Who will make the 2013 British & Irish Lions Test team?
As the home nations embark on their autumn Test campaigns this weekend, there is already plenty at stake with selection issues to resolve and countries hoping to cement their place in the world rankings ahead of the 2015 World Cup draw.
But for many of the individual players on view, there is a powerful, additional incentive to do well.
This is a season with a British and Irish Lions tour at the end of it, the pinnacle of achievement for players from these isles fortunate enough to make the squad, or - even better - the Test team.
British and Irish Lions Tests v Australia in 2013
22 June: 1st Test - Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
29 June: 2nd Test - Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
6 July: 3rd Test - ANZ Stadium, Sydney
And for Lions head coach Warren Gatland, the six-month process of whittling down his options before naming a squad in late April to tackle Australia in three Tests next summer begins in earnest.
While form in domestic and European competitions will also be a factor, the autumn Tests - and the Six Nations in February and March - are the two prime shop windows.
Two months into the new season, speculating about which players will be heading down under is already a popular pastime among rugby supporters.
But with the vagaries of form, injuries and selection, those perceived as 'definites', 'probables' or 'possibles' invariably changes the closer Gatland gets to finalising his touring party.
We asked four of the BBC's analysts - ex-England centre Jeremy Guscott, former Ireland hooker Keith Wood, ex-Scotland scrum-half Andy Nicol and Wales fly-half legend Jonathan Davies - to pick their likely Lions Test teams as things stand, before the autumn international series begins.
This was done on the basis that all players will be fit and available, regardless of their current state of fitness and form.
Jeremy Guscott's Lions XV: Halfpenny (Wales), Cuthbert (Wales), O'Driscoll (Ireland), Roberts (Wales), North (Wales); Sexton (Ireland), Phillips (Wales); Jenkins (Wales), Best (Ireland), A Jones (Wales), Charteris (Wales), Gray (Scotland), Ferris (Ireland), Warburton (Wales), Heaslip (Ireland).
Keith Wood's Lions XV: Halfpenny (Wales), Bowe (Ireland), J Davies (Wales), O'Driscoll (Ireland), North (Wales); Sexton (Ireland), Phillips (Wales); Jenkins (Wales), Best (Ireland), A Jones (Wales), Gray (Scotland), AW Jones (Wales), O'Brien (Ireland), Warburton (Wales), Ferris (Ireland).
Andy Nicol's Lions XV: Halfpenny (Wales), Bowe (Ireland), Tuilagi (England), Roberts (Wales), Visser (Scotland); Sexton (Ireland), Phillips (Wales); Jenkins (Wales), Hartley (England), A Jones (Wales), Gray (Scotland), Lawes (England), Ferris (Ireland), Warburton (Wales), Faletau (Wales).
Jonathan Davies's Lions XV: Kearney (Ireland), Bowe (Ireland), O'Driscoll (Ireland), Tuilagi (England), North (Wales); Sexton (Ireland), Care (England); Sheridan (England), Best (Ireland), Cole (England), AW Jones (Wales), Lawes (England), Ferris (Ireland), Tipuric (Wales), Heaslip (Ireland).
Around half of the players in each of the four teams were members of the Lions party in South Africa in 2009, where the tourists succumbed to an agonising 2-1 Test series defeat despite playing some exhilarating rugby.
The likes of Jamie Roberts, Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones were key components of that Lions side, and may again be called on in Australia.
Only two players - Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton and back-row Stephen Ferris - feature in all four of our analysts' selections.
If their predictions prove correct, the Lions Test side is again likely to have a core of Welsh and Irish players as they seek a first series win since 1997.
Neither Jeremy Guscott nor Keith Wood have picked a single Englishman at this stage, while Jonathan Davies has chosen five, and Andy Nicol believes Dutch-born winger Tim Visser could become a Test Lion, with lock Richie Gray the only other Scot selected by any of the quartet.
Will that change as the season goes on?
O'Driscoll and Jones are just two of a long list of potential Lions who are out of action as the autumn Tests kick off.
Half a dozen Irishmen - O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Rory Best, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, Sean O'Brien - and a trio of Welshman in Jones, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies, plus English hopefuls Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Tom Croft and Dylan Hartley, and Scots such as Chris Cusiter and Joe Ansbro, are all sidelined.
In their absence, the stage is set for players not necessarily on the radar at present to emerge this autumn as potential Lions.
After each weekend of matches, and again during the 2013 Six Nations, we will highlight an individual or individuals that have enhanced their prospects of Lions recognition.
Our four analysts will then revisit their Test teams at the conclusion of the autumn programme, and again before and after the Six Nations, to see how the likely make-up of the side changes over the course of the season.
What do you make of their initial selections? And which players do you expect to come through? Let the would-be Lions roar.
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Comment number 295.BristolScot
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