English Lions on the wane?
Unless something startling happens at Twickenham over the last two rounds of the Six Nations, few English Lions are going to be on the prowl in South Africa this summer.
In fact Ian McGeechan is likely to take fewer Englishmen than on any of the five previous tours over the past 20 years since his first stint as head coach in 1989.
And if things get even worse for Martin Johnson's men, it is conceivable they could end up with their lowest Lions representation since only five England players departed for New Zealand in 1977.
When you consider the English contingent has been, respectively, 10 (plus one replacement) in 1989, 16 (+1) in 1993, 18 (+4) in 1997, 18 (+2) in 2001 and a whopping 21 (+1) in 2005, that would be some turnaround.
England have provided around half the players on each of the last four Lions tours, understandable - given their domestic dominance - in all but the last instance four years ago.
In 1993 they had won the Grand Slam in the two previous years, in 1997 they had won the Triple Crown for three straight years, with a Grand Slam in 95, and in 2001 they had won the Six Nations for two years in a row.
In 2005 of course, Sir Clive Woodward took 21 Englishmen in his swollen 45-man party that went to New Zealand, causing consternation in Wales, who had just won a Grand Slam but provided only 10 players.
Woodward preferred to rely on the evidence of 2003 rather than 2005, a policy that came to be seen as misguided in the extreme given the grisly events that unfolded in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
It is unlikely McGeechan will make the same mistake. For a start, there are few English players left who can point to any great body of achievement in recent times.
To my mind, there are only seven or eight players, at a push, you could even make a case for as serious contenders at present, and some of those are questionable.
Before we get to those, it is worth considering the make-up of the whole squad in terms of positions.
McGeechan has said he will take a squad of 35 or 36 players for the 10-match trip to South Africa.
If he takes two players for every position, that only leaves half-a-dozen extra places. Three of those are usually taken up by a third hooker, scrum-half and fly-half.
Depending on the balance of the squad, he is likely to then take an extra prop or lock, an extra back-row, and an extra centre or full-back. That would make 17 backs and 19 forwards.
If you think of the first two choices for each position from one to 15, how many Englishmen would get in, as things stand?
Andrew Sheridan at loose-head prop probably, behind Gethin Jenkins of Wales. And maybe Paul Sackey on the right wing, though Irishman Tommy Bowe (certainly) and Wales tyro Leigh Halfpenny (possibly) also have claims.
There are half-a-dozen others I'd currently put in the "possible" category, with a few labelled "unlikely, but not out of the question".
James Haskell has his admirers, but Ryan Jones, Stephen Ferris and Alasdair Strokosch provide stiff competition at blind-side flanker.
Mike Tindall showed encouraging signs of his old power against Ireland, but Brian O'Driscoll and Tom Shanklin have been the form outside centres until now.
Despite a less-than-convincing outing against Ireland, Delon Armitage remains in contention, if only because he can also do a turn at wing and outside centre, versatility being a valuable commodity in a Lions squad. But Lee Byrne and Rob Kearney are the outstanding candidates at full-back.
Phil Vickery, even after his bone-headed display in Dublin, could travel as one of five props, if only because with Matt Stevens out of the picture, only he and Jenkins can claim to be able to play on both sides of the scrum. But Euan Murray and Adam Jones could be the preferred tight-head options.
Lee Mears could also be one of the three hookers, the only position - a worry for McGeechan - where there are no outstanding candidates.
Nick Kennedy, who impressed in his line-out duel with Paul O'Connell, could also be considered in an area where the Springboks are notoriously strong.
But with O'Connell, Alun Wyn Jones, Nathan Hines, Donncha O'Callaghan and Ian Gough also in the mix for maybe only four spots, he is only a possible.
Red rose supporters could also make claims for Mark Cueto, who has made a solid return to the Test arena, Tom Rees - if McGeechan indulges in a third open-side with Martyn Williams and David Wallace, which is doubtful - and for various reasons, Danny Cipriani, Jonny Wilkinson and Josh Lewsey (like I said, unlikely, but you never know).
I'd also throw in Tom Croft as a possible back-row bolter of speed and athleticism who could - in a tight spot - do a shift at lock.
But after all that conjecture, my best guess at the moment would see only six Englishmen travelling in the following squad, featuring 15 Welshmen, 11 Irishmen and four Scots:
Backs (17): Byrne, Kearney, Armitage; Bowe, Sackey, S Williams, Fitzgerald; O'Driscoll, Shanklin, Roberts, Henson; S Jones, Hook, O'Gara; Phillips, Blair, Peel.
Forwards (19): Jenkins, Sheridan, Murray, A Jones, Vickery; Flannery, Ford, Mears; O'Connell, Wyn Jones, Hines, O'Callaghan; R Jones, Ferris, Haskell, M Williams, D Wallace, Powell, Heaslip.
But who knows what the last two rounds of action will bring...