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I’d make Justin Tipuric my Lions No.7 says Jim Telfer

Justin TipuricJustin Tipuric will form part of an Anglo-Welsh back row in the Lions’ Test team this summer, according to one of the world’s legendary coaches.

Jim Telfer, the driving force behind the winning Lions tour in South Africa 16 years ago, picks Tipuric as his openside flanker for the series against Australia with Toby Faletau at No.8 and Chris Robshaw on the blindside.

The Scot, 73 this month, rules out a fairytale return for Jonny Wilkinson despite his position as the leading goalkicker in the French Top 14.

But Telfer expects a Grand Slam-winning England to form ‘a majority’ – maybe as high as the 22 they provided in South Africa in 1997.

He identifies two Toulon players declared surplus to England requirements – Andrew Sheridan and Steffon Armitage – as contenders for the ten-match tour but not Wilkinson.

“I think Wilkinson has had his turn,” Telfer told The Rugby Paper. “He’s probably having an easy ride at Toulon.  If I dare say it, he’s a bit of an old-fashioned stand-off.

“Toby Flood and Jonathan Sexton are different – very modern stand-offs who play up close to the line which is what Warren Gatland and Rob Howley (backs coach) are looking for.

“I certainly think (Owen) Farrell will go because you need a goalkicker although he didn’t have a particularly good game against France.    Neil Jenkins won it for us in that role against the Springboks in 1997.”

Telfer sees the Wales-England climax to the Six Nations in Cardiff on March 16 as “a big decider” in Lions’ terms.   Tipuric is set to keep his place for Wales in Scotland next Saturday having been picked against Italy in preference to skipper Sam Warburton.

“Form seems to change from game to game,” he says.   “During the Scotland-Ireland game, for example, no-one really threw his hat into the ring other than the Scottish second row, Jim Hamilton.

“Some of the Irish players went backwards. Not even Brian O’Driscoll played that well. Jamie Heaslip is struggling. Not so long ago he was a stick-on for the Test XV.

“Chris Robshaw is certain to go, whether as captain is another matter. He’s a hell of a good player with a hell of a work rate who leads by example but he’s not a natural seven.  I see him as a six-and-a-half.

“In that respect I don’t think he’s a game-changer like Richie McCaw or David Pocock.  Sean O’Brien of Ireland is such a good ball carrier but he’s not a natural seven either. Tipuric has a big influence at the break-down because he is a natural seven.

“I’d  go Robshaw at six, Tipuric and Faletau. Warburton will be in the mix but I wouldn’t expect him to be starting.

“Ryan Jones is captaining the Welsh team very well. I don’t think he thought he would be in the Lions mix.

“I know Warren has a high regard for Dany Lydiate and Tommy Bowe, on his day probably the best winger in the Northern Hemisphere.

“If England win the Grand Slam, I think the majority will come from their ranks.  I’d be looking at two of them outside the Six Nations, Sheridan and Steffon Armitage.”

He also rules out another Lions veteran in France, Clermont’s 36-year-old lock-cum- flanker Nathan Hines.

“That would be a wee bit of a backward step,” Telfer says. “It’s a young man’s game.”

PETER JACKSON

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