Lions coach Warren Gatland has entrusted the captaincy of his squad to Alun Wyn Jones. It is a mistake. These Lions will take a beating against the world champion Springboks.
It isn’t arrogance when I say it will be three-nil to the Springboks. It is confidence from a South African perspective.
It isn’t disrespect when I dismiss the merits of the British & Irish Lions challenge in South Africa, but more a respect for the quality of the Springboks and the lack of all-round potency in Gatland’s squad of 36.
Gatland, who has not not been involved with northern hemisphere rugby (as a collective) since the Lions 2017 tour of New Zealand, has looked to many of his Welsh loyalists from his 12 years as coach of Wales. Gatland’s last involvement with Wales was a 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat against the Springboks in Tokyo, Japan.
Gatland, since then, experienced a miserable time as head coach of the Chiefs in New Zealand. Gatland’s return to New Zealand was very hyped. He was returning to the region he played for all his career and to the province and region he previously coached. The honeymoon didn’t last long and when Gatland took a season out (in 2021) to focus on the Lions, his Chiefs had lost a record number of matches in succession.
Ironically, since his departure the Chiefs have been resurgent and this weekend play the Crusaders in the final of New Zealand’s Super Rugby tournament.
I believe the Lions would have had more presence with England’s Maro Itoje as captain.
Gatland has gone with what he knows. Jones is the most capped player in Test history with 159 appearances for Wales and the Lions, but he wouldn’t be in the top 10 locks in world rugby. He is well past his best and while his tenacity and longevity is to be admired and applauded, his playing pedigree isn’t what it was. He is a pensioner in locking terms and it will turn nasty for him on the field.
South African-born and raised Duhan van der Merwe, who made his debut for Scotland in 2020, is the big surprise selection.
Several players are named in a Lions squad for a first time, including Josh Adams, Bundee Aki, Chris Harris, Ali Price, Louis Rees-Zammit, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Jonny Hill, Wyn Jones, Andrew Porter, Sam Simmonds, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson.
“We believe we’ve picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa,” said Gatland.
“Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in. Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position.
“We saw some outstanding performance in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make.
“However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month’s time to start our preparation to take on the World Champions. We’ve left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.
“Being selected for a Lions Tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named.”
Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales) Wing
Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland) Centre
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) Fly-half
Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) Centre
Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) Scrum-half
Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) Fly-half
Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) Centre
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) Centre
Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) Full-back
Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) Scrum-half
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) Scrum-half
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales) Wing
Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland) Fly-half
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) Wing
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) Wing
Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) Full-back
Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) Second row
Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) Back row
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) Hooker
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) Back row
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) Prop
Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) Back row
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) Prop
Jamie George (Saracens, England) Hooker
Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland) Second row
Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England) Second row
Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) Second row
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) (Captain) Second row
Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) Prop
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) Second row
Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) Hooker
Andrew Porter (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) Prop
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England) Back row
Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) Prop
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales) Back row
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) Prop
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) Back row
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