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England and Lions legend Lawrence Dallaglio shares his thoughts on the British & Irish Lions line-up for 2021

HF: What is your overall impression of the British & Irish Lions 2021 squad?

LD: It’s a tough job selecting 37 guys to take on the world champions in their back yard and I think Warren Gatland has picked a versatile squad with a good blend of youth and experience with physicality and finesse. Form has clearly played a key factor in selection and England’s poor 6 Nations performances probably costed some big names like Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler their place on the plane. Conversely, some good performances from Scotland have meant that with eight players selected, that’s the largest Scottish touring contingent since the days of Gavin Hastings and Finlay Calder on the 1989 tour of Australia.

It’s also a nine-week tour and given current restrictions in South Africa and the chance of no fans, friends or family travelling it was really important for Warren Gatland to pick good tourists. Not every player will feature in the Test Matches and seeing the sights probably won’t be possible, so getting that right blend of personalities is paramount.  

There are one or two names I’d potentially question but overall, I’m excited about this squad and can’t wait for them to take the field in that first warm up game against Japan at BT Murrayfield.

HF: Who would be your key omissions from the squad?

LD: When it comes to Lions selection there will always be conjecture in the media and amongst fans but ultimately Warren Gatland is picking from the best of Britain and Ireland. The fact is if you haven’t been playing well for club or country, chances are you won’t be in the squad. I already mentioned Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola who on top-form would be certain selections, but they simply haven’t played well enough to warrant a seat on the plane. Jonny May is perhaps a little unfortunate, but the performance of his peers has pushed him down the pecking order.

I’m a little surprised that Jonathan Davies wasn’t selected, particularly given his Lions experience, but perhaps his struggles with injury meant he hasn’t been quite up to par. Another stalwart of recent tours Johnny Sexton also missed out. Again, like Davies he’s struggled with injury and had some serious competition from the other fly halves, but in an Irish team that under-performed in the 6 Nations, we maybe saw Sexton’s powers starting to wane for the first time.

I thought James Ryan and Jonny Gray were both a little unlucky not to make the grade in the second-row. Gray had an epic 6 Nations campaign with Scotland and Ryan has been one of Ireland’s best players in recent years even if his form in 2021 hasn’t been quite up to that standard. Iain Henderson doesn’t always start for Ireland either and Courtney Lawes is only just returning from injury. Versatility is key here though – Lawes, Henderson and Beirne can all play at blindside flanker if need be and that maybe had a role in selection choice.

There are also a couple of other players that I thought were in with a shout – a fit and firing Cian Healy is one of the best looseheads around and in Josh Navidi, Gatland is leaving behind a top tackler and turnover merchant.

HF: What are your thoughts on the announcement that Alun Wyn Jones will captain the squad?

LD: The only real contender for me - Alun Wyn Jones deserves huge congratulations on his selection as captain and I’m sure he’ll be a magnificent leader out in South Africa. His performances warranted selection alone but if you’re going to be successful against the Boks you need real leaders of men like Alun Wyn-Jones setting the standard in the engine room. His experience, physicality and sheer presence will be vital if the Lions are going to be successful.

HF: How important will the Japan match be in setting the tone/standard for the tour ahead?

LD: For me it’s really important to get off to a good start. Yes you want to test out combinations and start implementing your style of play, but winning and getting that victorious feeling in the camp is a great morale booster and confidence builder. Much like when the Lions played at home against Argentina in 2005, Japan are no pushover and they’ll certainly be coming to BT Murrayfield to upset the apple cart and make their own piece of history.

It’ll also be the first chance for a lot of these guys to get to know one another and start building relationships off the pitch too. It’s so important to build that camaraderie – these 37 players will have to rely on one another on and off the field, so getting off to winning ways against Japan and settling into touring squad life will be important for setting the tone of the whole tour.

HF: If the first Test against SA was tomorrow what would your starting XV be?

LD:

  1. Mako Vunipola
  2. Jamie George
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Alun Wyn Jones (c)
  5. Maro Itoje
  6. Courtney Lawes
  7. Tom Curry
  8. Taulupe Faletau
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Owen Farrell
  11. Josh Adams
  12. Bundee Aki
  13. Robbie Henshaw
  14. Anthony Watson
  15. Stuart Hogg

 

If you didn’t catch the full squad, here’s all 37 members of the British and Irish Lions 2021 squad:

Backs:

  • Josh Adams (Wales)
  • Bundee Aki (Ireland)
  • Dan Biggar (Wales)
  • Elliot Daly (England)
  • Gareth Davies (Wales)
  • Owen Farrell (England)
  • Chris Harris (Scotland)
  • Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
  • Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
  • Conor Murray (Ireland)
  • Ali Price (Scotland)
  • Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)
  • Finn Russell (Scotland)
  • Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)
  • Anthony Watson (England)
  • Liam Williams (Wales)

Forwards:

  • Tadhg Beirne (Ireland)
  • Jack Conan (Ireland)
  • Luke Cowan-Dickie (England)
  • Tom Curry (England)
  • Zander Fagerson (Scotland)
  • Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
  • Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
  • Jamie George (England)
  • Iain Henderson (Ireland)
  • Jonny Hill (England)
  • Maro Itoje (England)
  • Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) – captain
  • Wyn Jones (Wales)
  • Courtney Lawes (England)
  • Ken Owens (Wales)
  • Andrew Porter (Ireland)
  • Sam Simmonds (England)
  • Rory Sutherland (Scotland)
  • Justin Tipuric (Wales)
  • Mako Vunipola (England)
  • Hamish Watson (Scotland)
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