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No Mack, Kiwi-esque 10: An IRISH and British Lions team to smack Wallabies - and the doctrine Farrell must follow

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Expert
14th January, 2024
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The 2025 Lions will tour Australia as the Irish and British Lions.

Surely half of Andy Farrell’s selections will be green.

The final cuts will hurt the most, but Farrell is surely not going to repeat Warren Gatland’s errors in South Africa (a lack of proven Test specialists at seven and thirteen).

No arbitrary cap exists on the size of his squad; he can load up on Wallaby beaters.

The most successful team in beating Australia is New Zealand, a side Farrell is well-acquainted with: when the Bledisloe is all blackest the longest, the Kiwi edge is sharpest in the halves, strongest in the tight five, better in the loose and most heartbreaking on the counterattack from the very back.

The Lions should embrace these age old doctrines in their choices.

The Wallabies look dejected after losing the winner takes all third Test against the British & Irish Lions at ANZ Stadium on July 6, 2013 in Sydney. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Back in the late Seventies in the leafy southern suburbs of the Cape, a few sharp and useless types (and I) were roaming with bamboo sticks, barefoot and sweatered in the rain in the bush by a chutney factory on Main Road when we found an abandoned shed and in that decayed shed: an inoperable two-door Triumph Toledo a few cc’s short of 1300 and half a tree impaling the small roof.

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We brought the car to life with scavenged parts, siphoned petrol, an axe, Meneer Leibbrandt’s commandeered welding torch and an ingenious modification: we turned the Holy Toledo into a convertible. If the doors would not open, we dispensed with most of the top.

Our most difficult engineering problem was the failure of first and third gears, and the resultant flooding as we gunned it to begin.

Finally, in order to have this car be our mode of transport to the beach, and become the 11 and 12-year old kings of Muizenberg Beach, windows punched out, nodding at the girls as we lurched from second to fourth and back, stalling on Boyes Drive, our back door to the beach to avoid the cops, we had to decide: who drives it.

Selection of a Lions team is not about finding a lock or a scrum or speed or a skilled operator. Talent in droves awaits the coaches; the key is to know who can slip a gear, be the boss, and hit the ground running.

If the Lions were a car, a 1971 Triumph blow torched by feral adolescents might well be the brand.

The last tour was dull and relatively unsuccessful when viewed in retrospect (pandemic and Rassiegate aside); this time, a deeper danger looms. If the Lions cannot beat the woebegone Wallabies next year, who the hell can they beat?

The home team has about a dozen Tests to resurrect fortunes, has no coach, is drawing from only one successful club team and four strugglers, with a couple dozen top players abroad.

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Andy Farrell must back his Irish chargers in 2025 to beat the Wallabies. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Farrell does not appear to be a man cursed with overconfidence. He will approach his final team sheet with care and will not allow an unknown Scottish outside centre to displace a Leinsterman he knows full well.

A fool’s errand: I select a 39-man Lions squad for Farrell to consider: impeccable in the set piece, merciless in the collision zone, legally rough at breakdown, quick to reload, excellent at finishing, expert in the red zone, immune to high ball high jinks, and ready to defend all eighty all over.

Loose-head prop:

Ireland’s angry Andrew Porter can attract a referee’s whistle at times, but would be fancied to give the likes of Taniela Tupou or Alan Alaalatoa a proper examination. In the loose, he is improving, as is his understudy, the JockBok Pierre Schoeman, whose new shaved head makes him look even more menacing. Ellis Genge fans will cry heresy, but I would have stout Welshman Gareth Thomas as the third choice prop on the left side.

Hooker:

The Irish starting front row continues with athletic Dan Sheehan, who is reminiscent of Kiwi hookers in the open field, but I would bring rotund Jamie George in for the late Test lineouts. He is like an aging PGA golfer who still reads the greens best, and is a proper scrum master to feed on the Wallaby replacements. The best impression of a Dane Coles might be George Turner of Scotland, and with two Scots in the first two positions, I am a bit alarmed.

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Tight-head:

Tadgh Furlong may not be setting records for passes out the back anymore, but he is still the best prop in Ireland or Britain. He is also just the right dimension to counter big Angus Bell and split him from his hooker. Backing the Leinsterman should be one of Zander Fagerson or the tall Leicester Tiger Joe Heyes. Heyes might be a surprise for some but he is entering his prime.

Tadhg Furlong is favoured to start for the British and Irish Lions against the Wallabies. (Photo By Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Lock:

Who should bolster the Irish front row in the first hour? Who will finish? Who are the swing 5.5 locks who can shift to or from the blindside; a vital feature of the modern game and with Australia underpowered and outmanned, a potential decider.

The Tiger tandem of hard George Martin and rangy Ollie Chessum are perhaps my most controversial inclusions but have been the form second row of the Premiership this season; both excelled in the Rugby World Cup, too. However, the more seasoned claims of defensive maestro Maro Itoje, long lineout lion Richie Gray, and Irish firebrand James Ryan would likely keep one or both to an RG Snyman-like bomb squad role. But a year can be a long time for big fellows. Locks are hard to keep healthy; I’d take big Will Rowlands as insurance and lineout caller for the club matches.

Together with the switch sixes named below, this would be a Barrett-Brodie-Sam-Frizzell or Eben-Lood-RG-PSDT attack on the Wallaby pack.

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Blind-side:

English legend Courtney Lawes does not look retired, resigned, or relaxed. He is a man on a mission, pulling the Saints to the top. But I would start Tadgh Beirne here, bringing the starting Irish quotient in the pack to either four or five so far.
Young captain Jac Morgan can play any loose position, and might lead the team versus the Waratahs or Rebels.

Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions look dejected during the 3rd test match between the South Africa Springboks and the British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on August 07, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Courtney Lawes (L) and Maro Itoje (M) could well feature for the Lions against the Wallabies in 2025. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Open-side:

The Lions have three genuine on-the-ball practitioners in former World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier, the still-young Tom Curry, and pesky Tommy Reffell. The best pilfer or slow to ping ratio merchant is the Dutch Disciple. Winning a series in Australia usually comes down to the breakdown or set piece. Having a fresh fetcher on the pitch at all times is crucial.

No. 8:

Caelan Doris has quietly surpassed van der Flier in the Irish team. Now, he is one of the best handful of eighth men in the world. Ben Earl will be a capable backup on fast pitches. As many as seven Irish start up front.

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Scrum-half:

This is one of the simplest positions to staff: quick ball is the coin of the realm. Beating Australia starts and ends with less than three second rucks. Quick thinking Jamison Gibson-Park and the rising Alex Mitchell could vie for top spot. Both bring speed and precision. Ben White of Scotland would be a fine third stringer with his zippy pass and excellent mechanics.

Fly-half:

Returning to our theory of Kiwiness, the North has one player in particular who evokes a New Zealand string puller. Unless one of Johnny Sexton’s successors find their way in time, it should be the almighty Finn Russell leading things at ten. It is no coincidence that Bath is finally living up to the hype: the canny playmaker thrives on the big moments.

On the bench, two wee Englishmen (but not the coach’s son) are ready to come in early or late: Marcus Smith or George Ford. A chaser or a manager, depending on the game, and both certified goal kickers with ability to play 15.

Finn Russell

Scottish playmaker Finn Russell is the right man to sink the Wallabies. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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Midfield:

Bundee Aki will have old scores to settle, and if he get his body height right from now till the tour, there is little holding him back.

Garry Ringrose surely will be given every consideration, because he links so well with Ali and most wings, yet knows when to put his head down and run downhill.

Evergreen Eliot Daly and his big silky boot has the value of deep experience and rarely lets his teams down in the crucial Tests, but if targeted by Wallaby wings coming in off the edge, he may lack top end agility.

In an Aussie twist, granite Sione Tuipolotu (but not Huw Jones) makes the squad.

Wings:

To chase, cover, and finish, the trio of fiery James Lowe, the Afrikaner Android Duhan van der Merwe, and quicksilver Louis Rees-Zammit can cover the bases, with Daly as backup. This is one area where Australia could have the advantage over one wing at least, and this is why I’ve opted not to name Mack Hansen, who I believe might feel daunted by the homecoming.

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Duhan van der Merwe featured for the British and Irish Lions against the Springboks at Cape Town Stadium. (Photo By Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Fullbacks:

The most consistently excellent fullback in rugby over the last few years is the quiet man, the unassuming Hugo Keenan, who would not be profiled in street clothes as a player; perhaps a ref.

He would cover the corners and return fire, setting up strike runners like Duhan and Ringrose.

Bomb defuser Freddie Steward is a tool needed if the series turns turgid.

As a utility player, fullback Blair Kinghorn is sure to have grown an arm and a leg by next year.

A likely game day squad (with a 6-2 bench) to drive to triumph over the unsettled Wallabies:

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1. Porter (Ireland)
2. Sheehan (Ireland)
3. Furlong (Ireland)
4. Gray (Scotland)
5. Itoje (England)
6. Beirne (Ireland)
7. Van der Flier (Ireland)
8. Doris (Ireland)
9. Gibson-Park (Ireland)
10. Russell (Scotland)
11. Lowe (Ireland)
12. Aki (Ireland)
13. Ringrose (Ireland)
14. Van der Merwe (Scotland)
15. Keenan (Ireland)

Reserves

16. George (England)
17. Schoeman (Scotland)
18. Fagerson (Scotland)
19. Martin (England)
20. Lawes (England)
21. Curry (England)
22. Mitchell (England)
23. Smith (England)

Fast enough, clever too, and rough up front. The recipe, and at the moment, very Irish.

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