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Opinion

Who will make the final Lions squad?

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3rd May, 2021
8

The various articles on everyone selecting their squads and XVs for the British and Irish Lions has been entertaining and extremely insightful.

Sadly, this gossip will all come to an end when Warren Gatland names his trimmed 36-man squad on Thursday, May 6.

Given that this weekend saw the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup, no further game of rugby in the northern hemisphere will be able to dictate players’ credibility for selection.

There are also some big injuries in the likes of George North and Joe Launchbury whereas Ben Youngs has opted out of selection for personal and family reasons.

Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach looks on

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Loosehead prop: Wyn Jones, Mako Vunipola, Cian Healy
Replacing Cian Healy with Rory Sutherland provides no loss in quality for the Lions. Sutherland has been awesome and is a fierce scrummager but reports say he has picked up a shoulder injury and is in a race against time for fitness. If he recovers well, he should travel. If not, Gatland will go for experienced and the equally good Cian Healy who has been awesome for Ireland. Mako Vunipola does have some scrummaging issues and was exploited by the Boks in the World Cup Final. However, like it or not, he has credit from NZ in 2017 to ensure he goes on tour.

Hooker: Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George
No backtracks here. They are easily the best three hookers in the UK and Ireland. The main question is who starts out of them.

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Tighthead prop: Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter
A relatively easy pick for Gatland up front, but the third tighthead is tough to pick. Having said that, Porter has performed better than the solid likes of Thomas Francis and Zander Fagerson, who he beats to the plane.

Locks: Alun Wyn Jones (c), Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne
A blessed selection. Given that the Gray brothers miss out, this shows you how much quality the Lions have in the engine room. It helps massively that Itoje, Henderson and Beirne are more than comfortable options at six while Ryan and the warrior Wyn Jones bring a solid lineout.

Alun Wyn Jones

(ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Back row: Tom Curry, Toby Faletau, Hamish Watson, CJ Stander, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Josh van der Flier
Josh van der Flier is criminally underrated. His performance for Leinster against Exeter was pure class and he deserves to be talked about up to the same level as Hamish Watson. Apart from him, the rest of the back row pick themselves. Curry and Navidi were reliable and consistent, Watson was player of the tournament in the Six Nations, Tipuric can provide some lineout and breakdown aid while CJ Stander and Faletau are the prime eights.

Halves: Conor Murray, Ali Price, Tomos Williams, Finn Russell, Dan Biggar, Johnny Sexton
Sexton is a risk given his head injury problems, but Gatland rates him and his leadership and experience will surely help the Lions. This is an area of glaring weakness with no stand-out contender, but all of these halves will be given the tour games to really stick their hand up for contention.

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Johnny Sexton runs at Wales duo Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones

(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Centres: Robbie Henshaw, Owen Farrell, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Davies
George North’s injury could’ve provided an opportunity for the likes of Manu Tuilagi or Henry Slade to grab. However Tuilagi hasn’t played much and Slade wasn’t given the ball enough in the recent Six Nations. Davies will go on reputation from 2017 alone and Garry Ringrose’s great club form for Leinster gets him on the plane.

Back three: Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams, Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell
Hogg, Williams and Watson were certainties. Josh Adams’ bloodhound instinct and phenomenal scoring record makes him wear the red shirt and my bolter is Jack Nowell. He has enough credit with Gatland and is the best defensive winger in the world. He pips the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe, who have defensive and experience question marks despite their try-scoring records.

Final squad
Wyn Jones, Mako Vunipola, Cian Healy, Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler, Andrew Porter, Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Tom Curry, Toby Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, Hamish Watson, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Conor Murray, Ali Price, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Finn Russell, Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell.

Maro Itoje runs the ball for England

(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Strongest team
1. Wyn Jones
2. Ken Owens
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain)
6. Maro Itoje
7. Tom Curry
8. Toby Faletau
9. Conor Murray
10. Dan Biggar
11. Anthony Watson
12. Owen Farrell
13. Robbie Henshaw
14. Anthony Watson
15. Stuart Hogg
16. Jamie George
17. Mako Vunipola
18. Kyle Sinckler
19. James Ryan
20. Tadhg Beirne
21. Hamish Watson
22. Ali Price
23. Jack Nowell