The Locker Room

Tom Shanklin names the six players Gatland must pick for the Lions

Former Wales, Cardiff Blues and Saracens centre, Tom Shanklin, talks to the Rhino Locker Room about ‘beatable England’, Welsh bias and his must-pick Lions... 

Shanklin on the British and Irish Lions…

Scotland will have their first Lions' Test starter since Tom Smith

The squad is going to be a lot more balanced between the nations and Scotland were incredible at the weekend – Ireland had no answers. Stuart Hogg is tipped to be the player of the RBS Six Nations again and Finn Russell was the best ten of the first weekend. Tom Smith was their last Lions' Test starter in 2001, can you believe that?

I actually think, if it came to it and Warren Gatland had a 50:50 decision between two players and one of them was Welsh, he might take the other player.

No Welsh player wants the press and other players saying they are favoured

I think the pressure is on the Welsh team in this RBS Six Nations because nobody wants to say they were favoured in selection. I actually think, if it came to it and Warren Gatland had a 50:50 decision between two players and one of them was Welsh, he might take the other player. The last thing he wants is to have players complaining that it’s all Welsh guys – it has to be balanced.

 

There was quite a Welsh bias to the last Lions squad

But it was the right call to make, because they won a Test series. Gatland went with what he knew and it worked, that’s all that matters. I don’t think we’ll see such a dominance this time, especially with England and Ireland so strong and then there’s Scotland now in the mix too.

When it comes to key players for the Lions, I think the Vunipolas need to be fit...

Gatland is going to have to change his game plan

The game has moved on, even since the last tour in Australia, so he can’t play the game plan he’s installed with Wales. That won’t work with New Zealand, you have to take them on with pace and accuracy – it’ll all be about getting the right balance in selection. I think they’ll need two ball players in that backline – one at 10 and one at 12, and that’s where Owen Farrell should be.

 

The six must-pick Lions

When it comes to key players for the Lions, I think the Vunipolas need to be fit, so too Stuart Hogg, Owen Farrell and Conor Murray, add in in Alun Wyn Jones and that’s the nucleus and then you build your team around that.

O’Gara should’ve looked at his position, he needed to get on his knees like a UFC fighter or like a screaming child

I was staying with Duncan McRae after the Ronan O’Gara incident

When the Lions were in Australia in 2001, myself and a few Welsh team-mates who’d been playing in Japan joined the tour as fans and stayed at Duncan’s place in Sydney. We’d played together at Saracens and he came back after the game [in which he’d pummelled O’Gara in the head several times] and just told us he’d lost it. The coach had told them to go out there and be physical, and take no backward steps and he was so pumped up that he saw red, and then literally saw red. Today that would have been a huge ban. Although O’Gara should’ve looked at his position, he needed to get on his knees like a UFC fighter or like a screaming child – try and pick one of them up.

Shanklin in action for Wales against Italy

Shanklin on retirement…

I’ve never missed playing

I was at least prepared for it mentally because I’d been injured for so long – it was inevitable that I was going to have to retire. It’s harder for some guys who are in peak condition then, all of a sudden, something happens and that’s it, all over. They’re the ones who really miss playing, I’ve never really missed it – although there’s nothing like the buzz of walking out at the Millennium Stadium in front of 70,000!

I’ve got a dodgy knee and can’t run, but I can play with my kids 

I’m lucky I can walk

There is more money in rugby now, but I’ve not got many regrets about my career. I’m just lucky I got out of the game with my health. I’ve got a dodgy knee and can’t run, but I can play with my kids and walk around the golf course.

 

It's difficult to make money out of media unless you're Jeremy Guscott

I didn’t have a post-rugby plan, I did a fair bit of media, but it’s difficult to make a career out of it unless you’re Jeremy Guscott or Jonathan Davies. And I never had anything clean-cut to go into, like Jamie Roberts and being a doctor. I work as ambassador for DS Smith – who sponsor Wasps and Cardiff Blues – and I set up a hospitality company LS Media (who are the hosts for Rhino’s Wales v England competition) with a guy called Peter Leckie and Rhys Blunberg. And I also work with an events company called Genero.

 

Missing the 2009 Lions is my only regret

I was selected but got injured myself and never made it. The first time I at least went, played a pre-tour game and then my bad knee made me return home – but I still made it as a Lion. I’d have loved to make that second tour, a lot of players can become Lions, but not many are double Lions. That would have been something.

 

Tom Shanklin has a regular podcast with ex-England and Bath prop David Flatman, to listen, click here

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