This is the Lions team I would select to tackle the Boks next year.
15. Stuart Hogg
Warren Gatland will play three fullbacks to counter the Springboks’ kicking axis. Hogg is solid under the high ball, dynamic in attack and is capable of running some awesome lines with his pace and agility. His 2017 tour was cut short and he will be eager to prove his worth after becoming Scotland captain.
14. Liam Williams
The second fullback is one who is probably the best back under the high ball in world rugby right now. His performance against England in February 2019 unarguably sealed a famous victory that led to Wales’ grand slam. Dynamic with ball in hand and competent in defence, Williams’ record speaks volumes for itself and Gatland will be sure to pick him. Just remember that run that kick-started the Lions’ first try in New Zealand.
13. Jonathan Davies
If fully fit, he will certainly be picked by Gatland. A Lions veteran having seen action in Australia and NZ where he was player of the series, he will complete a full sweep of Lions tours in South Africa next year. After Lukhanyo Am he is one of the best defensively able centres in the game and is rarely out-muscled in contact. He runs some brilliant, hard, straight lines and all in all is a glue in the Lions’ defensive and attacking system. He doesn’t have his own style, he just does what the team needs very well.
12. Manu Tuilagi
The centre partnership of Davies and Tuilagi is ideal to face the Books. They pip Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Sam Johnson and Nick Tompkins as the premier centres of northern hemisphere rugby. Henshaw and Ringrose however would be very likely to come in if one of these were to be injured, while relatively newbies Johnson and Tompkins have been influential in the recent campaigns of Scotland and Wales. Tuilagi however completes a centre full of defensive capability to contain the Boks with his crash ball-running and no-nonsense defence.
11. Elliot Daly
I have been disappointed to see no one put him in their XV for the Lions. Daly’s kicking game has been immense since autumn 2018 and perhaps the best in the world in play. Countless videos of his surgical attacking kick play against France, Ireland and the World Cup have based England’s kicking game as a very effective attacking strategy. A handy long-range kicker blessed with physique and electrifying pace, Daly will be on the wing. The only issue people may see is his defence, however the versatility he offers should not be overlooked.
10. Owen Farrell
There’s not much to be said here. He is the man to control the strings. He has a brilliant track record as a leader, goal kicker and playmaker for England in the last World Cup cycle with extra motivation to avenge the final loss.
9. Gareth Davies
The nine jersey may be the most unpredictable for Lions fans to chose. The likelihood is that he will be Welsh and deservedly so. Davies has been influential in Wales’ Shaun Edwards era of disruptive defensive lines with his canny intercepts. Perhaps no player can read such plays in his trade.
1. Rory Sutherland
He has been a revelation for Scottish scrummaging. He edges Mako Vunipola purely off the nightmare the Springboks’ front row gave him in the World Cup final. However, this is a 50-50 between them. Vunipola’s carrying and rucking game should not be overlooked.
2. Jamie George
He will try and stake his claim as best hooker in the world. He has excellent soft hands and a decent lineout and is a leader in defence.
3. Tadhg Furlong
The world’s premier tighthead for the last few years will need to bring his A-game against the best scrummaging team in the world. Like George he possesses awesome hands and never seems to give up for Ireland. He will be battle-hardened and fully up for it come 2021.
4. Maro Itoje
No explanation needed. He can give a few too many penalties though.
5. James Ryan – captain
He is a bolter as captain. He should be a lock-in starter. He and Itoje have bossed the engine room of the northern hemisphere. He could be captain to possibly divert Itoje and Farrell from distractions in order for the team to thrive as a whole. He brings ruck, lineout and a lot of carrying skills.
6. Courtney Lawes
It may be a shock but the Lions need to compete with the Springboks’ lineout. Lawes at six is exactly the answer plus his brutality in combat and non-stop engine is something the Lions will want to unleash. This allows the bench to have more back rowers.
7. Tom Curry
He has been one of the best players in the world since early 2019. He is consistently improving and it’s scary to believe he is 21. He has fantastic ability in the ruck and contact and he is a real game changer in defence. He led England’s body line with dominant tackling in the 32-20 win in Ireland. He is someone the Lions cannot afford to keep out against the Boks.
8. CJ Stander
He Billy Vunipola to the spot. Stander has been one of Ireland’s elite performers. He is a wrecking ball in contact and a menace at the ruck. He and Vunipola will be in the starting 23, it just depends which number they will have.
16. Luke Cowan-Dickie
17. Kyle Sinckler
18. Mako Vunipola
19. Jamie Ritchie
20. Sam Underhill
21. Billy Vunipola
22. Dan Biggar
23. Conor Murray