The will he or won’t he saga for Warren Gatland is almost over.
On April 19 the British & Irish Lions head coach will name is touring party that will bid to bring down the world champion All Blacks this summer.
And unlike four years ago, the core group of players nailed on to be handed plane ticket seems somewhat thinner than in recent years.
But of that core there are a few Ireland players who Gatland will surely turn to, and it is easy to see why.
Jonathan Sexton – Leinster
As Joe Schmidt’s Ireland denied England a second successive Grand Slam at the Aviva Stadium, there were few more iconic images of Jonathan Sexton lifting himself of the Dublin turf time and time again after being hit by the Red Rose bruisers.
For a fly-half who has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, it was a reminder to Gatland that at 31 Sexton can still be relied upon under the most intense pressure.
His kicking was once again immaculate and his control of the game was evident for all to see, and again with Leinster beat Wasps in their Champions Cup quarter-final in the same venue.
Sexton’s importance to Ireland is huge – he missed the opening defeat to Scotland and was then off the pitch undergoing a HIA as Wales racked up the majority of their points against the Men in Green.
And the Leinster man is set to be just as crucial for Gatland as his Test fly-half, pushing England’s Owen Farrell into the No.12 jersey.
Conor Murray – Munster
Given the talents of England duo Ben Youngs and Danny Care, not to mention Wales’ Rhys Webb, it is a mark of Conor Murray’s ability that many believe the Munsterman to be odds for the Lions No.9 jersey this summer.
Despite missing Ireland’s victory over England in their final game of this year’s Six Nations, Murray was still nominated for the Player of the Championship gong – the only one of the 12 not to have featured in all five matches.
A constant threat around the breakdown, Murray showed his all-round game with some clever box-kicking and control of his forwards.
And his link-up and understanding with Sexton at No.10 will surely be crucial, not to mention he knows what it takes to beat New Zealand having been named man of the match in Ireland’s historic victory over the All Blacks in November.
Robbie Henshaw – Leinster
Filling the power role in the centres that Jamie Roberts occupied four years ago will surely be Robbie Henshaw.
But Henshaw isn’t just all about raw power, he has a bag full of tricks to bring to the party and is a consistently strong performer.
He is also quickly becoming a man for the big occasion. Both in Chicago against New Zealand and Dublin against England, when the two best teams on the planet pushed for world records, Henshaw knocked huge holes in their chances of doing that.
More of the same please!
CJ Stander – Munster
CJ Stander became the first forward to score a hat-trick in the Six Nations when he crossed the whitewash three times in Rome against Italy.
And during that game he also scored the try that earned the first-ever try-bonus point and he continued that form throughout the Championship.
But it wasn’t just his try-scoring that caught the eye, with the South African-born star’s ball-carrying coming to the fore throughout the Championship.
As Ireland finished second in the table Stander topped the carrying charts, carrying 103 times – over 30 more than any other player – making 234 metres in the process.
And considering he attempted 52 tackles during the Six Nations, missing just once, Gatland will know he could do with someone willing to repeatedly put his body on the line against the All Blacks.