By Robbie Westacott

 

This time next year, if all goes to plan, we’ll know who has been selected in the British and Irish Lions squad for the highly anticipated 2021 tour to South Africa.

Since our attention has been focused on more serious matters recently – with so much great work being done by our club to support people affected by the coronavirus – we thought this would be a good time to get back to the topic of rugby and have a bit of fun looking ahead to the Lions tour next year.

We ran a series of polls on Twitter, inviting our followers to vote for who they’d want to see face the Springboks in the first test next summer, and this is the team they picked.

These polls collected a total of 293 votes across all 15 positions. Each poll had three players to choose from, as well as the option to select “other” and comment an alternative option, and there were some interesting results to say the least.

Without further delay, let’s have a look at the OWRFC rugby family’s British and Irish Lions team for the first test in 2021:

 

1 - Mako Vunipola, 50%

This was a tight contest that Vunipola just managed to edge out, despite his scrummaging arguably letting England down a bit in the 2019 World Cup final. 

Mako’s carrying and handling skills will prove a valuable asset but, against such an enormous Springbok pack, the Lions might be better off with someone who can lay the foundations at the set piece first. 

Cian Healy wasn’t far behind with 44.4% of the votes, so he’ll take the first place on our bench. 

2 - Jamie George, 78.9%

George was somewhat of a surprise selection to start the first test on the last tour in New Zealand, but he quickly justified Warren Gatland’s decision by showing his accuracy at the line-out and his ability in the loose. George went on to start all three tests, and has since been a key member of a successful England team. Giving him that starting place again four years later is one of the easiest decisions in this side.

Welsh veteran Ken Owens will just creep on to our bench with 15.8% of the votes, but with over a year of rugby left to play, the younger and more mobile Luke Cowan-Dickie could easily overtake him before the Lions head over to South Africa. 

3 - Kyle Sinckler, 52.6%

Perhaps the most difficult call to make at the moment, tight-head prop was the only poll to include just two players in a straight shoot-out, because of how far ahead of all other options these two are. 

The results reflected that fierce competition, as Tadhg Furlong just fell short with 42.1% to settle for a spot on the bench, reversing the roles these two played in the test series in New Zealand. The missing 5.3% here is down to a few votes for “other” in this poll, but unfortunately no one left a comment so the identity of the next contender in line remains a mystery.

4 and 5 - Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones, 64.7%

Currently, it seems the second row pairing will be made up of two from Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, and James Ryan.

Some fans may feel Alun Wyn Jones might be too old to make it into the test side on his fourth consecutive Lions tour, but our Twitter followers seem to disagree as they’ve selected him to partner Itoje. 

Itoje is clearly the first choice lock, as the next most popular combination was Itoje and James Ryan, earning 35.5% of the votes. So Ryan will make it on to our bench, sure to make an impact when replacing Welsh captain AWJ.  

6 - Tom Curry, 86.7%

An almost unanimous decision here, as Curry received the highest number of votes across the entire team. Impressive for a player so young but, based on the evidence of his World Cup campaign last year, he certainly has the talent and the mindset to render his age irrelevant. 

He’ll probably be one of the first names on the team sheet for the Lions, and rightly so, although that could be on the other side of the scrum depending on how Gatland wants to balance his back row.

Jamie Ritchie of Scotland was next with just 6.7% of the votes, so he’ll miss out on a place on the bench. 

7 - Sam Underhill, 52.6%

Alongside Curry, Underhill formed one of the most – if not the most – formidable flanker pairings at the 2019 World Cup. Every time he wears the white of England he puts in a destructive performance, and our followers believe he can replicate that form in a Lions shirt.  

Justin Tipuric is clearly in the running for a test place too, collecting almost a third of the votes. Scotland’s Hamish Watson may also be in contention come 2021, demonstrated by his respectable 10.5% here. The back row will be one of the richest areas of the squad for Gatland to select from, and it will need to be if the Lions hope to beat the Boks in their own back yard. 

8 - Billy Vunipola, 63.2%

No surprises here. Billy V can be the best number eight in the world on his day, and so makes up our all-English Lions back row. The main concern will be if he’s injury-free and match-fit when summer rolls around next year. He famously had to withdraw from the last tour to New Zealand and his luck with injury hasn’t improved since then. 

With 31.6% of the votes here, CJ Stander makes a decent back-up, especially after a return to form in this year’s Six Nations. Since Curry and Underhill are both open-side flankers by trade, and Stander is adept both on the blind-side and at number eight, he’ll make it on to our bench ahead of Tipuric, who is an out-and-out seven.

9 - Gareth Davies, 33.3%

Right now, scrum-half feels like the weakest position for the Lions. There are a few contenders who are all difficult to separate, but mainly because there’s no stand-out who can inspire great confidence against the Springbok loose forwards and opposite number Faf de Klerk.

Welshman Gareth Davies has taken this poll with a third of the votes, and his eye for the try line could be an asset in the test series. If not for a recent dip in performances, Conor Murray might’ve collected more votes than his 28.6% here, but the nature of a Lions tour means the test team should be picked on form rather than reputation.

Two voters also left comments backing Rhys Webb, who wasn’t included in the original poll because he’s been in the international rugby wilderness while plying his trade at French club Toulon. 

10 - Owen Farrell, 70%

England captain Owen Farrell is almost certain to be running out as a starter come the first test next year, but the big debate will be what number he wears on his back. His position may be determined by what kind of balance is required of the centre pairing, with Gatland possibly utilising Farrell as a second playmaker and drafting in a more creative player to fill the fly-half role. 

However, going purely on the results of these polls, Farrell gets into our team as the first choice fly-half, and with a huge majority of the votes as well. The next choice was Finn Russell, who does offer an exciting attacking option off the bench if the Lions need to change their game plan. Similar to Russell’s style, one comment put forward the suggestion of Danny Cipriani, and with a few surprises guaranteed in every Lions squad he could feature in some capacity on the 2021 tour.

11 – Jacob Stockdale, 38.9%

Wing is another area of strength for the Lions, with arguments to be made for several candidates from each of the four home nations. This poll was particularly close, with Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale only just edging it. 

Elliot Daly – who kicked a monster penalty in the third test against the All Blacks in 2017, helping them draw the match and the series – was just behind with 33.3% and his versatility could make him a valuable asset off the bench. Last year’s World Cup top try-scorer Josh Adams appears very much in the race for a starting spot as well, with 27.8% of the votes. 

12 - Manu Tuilagi, 72.7%

Much like Farrell, Tuilagi is almost certain to start the first test next summer if all goes to plan. But there will be debate about which of the centre positions he’ll occupy, again depending on what Gatland is looking for from his centre pairing. We must admit, even though he’s generally more effective wearing 13, we’ve put Tuilagi in the poll for inside centre here mainly because Farrell had already been picked to start at fly-half. 

Robbie Henshaw of Ireland only managed to attract 18.2% of the votes, which leaves him well short of a place on our bench.

13 - Jonathan Davies, 70%

The player of the series for the Lions three years ago in New Zealand, Jonathan Davies would probably be one of the first names on the team sheet again if a long-term injury hadn’t ruled him out of this year’s Six Nations. Unfortunately, he looks set to be side-lined for at least another few months as well.

Davies will be 33 next summer, facing a race against the clock to get back to top form, so some of his younger rivals for this position may over-take him by the time the squad leaves for South Africa. Based on the poll, if Davies does miss out, we’d be looking at an all-English midfield, as Henry Slade was picked as the second choice outside centre with 13.3% of the votes. 

14 - Anthony Watson, 39.3%

The voting here was just as tight as the other wing position, with two of England’s brightest stars going head-to-head. Anthony Watson, who started all three tests for the Lions in New Zealand, earns himself that starting spot once again. 

Jonny May, who is perhaps the current form winger in world rugby, should feel disappointed in missing out, but his 32.1% shows he’s not far behind Watson. Admittedly, May usually lines up on the left for England, but we tried to keep every poll to one player from each country. This position was the only one to include two players from the same national team, such is the depth of England’s wing options. 

15 - Liam Williams, 44.4%

Liam Williams – whose stunning break in the first test in 2017 set up one of the all-time greatest Lions tries – retains his place in the starting team from New Zealand, making it into our side at full-back. 

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg was very close behind, with 38.9% of the votes. It’s worth noting that Hogg was expected to start the first test on that last tour but was sent home early thanks to an unfortunate injury. So, this time around, Gatland could be tempted to select Liam Williams on the wing in order to accommodate Hogg at full-back. 

Captain - Owen Farrell, 41% 

Our Twitter followers have voted Owen Farrell as the man to lead out the Lions against the Springboks in 2021. 

Interestingly, that choice doesn’t seem to reflect the selection of the starting line-up. Many would feel that if Alun Wyn Jones gets into the test team, it will be because of the Wales captain’s experience and leadership skills. With that in mind, it feels a bit strange starting him in the second row here and not picking him as captain. 

Maro Itoje also gets a big nod for the captaincy with 35.9% of the votes and his talent makes it easy to understand why many fans are confident he’s the best man for the job, despite having never captained his country. 

The Bench

16 - Cian Healy, 17 - Ken Owens, 18 - Tadhg Furlong, 19 - James Ryan, 20 - CJ Stander, 21 - Conor Murray, 22 - Finn Russell, 23 - Stuart Hogg 

 

This is a strong team which would undoubtedly give the world champions a run for their money, but we'd love to hear who you'd pick to take on South Africa next year. Do let us know how you’d like the Lions to line up for the first test on the 2021 tour by heading over to our social media pages and telling us who you’d pick. 

Facebook     Twitter     Instagram