Lions teams to take on South Africa: Our writers select their XVs for the first Test

Warren Gatland has a wide array of talent to select from for the upcoming British and

Warren Gatland has a wide array of talent to select from for the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

England have just won the Six Nations and are likely to boast a large contingent. However, Eddie Jones’ side were undone by the Springboks in the World Cup final which could count against some of the players involved.

Gatland admitted that England and Premiership stars may miss out on Lions tour due to scheduling conflicts with the Gallagher Premiership. Could this lead to a number of shock omissions?

Our writers have picked their starting line-ups for the first Test in Johannesburg, working under the assumption that everyone is fully-fit and available for selection.

Gavin Mairs

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Jonny May (England), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Owen Farrell (England), Jacob Stockdale (Ireland); Finn Russell (Scotland), Gareth Davies (Wales); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

This is a Lions XV to unashamedly to light up these dark times. This is not a team to confront the Springboks’ power game, but to dazzle them with broken field runners playing a high-risk, high tempo, off-loading game. For that reason both Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg make the backline, with Jonny May and Jacob Stockdale on the wings and Owen Farrell operating as a second distributor at inside centre and bringing some structure to the chaos. In the forwards there is a mix of scrummaging power and ball players, mobility and breakdown kings.

Mick Cleary

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Liam Williams (Wales), Henry Slade (England), Owen Farrell (England), Jonny May (England); Finn Russell (Scotland), Ben Youngs (England); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Zander Ferguson (Scotland), Maro Itoje ( England)(capt), James Ryan (Ireland), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)  

Yes, I would trust Finn Russell with the responsibility of guiding the Lions to victory over South Africa, dealing with all the physicality that the Springboks are sure to throw at them but adding the touch of genius, a la Romain Ntamack, that can open up a game. The Lions will have to stand toe-to-toe with the ‘Boks in the forward pack and much will rest on the set-piece durability of Scottish props, Rory Sutherland and Zander Ferguson. Scotland’s renaissance is reflected in five players making the starting XV. England dominate as befits their status as 2020 Six Nations champions. Wales’s decline is worrying, for them as well as for the British and Irish Lions. 

Charlie Morgan

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Jonny May (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), James Lowe (Ireland); Finn Russell (Scotland), Tomos Williams (Wales); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

There are five members of the pack that South Africa mauled in Yokohama, but the hope is that Sinckler does not go down in the opening minutes again. Rory Sutherland will be very close and Joe Marler or Cian Healy might even be preferred to loosehead prop Mako Vunipola given the importance of scrummaging. Bolters such as Caelan Doris or Jack Willis could crash a back-row party that is crowded with candidates. Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Navidi, tough enough to frustrate the Springboks, are unlucky. All bases are covered in my backline, although cohesion could be an issue. 

Ben Coles

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Liam Williams (Wales); Owen Farrell (England), Ali Price (Scotland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Josh Navidi (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

The lack of world-class options at two positions in particular – inside centre and scrum-half – is actually a bit alarming. Who knows what state Manu Tuilagi’s body will be in by July. Jonathan Davies is back playing and should walk into the 13 shirt, and there’s a decent balance in this combination with the powerful Bundee Aki. Out of a bunch of good but not great scrum-halves, I’d go with Ali Price. Otherwise the pack almost picks itself, with James Ryan and Josh Navidi – the latter an excellent worker – edging out Alun Wyn Jones and the rapidly improving Jamie Ritchie. Not entirely sold on the No 8 choice, either. Those three positions – 12, 9 and No 8 – could change a lot over the next few months. Finn Russell’s nightmare in the Champions Cup final is hard to forget.

Kate Rowan

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Jonny May (England), Henry Slade (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales),  Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales); Owen Farrell (England), Conor Murray (Ireland); Cian Healy (Ireland), Jamie George (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Jamie Ritchie (Scotland), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

Owen Farrell captains this Lions XV from fly-half. It is hard to ignore a player who has led his side to a Six Nations title and World Cup final in the space of a year in terms of the captaincy. Conor Murray may seem like a fading power to some but the 31-year-old’s experience and immense composure will see him battle back into contention. For their Champions Cup and Premiership form with Exeter, Stuart Hogg and Henry Slade cannot be overlooked. Part of the magic of a Lions Tour is the emergence of a bolter – and despite just one Wales cap – Louis Rees-Zammit’s form for Gloucester last season is used to predict great things ahead. Cian Healy sneaks into the front row and Alun Wyn Jones still has enough left in the tank to make a significant impact against the South Africans. 

Jake Goodwill

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jonny May (England); Owen Farrell (England), Rhys Webb (Wales); Joe Marler (England), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Tom Curry (England), Sam Underhill (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

Against the ‘Boks, a powerful scrummaging unit is required. Joe Marler can scrum and he can chop tackle, two must-haves against the World Champions. While the locks pick themselves, the back-row is a trickier selection. England’s well-balanced unit gets the nod. Rhys Webb is the best of a rather uninspiring bunch at scrum-half. Owen Farrell’s control will be crucial from fly-half while Finn Russell can be deployed as an impact sub, if required. A fully fit Manu Tuilagi must start. He slots in alongside proven Lions performer Jonathan Davies. Josh Adams, Jack Nowell and Liam Williams all just miss out in the back three, with Williams and Stuart Hogg the closest call.

Giles Mole

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jacob Stockdale (Ireland); Owen Farrell (England), Rhys Webb (Wales); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Josh Navidi (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

A front row picked for scrummaging, a second row for its all-court ability and a back row that contains power, physicality and dog. I would have Jack Willis on the bench just in case the breakdown needed some added mongrel. ‘Game-changers’ like Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Jonny Gray, Willis, Ben Youngs, Finn Russell and Liam Williams can be brought on when bodies tire and the pitch starts to open up.

Daniel Schofield

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Liam Williams (Wales), Henry Slade (England), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Jonny May (England); Owen Farrell (England), Tomos Williams (Wales); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Tom Curry (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Caelan Doris (Ireland)

What would Warren Gatland give for French players to be available for selection next summer? Antoine Dupont, Gregory Alldritt and Gael Fickou would all be nailed-on starters in the problem positions of scrum half, No 8 and inside centre. A fit and firing Manu Tuilagi would solve the latter problem, but after another long-term injury lay-off there is no guarantee that will be the case. Bundee Aki is the nearest replacement in terms of injecting a power game into the midfield although Ollie Lawrence could easily come into the equation if he gets a run for England. Again if Billy Vunipola or Taulupe Faletau were in top form then No 8 would not be an issue but I believe the rising Caelan Doris is the man who will seize the jersey. At scrum-half, you could easily make a case for eight players but personally I like the spark that Williams provides. 

Tom Cary

Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Elliot Daly (England); Owen Farrell (England), Ali Price (Scotland); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Josh Navidi (Wales), Tom Curry (England), CJ Stander (Ireland)

Presupposes Manu Tuilagi returns to form and fitness. But if he does, there’s no one like him. Owen Farrell starts at 10. Big game player. But Finn Russell on the bench as a potential game-changer. James Lowe could be a bolter on the wing but feel Elliot Daly’s experience and footballing ability, not to mention his long-range kicking, give him the edge. Front row picked for scrummaging power. Maro Itoje captains the team from the second row alongside James Ryan. Billy Vunipola still not firing on all cylinders.

Charles Richardson

Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jack Nowell(England); George Ford (England), Ben Youngs (England); Mako Vunipola (England), Fraser Brown (Scotland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Tom Curry (England), Sam Underhill (England), Billy Vunipola (England)

The spine of this team is England-heavy, but their performances en route to claiming the Six Nations title have earned them the right to try and avenge last year’s World Cup final defeat – in performance and result.

There is little English bias in this selection, however; there was a large effort to ensure fair representation from all four nations but the reality is that England are currently the Home Nations’ sole outstanding team. Wales have verged on woeful – Ireland, too, at times – while Scotland are improving but are not yet at the level of their Calcutta Cup conquerors. And, seemingly unlike my colleagues, I am unconvinced that Finn Russell has the temperament, consistency or requisite pragmatism to a lead a side to a Test series win over the World Champions.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Our team of writers have selected their preferred Lions starting XVs, and nobody is in agreement. What do you think of the selections? Have your say in the comments section below and pick your own side to tackle South Africa

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