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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Size, speed and skill set All Blacks apart from the rest

Lions will need physical presence in defence

Speed off the line will be crucial for the Lions in defence
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Size, speed and skills are the characteristics of any New Zealand backline and Lions coach Warren Gatland looks to have based his selection as much on defensive strength as on attacking prowess. Physicality could well be a key Test selection criterion.

Fly-half Ospreys & Wales
Caps: 56 Tries: 3 Pts: 295

Seen as the third-choice fly-half after Gatland went with just two dedicated number tens - Sexton and Farrell - in 2013. But Biggar has enhanced his standing since the 2015 Rugby World Cup when he stepped up as frontline goal-kicker for Wales in Leigh Halfpenny's absence and proved he could take on those duties as well as calling the shots at number ten.

Centre/winger Wasps & England
C: 13 T: 3 Pts: 21

Made his Premiership debut while still at school and called into the England Six Nations squad in 2016, making his first start that autumn against South Africa. Mainly featured on the wing for England, but can also cover centre and full-back and has a long kicking range off the tee.

Centre Scarlets & Wales
C: 67 T: 13 Pts: 65

Controversial selection ahead of Brian O'Driscoll for the final Test in Australia in 2013, Davies then spent two years at Clermont before returning to the Scarlets in 2016. A Wales regular, starting all five Six Nations matches and all three Tests against New Zealand last summer, scoring a try in the second.

Fly-half Saracens & England
C: 53 T: 5 Pts: 603

Bench role in the 2013 Tests but pushing for a start on this tour after another season of outstanding performances particularly for Sarries. Has played inside centre for England under Eddie Jones with George Ford preferred at number ten but Gatland looks unlikely to follow the same path as he may want more physical presence in his midfield.

Full-back Toulon & Wales
C: 74 T: 12 Pts: 668

The goal-kicking hero of the 2013 Lions tour, Halfpenny has not had an easy time since. Injury ruled him out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and he made a difficult transition to Toulon. Started every match of the Six Nations at full-back but was the outsider to wear the number 15 shirt in the first Test on the eve of the tour behind odds-on shot Stuart Hogg. On his third Lions tour - injury prevented him starting the 2009 series in South Africa but joined the party late.

Centre Leinster & Ireland
C: 29 T: 2 Pts: 10

Powerful midfield presence, Pro 12 winner for Connacht in 2016 before moving to Leinster. Came back from injury to start Leinster's Pro12 semi-final in May. Scored the winning try for Ireland against the All Blacks in Chicago in the autumn.

Full-back Glasgow & Scotland
C: 53 T: 16 Pts: 92

Employed as a midweek fly-half on the 2013 tour, allowing coach Warren Gatland to select just two dedicated fly-halves, but looks to have made the Test full-back slot his own with his performances for Glasgow and Scotland since. Joint-top tryscorer in the 2017 Six Nations with three.

Centre Bath & England
C: 33 T: 16 Pts: 80

England's top or joint-top tryscorer in the last three Six Nations tournaments with a total of ten, Joseph has averaged a try almost every other game for England. Catches the eye for his fast footwork that can find gaps in opposition defences.

Scrum-half Gloucester & Scotland
C: 58 T: 4 Pts: 582

Scotland captain was called up to the squad as a late replacement for England's Ben Youngs, who has stayed at home for family reasons. His role as a frontline goalkicker gives him that extra versatility that is needed for midweek squads, but looks unlikely to fit into Warren Gatland's plans in the Test arena.

Scrum-half Munster & Ireland
C: 59 T: 10 Pts: 53

Came off the bench in the second and third Lions Tests against Australia in 2013 and clear first-choice scrum-half for Ireland. Scored tries in the historic wins over South Africa and New Zealand last year and on the eve of the Lions departures was just 1-3 to start the first Test.

Winger Northampton and Wales
C: 72 T: 32 Pts: 160

Burst on to the scene as the youngest player to score a try on his Wales debut and North's barnstorming run from inside his own half to score the Lions' opening try in the first Test against Australia in 2013 has become an iconic Lions moment. The years since have been punctuated by injury and North was in the spotlight in December after suffering a fifth concussion in two years, but joint-top tryscorer in the 2017 Six Nations with three.

Winger Exeter & England
C: 23 T: 11 Pts: 55

Combative and tenacious winger rather than an out-and-out speedster, hard-working in defence and solid under the high ball. His game seems to have come on leaps and bounds under Eddie Jones and outstanding performances in the Premiership semi-final and final have boosted his chances of a Test start.

Centre Ulster & Ireland
C: 20 T: 4 Pts: 20

Born and raised in New Zealand, Payne played provincial rugby for Waikato and Northland plus Super Rugby for the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues before departing for Ulster, so is able to offer plenty of local knowledge. Versatile across the backline having won most of his Ireland caps at centre but started at full-back against England in the final match of the Six Nations and can also play on the wing.

Winger Glasgow & Scotland
C: 36 T: 16 Pts: 80

Powerful and speedy winger, scored in all four games he featured in at the 2015 Rugby World Cup including the quarter-final defeat to Australia. Despite competition for places now in the Scotland back three started all five of Scotland's matches in the Six Nations, scoring two tries. Big outsider for a Test start.

Fly-half Leinster & Ireland
C: 69 T: 10 Pts: 617

Started all three Tests for the Lions in Australia in 2013. A good distributor with excellent vision to put width on the game, Sexton has had issues with injuries and concussion and had to pass a head-injury assessment after his last game for Leinster, the Pro12 semi-final defeat to Scarlets. An obvious target for the powerful Kiwi strike-runners.

Centre Worcester & England
C: 8 T: 2 Pts: 10

Another with local knowledge as he was born in New Zealand to a Samoan father and English mother, although he started his rugby league career in Australia before moving to Leinster in 2014 and Worcester in 2016. Limited international experience but hailed as an outstanding athlete and physically powerful at 6ft 2in and 16st 10lbs, has made a big impact off the bench for England including a winning try over France in this year's Six Nations opening round.

Bath Winger/full-back
Caps: 26 T: 13 Pts: 65

Tricky runner blessed with pace to burn, the Bath man has been picked out as one of Eddie Jones's preferred starters although injuries have limited his chances in 2016-17. Played in all four of England's 2015 World Cup matches scoring three tries. Injured for the 2016 autumn internationals and the start of this year's Six Nations but came off the bench in the penultimate game against Scotland to score a try and started the final fixture in Ireland.

Scrum-half Ospreys & Wales
C: 28 T: 7 Pts: 35

Livewire scrum-half who first represented Wales at sevens and was part of that squad which won the World Cup in Dubai in 2009. Missed the 2015 Rugby World Cup through injury but returned for the 2016 Six Nations and started every game of the 2017 tournament.

Winger/full-back Scarlets & Wales
C: 43 T: 8 Pts: 40

Fearless in attack and defence Williams has become a regular starter for Wales, usually how on the wing. Joint-top tryscorer in the 2017 Six Nations with three although his ferocity in defence often comes to the fore as much as his adventurous running. Won the Pro12 with Scarlets this season but is moving to European champions Saracens next season.

George North's barnstorming run from inside his own half to score in the first Test against Australia in 2013 has become an iconic Lions moment
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