The British and Irish Lions will kick off the tour against Emirate Lions in Johannesburg on 3 JulyMelanwell/Wikimedia Commons

The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa (the World Champions) is soon to be upon us, and what a tantalising prospect it proves to be. Warren Gatland recently had the unenviable task of selecting a 37 man squad, and as an armchair pundit I’ve decided to create my own squad in response. I’m sure as an already two times Lions Head Coach, and three times Six Nations Grand Slam winner, Gatland will be delighted to know that I’ve largely agreed with him! However, as with all squads there are obviously some contentious selections to be discussed, and so I’ll present my squad and leave it up to the reader to decide who knows best!


I’m sure England fans will remember how South Africa dominated the scrum in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, with the Springboks winning 5 scrum penalties in the first half alone. Therefore, the props could be fundamentally important if the Lions are to win the series. I completely agree with Gatland’s loose-head props. Wyn Jones made the second most carries for Wales in the Six Nations, and so this form has probably earned him the starting berth. Whilst Mako Vunipola hasn’t shown the same form, having been part of the England squad that lost 4 out of 6 squad matches in the Six Nations, his destructive potential off the bench is something that I’m sure no South African will prosper. Rory Sutherland just tipped it over Cian Healy for me on form, as despite Healy’s experience, at 33 his age seems to be finally catching up with him, and he was dropped to the bench for Ireland’s final match of the Six Nations against England. The obvious tight-head selection was Tadhg Furlong as his destructive ball carrying ability will be the perfect response to the South African power game. I also agree with the selection of Andrew Porter, but I find it utterly bewildering that he’s left out Kyle Sinkler. It was Sinkler’s injury that significantly de-railed England in the World Cup final against the Springboks, and he’s an explosive option off the bench. He may have been part of a poor England squad recently, but Mako Vunipola still made the squad. Plus Sinkler played so well in the Lions tour four years ago in New Zealand, including winning the penalty that secured victory in the second test, that his omission baffles me.


I totally agree with Gatland’s hooker selection. The recent performances of Ken Owens in winning the Six Nations, and Luke Cowan Dickie for Exeter Chiefs in Premiership Rugby as well as England, meant that those two effectively picked themselves. Owen’s lineout accuracy of 92%, and his experience will probably mean that he starts. I think Jamie George is another England player who has got in on previous performances rather than current form. In recent years he’s been arguably the best hooker in the world, and although his form has dipped significantly, his talent is undoubtable, and so I’m glad that Gatland has given him a chance to prove himself.

Second Rows

Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje were probably the first names in Gatland’s squad, not only because they’re both fierce second rows, but also the leadership they bring to the tour will be crucial. Tadhg Bernie secured his spot with a phenomenal Six Nations in which he made the team of the tournament. Like Gatland, I’ve also picked Ian Henderson, as the lineout will be crucial, especially against the man-mountains of Eben Ezebteh and Lood de Jager, and Henderson won the second most lineouts of anyone in the Six Nations. I’ve decided to leave out Jonny Hill, as Courtney Lawes can play both flanker and second row, and I think there’s more need for extra cover at centre instead.


The South Africans have huge physicality all over the field and at flanker they’re possessed with their inspiring captain Siya Kolisi, and the former World Player of the Year Peter Steph du Toit. Therefore, for the Lions to halt Springbok forwards momentum, they need flankers who can tackle hard, and in Hamish Watson (this year’s Six Nations Player of the Championship) and Tom Curry they have two flankers who can do exactly that. This reason is why I think the selection of the injured Courtney Lawes makes sense (along with the versatility I mentioned above), and also why I’ve picked Sam Underhill over Jack Conan. Despite Underhill’s recent injury problems, his tackling is among the hardest in world rugby, and he would be devastating at driving back the Springboks. Therefore, I would’ve taken a risk on Lawes and Underhill due to the explosive dynamic that we know they possess.


Billy Vunipola was a big name omission at No.8 but one that I believe makes perfect sense. Yes at his best, bowling-ball Billy was an opposition’s worst nightmare but we haven’t seen anything like that since the Rugby World Cup. On top of this, in Faletau there is a ready made powerful ball-carrying no.8 who is on top of his game. I think Sam Simmonds off the bench provides a very interesting option. He’s more lightweight but he’s rapid and will be able to exploit tiring legs. Hopefully he’s given an opportunity to shine, as it will force Eddie Jones to sit up and take note for England selection.


Before the Six Nations scrum-half was looking fairly weak for the Lions, and so I’m sure Gatland was thrilled to see Connor Murray return to something like his best form. He’ll surely start, and therefore I think it’s actually a blessing in disguise that Ben Youngs ruled himself out. He represents too similar an option off the bench to Murray, whereas Gareth Davies and Ali Price are much more sniping scrum-halves who can exploit a gap in an instance. This will be crucial in opposition to one of the best sniping nines in the world in Faf de Klerk. There were many calling for Danny Care to be included in the squad, and for me he only narrowly missed out, with Price’s Scottish link with Finn Russell giving him the edge

Fly Halves

No Johnny Sexton is the obvious talking point here, but in a similar vein to the omission of Billy Vunipola I think Galtand’s got this spot on. Dan Biggar’s hugely commanding form for Northampton Saints and Wales, and his warrior-like nature makes him perfect for the tour. I also think that Russell had to go off the back of his Six Nations form, and the fact that he’s a creative genius. I doubt he’ll start as Gatland prefers a tighter, more controlled style, but he gives the Lions greater unpredictability. That left Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton. Sexton won the Six Nations battle, with Ireland comprehensively beating England 32-18, but I’m glad Gatland went with Farrell. Sexton is now 35 and has a history of concussions, and I’m not sure his body would hold up against the hugely physical South Africans. Farrell is another England player who’s underwhelmed recently, but you’d back him to play back into form, plus he’ll bring leadership as England captain, and he’s a very good option off the tee.



Mountain View

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Other than Robbie Henshaw I find Gatland’s selections at centre rather baffling. Henshaw had to go and will probably start due to his phenomenal Six Nations. The selection of Elliot Daly seems to be on the basis that he provides versatility and he toured well in 2017. However, Gatland disregarded previous tours in omitting Sinkler, and I would’ve picked Henry Slade instead, as he also offers versatility, an option with the boot, and he’s been in far better form than Daly, helping Exeter Chiefs to the European Champions Cup last season. I also would have picked Garry Ringrose as a silkier and more dynamic option than Chris Harris. I’m astonished by the omission of Jonathan Davies, which goes up there with Sinkler as the surprise omission. Whilst he’s not been on form currently, he won Lions player of the series on the last tour, and certainly deserved his chance. Bundee Aki was selected to counteract the huge South African pair of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel. However, far too often you see Aki fail to break the gain line with powerful carries. Therefore, my 37th man would’ve been Manu Tuilagi. The injury concerns are understandable as Gatland will want someone who’s body will hold up, but for me he’s worth the risk because a fit and firing Tuilagi could be hugely pivotal for the Lions.

Wingers and Fullbacks

The options available to Warren Gatland in the back three are simply tantalizing. In Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams the Lions have two phenomenally talented full-backs who will compete for the starting jersey. The emergence of Rees-Zammit has also been so exciting to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stars on this tour. On the other wing I would start Anthony Watson as he provides speed, trickery, power and try scoring ability in abundance, plus the prospect of his match-up with Cheslin Kolbe is mouth-watering. Duhan van der Merwe showed his power in the Six Nations by scoring the most tries and making the second most metres and so I completely agree with his selection. For my final pick I went with Jonny May over Josh Adams. It feels incredibly harsh to leave either of them out, and it might possibly be my English patriotism shining through. However, I just feel that as good as Adams is, May possesses that moment of magic (think of the try vs Ireland) that can help to turn a game on its head, hence why I picked him.