro Itoje

Unlucky to Miss Out: Joe Launchbury

Back-row –

This will be the most hotly contested position in my opinion. Sam Warburton must go and Taulupe Faletau would be my No.8. As long as he is back to fitness the dynamic Sean O’Brien would complete a formidable back-row.

As for who completes the set the possibilities are endless. It will really come down to form and fitness this time next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one Scotsman sneaks in.

On the Plane: Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Sam Warburton, John Hardie, Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola

Unlucky to Miss Out: Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric

Wildcards: Steffon Armitage, Nathan Hughes

Scrum-half – 

Both Wales and England have two very good scrum-halves who would give the Lions the quick ball they badly need. In my opinion Greig is still a bit behind them, although he would make a fantastic midweek Captain and could also cover at 10.

As for Connor Murray, he brings the physicality to the role in the way Mike Phillips has done in the past, but he can sometimes lack quick distribution.

On the Plane: Rhys Webb, Ben Youngs, Greig Laidlaw

Unlucky to Miss Out: Conor Murray

Stand-off –

It will be interesting to see if Gatland sticks to his two fly-halves this time around with more quality options at his disposal. Dan Biggar has been the best 10 in Europe for a while now and his commitment and passion is vital on these tours.

Johnny Sexton is the conventional other option, but with his form on the decline and a susceptibility to injury it opens the door for Owen Farrell and hopefully Finn Russell.

On the Plane: Dan Biggar, Johnny Sexton

Unlucky to Miss Out: Owen Farrell

Wildcard: Danny Cipriani

Centre – 

There are a multitude of options depending on what style of play Gatland wants to adopt. He has hard hitters and he has players with a real fleet of foot. I would personally be really disappointed if he chose size over skill every time, but given previous form I wouldn’t be very surprised.

On the Plane: Jamie Roberts, Manu Tuilagi, Mark Bennett, Jonathan Joseph

Unlucky to Miss Out: Robbie Henshaw,

Wildcards: Elliot Daly, Stuart McCloskey

Wing – 

At the moment Anthony Watson is the standout winger in the Northern Hemisphere and so should definitely go.

Versatility will be key in deciding who else will make it as being able to cover multiple positions is worth its wait in gold on a Lions tour.

On The Plane: Anthony Watson, George North, Tommy Seymour

Unlucky to Miss Out: Jack Nowell, Simon Zebo

Full-back – 

Another very hotly contested position for what will most likely only be two spots. Mike Brown has been so consistent for so long, while Rob Kearney has toured twice already and Hoggy could be the key that unlocks the All Black’s defence.

On the Plane: Mike Brown, Stuart Hogg

Unlucky to Miss out: Liam Williams, Rob Kearney

Wildcards: Alex Goode, Leigh Halfpenny

Keep coming back to The SCRUM website for all the news on the Guinness PRO12 run-in, the end of the domestic season and the start of the sevens season – plenty going on!

And to view SCRUM issue 80 visit here