Although the immediate rugby calendar is shrouded with doubt and uncertainty one major event which seems set to transpire is next summer’s British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa. Destined to be a monumental event, South Africa has long been a favourite tour destination of Brits due to its devoted rugby culture and fierce reception of foreigners, and journalists and pundits alike will soon begin flocking to draft and predict their strongest composite British test team. Therefore, I have chosen to get my opinion in early. This team is predominantly hypothetical with no real game plan or theme as I have a mix of form and experience and power and pace, furthermore, this team has made me realise that I have an apparent prejudice against Irishmen so please forgive me for that
- Loosehead Prop: Mako Vunipola
Mako had an average 2020 Six Nations after being demolished in the scrum in the World Cup final however, historically he is a powerful and valuable ball carrier and defender and has surprisingly soft hands and vision. In addition, Mako has played in all 6 of the Lions tests since 2013 so his touring pedigree cannot be denied. Sutherland or Genge will provide the spark-plug off the bench.
Also on Tour: Rory Sutherland, Ellis Genge
2. Hooker: Jamie George
An easy decision partly due to horrific lack of competition and partly due to George’s accuracy and consistency over the last 5 years. His lineout throw is unmatched with 95% in last year’s Champions Cup and 97% in the World Cup and his ball carrying has been key to the success of Saracens and England leading me to summarize that George is a born winner.
Also on Tour: Stuart Mcinally, Rob Herring
3. Tighthead Prop: Tadgh Furlong
Furlong is the quintessential modern prop with brutish power combo-ed with freakish speed and fitness. He is a threat at the breakdown as well as a solid srummager and one of the world’s best ball carriers who could strike fear into even a South African forward. Sinckler is unlucky to miss out but will provide a great intensity boost off the bench.
Also on Tour: Kyle Sinckler, Tomas Francis
4+5. Locks: Maro Itoje, James Ryan
Maro is the first name on the team sheet and will undoubtedly be a Lions captain at some point. He effortlessly fuses unbearable physicality and intensity with dynamism and speed and not to mention no one in the world is better at stealing the ball. As for Ryan, he has been an Irish stalwart and key player for about two years now and his defence and lineout prowess will be invaluable against the Springbok second row juggernauts. Unfortunately, I can’t consciously let a 34-year-old Alun Wyn Jones face the South Africa pack even if he is the Wales captain.
Also on Tour: Courtney Lawes, Jonny Gray
6+7. Flankers: Justin Tipuric, Tom Curry
Sam Warburton says in his book that Justin Tipuric would be one of the best outside centres in international rugby and I think he’s probably spot on. He is your standard international 7 with outstanding work-rate and defence and a great eye for a turnover but also adds the ability to create something out of nothing in the backline with his freakish speed, vision and offloading. Tom Curry is the second name on the team-sheet and will be the key to victory in SA. Another flanker that could easily play outside centre, his work-rate, intensity, defence and turnovers will be essential if we are to obtain a series victory and he can easily cement himself as the best 7 in the world with commanding performances over Siya Kolisi and Peter Steph Du Toit.
Also on Tour: Josh Navidi, Sam Underhill, Hamish Watson, CJ Stander
8. Number 8: Billy Vunipola
Faletau is unlucky to miss out as he is the quicker and more athletic option and was immense in the Lions shirt in 2013 and 2017 however when Billy plays well he is simply uncontrollable and unstoppable. His performances in last year’s Champions Cup semi-final and final were irresistible and his ability to get over the gain line and generate momentum off the back of the scrum will be vital to Lions’ success
Also on Tour: Toby Faletau
9. Scrum-Half: Gareth Davies
The age old rugby selection dilemma of form vs experience. Gatland can either go with the calm heads and test match pedigree of Murray or Youngs, both of whom have looked awfully out of form recently, or with the young livewires Davies, Williams or Cooney who are in tremendous form. I have taken the risk and gone with Davies as form can’t be superseded on a Lions tour as at the end of the day the players turn up on the day and play and Davies has proven time and again he can pull out big moments such as his intercepts vs Scotland and Australia. Cooney is my bolter/dark horse pick off the bench
Also on Tour: Tomos Williams, John Cooney
10. Fly-Half: Owen Farrell
Another easy decision, Farrell is the best 10 in the northern hemisphere and a fierce and belligerent leader who as captain will fire up the boys in the changing and direct them round the pitch like a chess grandmaster. His distribution and vision is superb, his kicking from hand is destructive and precise and his kicking for goal is second to none with 86% success off the tee at the World Cup and the added bonus of always coming good in the big moments just as in the second and third tests in 2017 against New Zealand. He is just as capable at 12 however I believe his best position is at 10 and I need him at 10 so I can fit both of my centres into the team.
Also on Tour: Finn Russell, George Ford
12+13. Centres: Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Davies
Tuilagi is another whose ability to get over the gain line on crash ball and generate momentum for strike plays will be crucial, when he is fit he makes England infinitely better and dangerous from anywhere on the park and when he is injured they inevitably struggle. Tuilagi has the ability to give De Allende absolute hell and make him look very average and if he does the Lions will be well on their way to a series victory. Jonathan Davies is what would happen if you asked scientists in a lab to create the perfect modern rugby outside centre, he is built like a back row with a huge frame and ruthless strength along with surprising pace and turn of speed which saw him chase down Ngani Laumape after an intercept in game 3 of 2017’s tests. Furthermore, he’s also one of the best defenders in the world, has a howitzer of a handoff which has embarrassed the likes of Johnny Sexton and Malakai Fekitoa and has a superb attitude and discipline which are essential for a Lions tour.
Also on Tour: Bundee Aki, Henry Slade, Garry Ringrose
11+14. Wings: Jacob Stockdale, Jonny May
In my opinion top level international wings are essentially interchangeable as all they need to do is finish so you basically can’t go wrong. These two stand out above the rest as being particularly good finishers due to their speed, determination and explosive power and their try scoring stats speak for themselves with 16 in 28 tests for Stockdale and 29 in 55 games for May. Josh Adams is especially unlucky to miss out due to my lack of Irish players.
Also on Tour: Josh Adams, Anthony Watson, Jordan Larmour
15. Fullback: Liam Williams
The hardest pick in the whole team. Hogg is an enigma who can turn up and set the world on fire on his day but go missing on others. I’ve gone with Williams who is one of the safest pairs of hands in the game and single-handedly diffused England’s kicking game in the 2019 Six Nations. The high ball will be key vs South Africa and we need our fullback to have a 100% bomb defusal rate. In addition, Williams also has the ability to create tries and line breaks as we all know from Sean O’Brien’s try in the first test in 2017. Bear in mind there is 5 warm up games before the first test and this club season still needs to be finished so Hogg and many others could still force their way into the team.
Also on Tour: Stuart Hogg