With the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to world champions South Africa now edging ever-closer, three-time Lions tourist Will Greenwood selects his XV were they to play tomorrow…
The Lions haven’t suffered a series defeat since their last tour to South Africa back in 2009, having won 2-1 in Australia in 2013 and dramatically drawn 1-1 against the then world champion All Blacks in New Zealand in 2017.
Here’s Greenwood’s current Lions XV, based on Six Nations form and which is sure to change between now and the first Test in Johannesburg on July 24 2021…
15. Stuart Hogg (76 Scotland caps, British & Irish Lions 2013, 2017)
A tourist twice already, Scotland skipper Hogg is yet to pick up a Test cap for the Lions, having been too young in 2013 and suffered injury in 2017 before the first Test, picking up a freak facial fracture after catching team-mate Conor Murray’s elbow on the run.
He would likely have started against the All Blacks in 2017 but for that injury, and since then he’s gone from strength-to-strength in terms of his performances, and continues to be one of the most dangerous attacking full-backs around.
14. Jonny May (56 England caps)
Never a Lion before, 29-year-old May has been one of the most consistent players in world rugby for some time, and has stood out again in 2020.
In fact, since the 2017 tour to New Zealand, May’s game has gone to a different level, and he has managed to maintain that form as well. A magnificent finisher, searingly quick and outstanding in the air these days too.
13. Manu Tuilagi (43 England caps, British & Irish Lions 2013)
Picked up a Lions Test cap on the 2013 tour to Australia off the bench, but struggled massively with injuries in the years thereafter. 2019 saw Tuilagi return to the England fold and produce a considerable impact. He was essential in their run to the World Cup final in Japan.
12. Robbie Henshaw (43 Ireland caps, British & Irish Lions 2017)
Still just 27, Henshaw has been one of the premier centres in the northern hemisphere for the last two World Cup cycles.
He has struggled massively with injuries through his career – indeed a serious pectoral tear against the Hurricanes in a warm-up match the ended his 2017 tour to New Zealand early. But when fit, his power and pace in defence and attack mark him out as a fantastic player.
11. Liam Williams (62 Wales caps, British & Irish Lions 2017)
The starting Lions full-back on the most recent tour in 2017 to New Zealand, Williams’ career has gone from strength-to-strength since. In 2019, he clinched Premiership, Champions Cup, Six Nations, Grand Slam and Triple Crown titles with Saracens and Wales.
Since the Rugby World Cup in Japan has struggled with injuries, however. Moved back to Scarlets mid-season due to Saracens’ off-field issues too.
10. Owen Farrell (83 England caps, British & Irish Lions 2013, 2017)
Played 12 for the majority of the 2017 tour as he dovetailed with Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, Farrell has been a mainstay and leader for England as they reached the World Cup final, and for Saracens upon all their trophy success.
9. Tomos Williams (14 Wales caps)
The scrum-half position in Welsh rugby has been one of the most competitive anywhere in the world in recent years, and at the moment, Williams has the edge.
The nippy Cardiff Blues half-back has a great kicking game and an all-round skillset which denotes him as a danger to all opposition defences.
1. Rory Sutherland (Seven Scotland caps)
What a campaign Sutherland has had. For so long, the scrum has been an Achilles heel to Scotland’s game. Not now.
Sutherland has come in, and along with tighthead Zander Fagerson in the front row, Scotland’s performance at the scrum has been entirely transformed.
2. Jamie George (49 England caps, British & Irish Lions 2017)
Superseded England starting hooker and captain Dylan Hartley to the 2017 tour, and then started ahead of Ireland’s Rory Best and Wales’ Ken Owens in all three Tests too. Has since won a host of trophies with Saracens at domestic and European level and become England’s firmly established starting No 2.
3. Kyle Sinckler (35 England caps, British & Irish Lions 2017)
Played second-fiddle to Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong on the 2017 tour, emerging from the bench in all the Tests, but stood out as the leading prop in world rugby at the 2019 World Cup. His battle for the three shirt with Furlong will be superb.
4. Maro Itoje – Captain (38 England caps, British & Irish Lions 2017)
A key man in England’s run to the Rugby World Cup final, Itoje has also been central to Saracens’ European Cup and Premiership successes. Developed into a pivotal figure during the 2017 tour in New Zealand too.
5. James Ryan (26 Ireland caps)
One of the form players in world rugby over the last few years, Ryan has developed into a fantastic performer for Ireland and Leinster in the second row. A future Ireland captain in the making, perhaps even a Lions one.
6. Tom Curry (23 England caps)
Since making his England debut in June 2017, Curry has become a superb Test-level back-row. Indeed, the Sale Shark was one of the best players at the most recent World Cup and would be a more-than-worthy Lion.
7. Justin Tipuric (76 Wales caps, British & Irish Lions 2013, 2017)
Behind both Sam Warburton and then Sean O’Brien on the 2013 and 2017 Lions tours, Tipuric will hope 2021 is finally the series he can claim a starting Test spot. A back-row with phenomenal pace and a superb skill-set.
8. Billy Vunipola (50 England caps)
One of the most high-profile and devastatingly talented performers in world rugby for some time, Lions honours have escaped 27-year-old Vunipola to date due to injuries.
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