JAMIE ROBERTS: It’s a big risk after his injury but Alun Wyn Jones comes straight back into my Lions side! But captain Conor Murray and out-of-form Owen Farrell would MISS OUT in first Test against South Africa
- Alun Wyn Jones is a risky selection after returning from a shoulder injury
- I don’t think Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly combine that well in the midfield
- Captain Conor Murray would be a huge name to drop but Ali Price could impress
- Team is built around what will be needed to beat South Africa in opening Test
With less than a week until Warren Gatland unveils his first-Test side, this is the most competitive Lions selection ever.
The coaches’ meeting could be five hours long! However, Warren is no man for sentiment, which may help when agonising over several toss-up calls.
It is not just who are the best individuals, it is about what you need to beat South Africa.
So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on who makes the team.
The British and Irish Lions are now preparing for their first Test against South Africa on July 24
Coach Warren Gatland will already be thinking ahead to the Sprinboks clash in Cape Town
Josh Adams has scored an outrageous eight tries so far, is in peak physical condition and has to play. Aerial skills are non-negotiable against the Boks, so Adams is nailed on.
Duhan van der Merwe is 90 per cent there with a small question mark around him defensively — I worry a little if he comes up against Cheslin Kolbe. But what he offers as a ball-carrier is arguably more important. He can cause chaos as the focal point of the Lions attack.
Between Anthony Watson, Liam Williams and Stuart Hogg, the in-form player is Watson. You have to make space for him at full back.
Williams has a concussion, which takes at least six days to return from, and Hogg might light up on Saturday after returning from isolation but I think Adams, Van der Merwe and Watson have played the best so far.
Louis Rees-Zammit has been immense for his age but I feel with what’s required against South Africa defensively and aerially, the others shade him.
Josh Adams is in magnificent form having already scored eight tries on the tour so far
This axis is the most challenging call. No one player has said, ‘This jersey is mine.’
Chris Harris has stood out. Defensively he is strong, has carried and distributed well, he’s quick, intelligent and can cause the Springboks problems. He is my outside centre, in a toss-up between him and Elliot Daly. Robbie Henshaw is back against the Stormers tomorrow after a hamstring injury and it’s a big game for him. If he goes well, he starts at 12.
I don’t think Owen Farrell and Daly combine, nor Harris and Daly, as you need a ball carrier. Warren likes that.
Farrell would have been disappointed with his performance against South Africa A. He’s not quite at the top of his game at present. Bundee Aki didn’t get the momentum he would have wanted, either, and slipped off a few tackles.
However, there is no place in the starting line-up for Owen Farrell who appears off his game
Dan Biggar is in pole position at No 10. He is the best at everything required to beat the Boks.
Marcus Smith has a genuine chance of making the bench. Warren hasn’t brought him out so he can wrap his fly-halves in cotton wool.
He rates X-factor players, and Marcus has that in abundance. Can you imagine being exhausted at 60 minutes and a running threat like Marcus comes on? A frightening prospect.
Ali Price has been the most exciting scrum-half — if he nails it this weekend, he starts. That would mean dropping captain Conor Murray, a huge call Warren won’t be afraid to make.
I’m not writing off Murray, as tactically he’s in the driving seat, but if Price can show he can kick well to match his running game, he is in to play against Faf de Klerk; a perfect hybrid of Price and Murray! Gareth Davies hasn’t hit his usual heights so far.
The first Test against the Boks could also see current captain Conor Murray (left) dropped
I’m interested in Wyn Jones’ injury — they said it was a stinger, I hope it’s not an AC-joint problem.
He has 10 days to get it right which should be enough to start at prop with Mako Vunipola on the bench.
Similarly to Tadhg Furlong and the magnificent Kyle Sinckler, you’re getting a brilliant 80 minutes out of those two combinations.
The hooker spot is huge. If Luke Cowan-Dickie goes well against the Stormers, he starts for me. His lineout throwing is good and his dynamism is what you need against the Boks.
He absolutely smashed Jasper Wiese once on Wednesday. Cowan-Dickie can match like-for-like with Malcolm Marx. Arguably, he’s the best ball-carrier and defender of the three options.
Then Ken Owens shades Jamie George for a bench spot — just.
Wyn Jones has just over a week to recover from an injury but that could just be enough
I hope Alun Wyn Jones’ shoulder is fine. It’s immense that he’s back, but it is a risk.
Warren will be happy with it as he knows what he can do. If he gets through 20 minutes on the weekend he will be straight in to start alongside Maro Itoje, as captain, rekindling the 2017 partnership.
Jonny Hill and Adam Beard have big games on Saturday. Beard has been mightily impressive — his size and skillset could be crucial as a replacement.
Warren may pick him and Courtney Lawes on the bench — Lawes covering flanker — just in case Alun Wyn Jones is not 100 per cent.
Alun Wyn Jones damaged his shoulder in June but could be in line for a sensational return
Tom Curry starts. He passed his audition with flying colours against South Africa A — the Lions’ only truly competitive fixture.
Taulupe Faletau plays No 8. He has shown glimpses of his world-class ability and always delivers at the top level.
Then it’s a shoot-out between Tadhg Beirne, Josh Navidi and Hamish Watson. Beirne is smart, offers a lineout option, a turnover threat, and will help the Lions with his tip-on passing ability.
The Lions can’t just play route-one rugby against South Africa or they will be outmuscled every time. Beirne’s ability to put others into space could be critical.
Tom Curry made the most of his audition against South Africa A and should now start
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