Just imagine Maro Itoje captaining the 2021 British & Irish Lions against Siya Kolisi’s Springboks? What a statement that would make for next year’s hugely anticipated series. It is unlikely to happen given that Alun Wyn Jones, the overwhelming captaincy favourite is still in regal form. So, now that we have picked a team, we have to pick the squad.
Matching Springbok power
Matching South Africa’s formidable power game is the mighty challenge for Warren Gatland. As much as we hope for exciting rugby it is highly unlikely to happen. The Springboks will retain the majority of the squad who won the World Cup. There is likely to be a large English and Welsh contingent in the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad. South Africa beat up both Wales and England so a similar gameplan would be the order of the day?
Gatland must surely cater for size and pace in his squad. A murderously tough itinerary will not make it easy. Somehow Gatland has to have his team fresh, especially the forwards for the test matches. Charlie Inglefield picks his squad.
Full-backs: Liam Williams (Wales) and Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
The Lions have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the back three. Liam Williams and Anthony Watson are already world-class and are just as happy playing on the wing. Hogg is close to being at 100% and could thrive on the hard-running grounds of South Africa. He is also a competitor and will add to the leadership group. Williams is sheer class in any role and was outstanding against the All Blacks in 2017.
Wings: Jonny May (England), Anthony Watson (England) Josh Adams (Wales) Elliot Daly (England)
Elliot Daly’s versatility across the backline would be an asset to the Lions. As previously mentioned his goal kicking at altitude is crucial. South Africa’s discipline has to be spot on from anywhere on the field. Watson, May and Adams have all been in terrific form in the last 12 months. Darcy Graham and Jacob Stockdale are also very viable options.
Centres: Jonathan Davies (Wales), Henry Slade (England), Manu Tuilagi (England) Gary Ringrose (Ireland) Chris Farrell (Ireland)
This is where the Lions will need to provide some power given the size of the South African centres. Slade is the rapier and conjurer who can slice through tight defences. He also has a booming boot, always a useful asset when balancing tactics. Davies if fit has a wonderful record with the Lions and must go. Farrell is a huge man and could replicate Jamie Roberts’ performances back in 2009. A fully fit Tuilagi will also add to the centre options.
Fly-halves: Owen Farrell (England), Dan Biggar (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland)
Farrell and Biggar are exactly the kind of fly-halves who will relish South Africa’s power approach. In terms of game management they can challenge Handré Pollard and not shirk the tackle. This just may squeeze out the unlucky George Ford and an out-of-form Johnny Sexton. Finn Russell is a maverick and can change a game in the Lions’ favour. The Lions must have creative options on the bench if they are to beat South Africa.
Scrum-halves: Gareth Davies (Wales), Rhys Webb (Wales), John Cooney (Ireland)
Gareth Davies and Rhys Webb are terrific terriers and attackers. Webb has previous Lions’ form and should go as a back-up to Davies. Ulster’s Cooney has had a terrific 18 months and would be an excellent impact player. Decent with the boot as well. Tough on Ben Youngs and Ali Price.
Props: Tadgh Furlong (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Cian Healy (Ireland), Mako Vunipola (England)
Sutherland is Scotland’s big success story and he has every chance of making the starting XV. Furlong’s form is crucial to the Lions and the signs are that he is getting back to his best. Mako Vunipola will benefit from the enforced rest and is a force on his day. It is such a crucial part of the game against the Springboks, thankfully minus the ‘Beast’ Mtawaira. Therefore Joe Marler must be in contention for selection as well.
Hookers: Ken Owens (Wales), Jamie George (England), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England)
Luke Cowan-Dickie is perhaps a surprise selection. However, only Jamie George’s impressive form is keeping him out of the England starting jumper. The Exeter Chief has the complete game and is every chance to go to South Africa. Ken Owens is in good nick and is an excellent tourist alongside Jamie George.
Locks: James Ryan (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Maro Itoje (England) Courtney Lawes (England)
Another tough selection with the quality out there. Jonny Gray, George Kruis, Iain Henderson to name but a few. Lawes just shades Henderson because of his fearsome tackling and physicality. He can also front up at blindside which gives the Lions options. An intriguing question is whether Alun Wyn Jones can start for the test team. He continues to be so good for Wales and is an outstanding leader. That said, James Ryan is becoming world-class and Maro Itoje is already there.
Flankers: Tom Curry (England), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Sam Underhill (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales) Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
How can one leave behind Hamish Watson, Ross Moriarty or Josh Navidi? It is such an area strength for the Lions as they have a mixture of mongrel, pace and power. They will need all three facets because Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit are waiting for them. Ritchie has taken to test rugby with aplomb and deserves his spot. The ‘kamikaze’ twins are versatile and cannot be left out. Tipuric is purring like a Rolls-Royce at the moment and van der Flier has something about him.
Number 8s: Billy Vunipola (England) and Caelan Doris (Ireland)
Doris’ selection is a massive call but he is a serious talent who the Springboks won’t know much about. It is cruel on Taulupe Faletau and CJ Stander as they would not let the Lions down. If and it is a big if, Vunipola can get back to somewhere near his best then he is the man. There are doubts with his arms and therefore Faletau would go. Another bolter alongside Doris is Alex Dombrandt. I for one would love to see the Harlequin unleashed on the hard grounds out there.
Will Jones start and therefore captain the 2021 British and Irish Lions?
Highly likely. There are not enough superlatives for Jones. He is still playing amazing rugby and he is without peer as a leader. Jones can also manipulate the referees superbly as well. That is a big cross against Owen Farrell and the England skipper’s discipline is questionable.
The downside for Jones is keeping the talents of James Ryan and Maro Itoje at bay. My hunch is that Jones will start the first test and as captain. Then we take it from there. From a marketing perspective might Maro Itoje be the Lions back-up? How fitting would that be to see Kolisi and Itoje leading their teams?
Do you agree with the squad?
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images