Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Optimism building that Lions could tame All Blacks in 2017

England no 8 Billy Vunipola would add monster value to a potential Lions back row. Photo / AP
England no 8 Billy Vunipola would add monster value to a potential Lions back row. Photo / AP

The modern world is all about projection and what ifs and England's Grand Slam triumph is delivering all sorts of ambitious ideas.

There is renewed optimism about their mid-year trip to play the Wallabies and piggyback hope Wales will find a way to break their 63-year losing streak against the All Blacks when they visit New Zealand in June.

The widescreen promise is leap-frogging towards what the Lions might achieve against the All Blacks when they tour New Zealand in 2017. That expedition has taken on a greater edge as more dynamic players emerged from the Six Nations contests.

Talk about whether the coach will be Warren Gatland or A.N. Other have made way for projections about players who will be in the vanguard of a group seeking redemption for their woes of 2005.

The spine of a potential Lions team is emerging as former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones has begun to insist on better basics and more dynamism from his new and recycled England squad.

Set-piece reliability and dynamic loose-forwards are taking more steps, a range of playmakers and class goal-kickers are available and back threes are working better with and without the ball.

Talented tight forwards like Maro Itoje and George Kruis have joined Alun Wyn Jones, Jonny Gray and Joe Launchbury while the crushing power of No 8 Billy Vunipola has added monster value to Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip.

Manu Tuilagi is being reshaped as a second five eighths, George North is back into his gallop, Anthony Watson is showing his finishing gifts, Liam Williams has the varied game to go with Stuart Hogg and Mike Brown at fullback and so on.

There are stacks of others who are impressive players although the problem, as ever with the Lions, is getting it all to mesh in a short time.

Who'll be captain? Former Rotorua rebel Dylan Hartley if England continue to prosper in the next two years or Sam Warburton who has long been Gatland's go to man and will be favoured if the Kiwi gets the coaching gig.

- NZ Herald

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