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First Pass Squad Pick – British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa 2021

May 26th, 2020Rugby
With international and club rugby on hold, a full season knocked off course by Coronavirus, fourteen months is a long time. Six Nations incomplete, domestic leagues postponed and World rugby in a state of drifting best-laid plans. However, with the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa 2021 far enough ahead from our present pandemic constrained lives, there is definitely something to look forward to. Please make sure you keep on top of Lions tickets and tour packages availability as Expat Sport would hate you to be disappointed. There is likely to be a tsunami of demand given the current state of play, or lack of it.

So while we wait for the main event to finally come around with bated breath, let us indulge in some first pick prediction games as to who might get a call up from head coach Warren Gatland to join the Lions squad, as well as a mildly educated

British & Irish Lions South Africa 2021 Squad first pass predictions

Loosehead prop

What would have been considered a complete non-starter a year earlier was the return of Joe Marler as a contender for the position. Given that he had retired from international rugby and the rugged Mako Vunipola appeared to have staked an undisputed claim on the England No 1 slot. However, the Rugby World Cup and early rounds of the Six Nations may well have stirred up more intense competition for the England loosehead jersey.

Equally impressive is the back from the rugby wilderness story of Rory Sutherland, playing in the Six Nations after over three years away from the big stage having spent months in a wheelchair. An undoubted impact player, he has produced a series of monumental performances for Scotland and the chance of a Lions berth.

Loosehead prop squad players pick

Joe Marler (England). Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Mako Vunipola (England)

Hooker

Current form says that Wales’ Ken Owens could make the plane, but already 33 years old; ‘The Sherriff’ is perhaps unlikely to leapfrog another year. Jamie George enjoyed a respectable World Cup and an outstanding twelve months prior to that, but the competition from Luke Cowan-Dickie is strong. Scotland’s selectors are torn between Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown.  But Ireland has a young gun; Ronan Kelleher who at 22 and in fine form for Leinster could be poised to grab the shirt.

Hooker squad players pick

Jamie George (England), Ronan Kelleher (Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England),

Tighthead prop

This could well be a three way shootout between Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler and Zander Fagerson based on most recent form. With three nationalities, vying for the slot it could be the intro to a well worn joke.

Sinckler outstanding at the World Cup has experienced a wobble, while Furlong has enjoyed a bounce in form courtesy of some superb carries. Zander Fagerson, however, has discovered his very best performance levels this season. Irishman Furlong is edging it at the moment but not by much.

Tighthead prop squad players pick

Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England) and Zander Fagerson (Scotland)

Second rows

On the face of it, Maro Itoje and James Ryan are the guaranteed powerhouse second rows in 2021; both are very intelligent rugby players and natural leaders with a massive work ethic.

Yet the names left out of this instant assessment, represent a wealth of talent and much food for reflection:  Alun Wyn Jones, Jonny Gray, George Kruis, Adam Beard, Iain Henderson, Jake Ball, Joe Launchbury, and Courtney Lawes. Leinster's Ryan Baird also exploded into the international arena this partial season.

Second row squad players pick

Maro Itoje, James Ryan, Jonny Gray, Adam Beard, Ryan Baird, Alun Wyn Jones (possible off-field captain)

Flankers

This year’s Six Nations thus far has seen a string of “Man of the Match” awarded to back-rowers, with such a surfeit of talent between numbers six and eight deciding who gets the nod is a tough ask.

Justin Tipuric will likely remain a ridiculously underrated player in 2021, nevertheless, Tom Curry just continues to grow in stature and is probably Gatland’s go-to flanker, meanwhile Scotland's Jamie Ritchie attracts rising superlatives with each test match.

Besides that, it’s literally ‘take your pick’.

Flankers squad players pick: 

Tom Curry (England), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland) Justin Tipuric (Wales), Sam Underhill (England), Josh van der Flier (Ireland), Aaron Wainwright (Wales), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Ben Earl (England), then perm anyone from a further seven.

No 8

Billy Vunipola’s name is pretty much in capital letters, although he’s not as indisputably dominant as he was in the wake of three broken arms. CJ Stander certainly has a decent shout but Billy takes some pulling down; it often takes two players, which is a formidable weapon against a heavyweight Springbok pack. 

Caelan Doris and Max Deegan, along with Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt, could all become serious competition for Lions places come 2021.

No 8 squad players pick 

Billy Vunipola (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Caelan Doris (Ireland) Sam Simmonds (England)

Scrum-half

Wales’ Gareth Davies is a great player and should go to South Africa, his countryman Tomos Williams is also a possibility, he could invigorate the backline. Ireland continues to back a semi out of sorts Conor Murray due to his understanding with Johnny Sexton, while John Cooney waits his turn. Not forgetting the mercurial Ali Price of Scotland.

Scrum-half squad players pick

Gareth Davies (Wales), Tomos Williams (Wales), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland)

Fly-half

Finn Russell’s undoubted ability certainly entitles him to a shot at the 10 shirt, but his ongoing spat with Scotland coach Gregor Townsend may yet have Lions repercussions. George Ford could argue his claim to a Lions start given his Six Nations performances, as a front-foot player he is exceptional but on the back foot against South Africa in the World Cup Final he had far less impact.

Others would prefer Owen Farrell, but he is also a powerful centre, then there is Dan Biggar who always steps up for Wales. Plus Farrell, as the ultimate precision kicker, and Biggar can manage a game behind a struggling pack, so both will be important to the squad mix. And we have last but not least Ireland’s capable Joey Carbery.

It will also be interesting to watch the development of Joe Simmonds, Sam Costelow and Marcus Smith over the next year.

Fly-half squad players pick

Finn Russell (Scotland), Dan Biggar (Wales), George Ford (England), Joey Carbery (Ireland)

Centres

Owen Farrell is the most likely Lion to South Africa, very much in the running to captain the tourists and although Ireland’s Garry Ringrose pushes Manu Tuilagi very close, the England pairing is likely to start. Henry Slade is a high class decisive player and will be at his peak. Jonathan Davies will be 33 in 2021, and dependent on how he plays next year, but he has plenty of prior performance credit in the bank. Sam Johnson and Robbie Henshaw are also there or thereabouts with young guns like Joe Marchant or Owen Watkin steadily improving in the background.

Centres squad players pick

Owen Farrell (England), Manu Tuilagi (England), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Henry Slade (England), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Wakefield).

Wings

Jonny May is considered to be the leading all-round wing in world rugby as we stand on the brink of summer with the game on hold. Meanwhile, Josh Adams cannot stop scoring tries for Wales, Six Nations and World Cup. Rest assured both have a Lions nod on form.

England’s Anthony Watson, plays both wing and full back, he is great under the high ball and has incredible feet. Liam Williams also a safe bet on the left wing, he too doubles as a full back, as does Elliot Daly who has the added x-factor of being able to kick goals from the halfway line, add 10 metres in high altitude games.

Nevertheless, there's a plane load of competition on the circuit. Jacob Stockdale, Louis Rees-Zammit, Joe Cokanasiga, Darcy Graham, Jack Nowell, Blair Kinghorn and George North to name but a few.

Wing squad players pick

Jonny May (England), Josh Adams (Wales), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales), Elliot Daly (England)

Full back

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg might be the pick at full-back, but he has a tussle on his hands for that 15 jersey. Jordan Larmour's standing continues to climb, and should Liam Williams and Elliott Daly enjoy a boost in form, both started on the last tour to New Zealand, they would be in the mix.

Full back squad players: 

Stuart Hogg (Scotland) Jordan Larmour (Ireland), Liam Williams

So that’s our first pass pick done, subject to match fitness, injury, age and potential retirement of course, you are naturally entitled to a tad of retrospective mockery should we slightly awry in our initial selection. Nevertheless, rest assured this Lions tour to South Africa will be an epic of physicality in the Springboks backyard, so make sure you’re firmly on our list for Lions Tickets & Tour packages of a lifetime. You will undoubtedly look back with the pleasure of having been on rugby union’s ultimate journey.