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The Lions lowdown

Garry DoyleOwain JonesAndrew ElliottJamie Lyall

Exclusive free article from The XV

After months of debate and discussion, selection meetings and fantasy XVs, Warren Gatland revealed his 37-man British & Irish Lions squad to take on South Africa this summer.

Gatland has chosen Alun Wyn Jones, the remarkable Wales captain, to skipper the tourists on his fourth Lions selection.

In total, 11 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen, and eight players apiece from Ireland and Scotland have been selected to tackle the world champions.

Here, The XV provides the lowdown on each of the latest Lions.

Props:

Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland)
Age: 25
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 19st 8lbs
International caps: 38
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Fagerson has matured into a top-class tighthead these past few years, adding a serious ball-carrying snarl to his impressive set-piece game. He has become the cornerstone of the Scottish pack with his excellent scrummaging. The Glasgow Warrior is a huge specimen of a bloke, which is no bad thing, and has learnt to use his beef with great aplomb when barrelling into and over the top of defenders. He will be next talented Scot to leave the Warriors for England or France when his contract expires.

Reasons for concern? Fagerson has not played a heap of Test rugby in 2021, owing to his red card against Wales and subsequent suspension, but he has been among Scotland’s most consistent and impressive performers in the past two years. Glasgow’s insipid defeat by Benetton last weekend may have put him on the back foot.

Tadhg Furlong (Leinster and Ireland)
Age: 28
Height: 6ft
Weight: 19st 4lbs
International caps: 52
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has been picked? Furlong would be highly thought of, even if his only attribute was an ability to scrummage. He can do all that impressively well but his CV has plenty of other bullet points. He’s a strong carrier, a fine poacher, a great passer of the ball and is an effective lifter in the lineout. Truthfully, there isn’t a better tighthead in the world, never mind the British Isles. 

Reasons for concern? Aside from the fact his slashing sidestep may show up the backline, there are none.

Wyn Jones (Scarlets and Wales)
Age: 29
Height: 6ft 
Weight: 18st 2lbs
International caps: 35
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Gatland showed his faith in Jones at the 2019 Rugby World Cup where his durability and scrummaging power was preferred to fellow injury-plagued Scarlets Rob Evans and Samson Lee, when only five props could travel. Since then, the Llandovery-born farmer has kicked on and in this year’s Six Nations he showed career-best form. Squat, with immense strength and a diesel engine that will go on and on, Jones is strong over the ball and a willing carrier. Expect him to push Mako Vunipola hard for a Test berth.

Reasons for concern: The Scarlets prop is pretty one-paced around the field and may not boast the all-court skills of Vunipola but his carrying game has improved and he’s comfortable with the ball-in-hand.

Andrew Porter (Leinster and Ireland)
Age: 25
Height: 6ft
Weight: 17st 11lbs
International caps: 37
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? It’s a big call but a justifiable one. Porter’s physical strength is matched by his strength of character, demonstrated by his willingness to abandon life as a loosehead earlier in his career to relocate to the other side of the front row. Unshakeable self-belief has helped him master his trade. On top of all that, he is a super footballer too.

Reasons for concern? Will there be a bad smell around this selection given how Porter isn’t even first choice for his club, never mind his country? The Leinster man won’t care what people think, knowing full well that you can be second best in the UK as well as second best at Leinster, when the person in front of you in the queue is Tadhg Furlong.

Tom Curry
Tom Curry shone in a disappointing England side during the championship, with his carrying particularly impressive (Photo by Getty Images)

Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh and Scotland)
Age: 28
Height: 6ft
Weight: 17st 11lbs
International caps: 16
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? The Lions, perhaps above all else, need a scrummage capable of handling the splintering power of South Africa’s pack. In that regard, Sutherland has the tools to go toe to toe with the Boks front row. What the Scottish Borderer also possesses is a precious dynamism in open prairie, rare amongst his rivals for the No1 jersey, and he carries very well in tight spaces.

Reasons for concern? A year ago, Sutherland was making many pundits’ Lions Test XVs at loosehead. He has not been as eye-catching for Scotland this Six Nations and has been hampered by a shoulder injury that required a lengthy lay-off. He will have to rediscover his best form quickly.

Mako Vunipola (Saracens and England)
Age: 30
Height: 5ft 11ins
Weight: 19st 1lb
International caps: 73
Lions tours: 2 (2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? Vunipola’s point of difference is his prowess around the paddock, as a carrier of ball, and a valuable link player with his soft handling. He has worked hard to develop his set-piece game and has consistently been among the best props in the sport as part of Saracens’ winning machine. Vunipola has played in the past six Lions Test matches, and expect him to feature in this year’s series.

Reasons for concern? Although his scrummaging has improved immeasurably since his earliest days as an international, it is not the strongest part of his game. Any weaknesses in the scrum will be dynamited by the South African eight. Like so many of Eddie Jones’ front-liners, Vunipola has been some way off his best form in 2021.

Hookers:

Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs and England)
Age: 27
Height: 6ft 1in
Weight: 17st 3lbs
International caps: 31
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been chosen? A key cog in Exeter’s irrepressible surge to the English and European double. Cowan-Dickie carries like a beast, provides an added jackal threat from hooker and is part of a highly effective Chiefs lineout. Has been vying with Jamie George for the England No2 jersey of late and is in better form than his rival. Could be a revelation on the sun-blistered grounds of South Africa.

Reasons for concern? Not many. Cowan-Dickie is best known for his explosive snarl on the carry, but if he is a Test hooker, his darts must hit their targets.

Jamie George (Saracens and England)
Age: 30
Height: 5ft 11ins
Weight: 17st
International caps: 62
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? On the last Lions tour, George’s name was being bandied about as the top hooker in the international game. He combines dead-eyed accuracy at the lineout and strong scrummaging with impressive hands and speed in the loose.

Reasons for concern? Like most of Saracens’ England contingent, George has suffered a significant dip in form this season, losing his England starting spot in the Six Nations. If you’re not the best hooker in your own country, it will be tough to justify his place among the four nations.

Ken Owens (Scarlets and Wales)
Age: 34
Height: 6ft
Weight: 17st
International caps: 84
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? In the autumn, Owens’ reputation soared as Wales looked forlorn without their inspirational bell weather. Back in situ for the Six Nations, his all-action displays buoyed those around him. As a player, he is irrepressible; the Carmarthen-born hooker tears into contact, regularly tips into double figures tackles-wise and is solid at the set-piece. He will also be a key lieutenant for both Jones and Gatland when facing their daunting adversaries.

Reasons for concern? Owens has run through metaphorical brick walls for nigh on a decade at regional and Test level and, at 34, his creaking joints will have to thrust themselves once more into action. A steady thrower of the ball, Owens has been known to have off days with the darts.

Second row:

Tadhg Beirne (Munster and Ireland)
Age: 29
Height: 6ft 6ins
Weight: 17st 9lbs
International caps: 22
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Ireland’s form player in the Six Nations, the tweener hasn’t been selected on grounds of versatility, rather on his ability to poach, to offer a credible option at the lineout, to shine in open play, to be an option off the bench or a starter at blindside. Any player who marries work-rate with footballing nous has the chance to feature in the Tests. Late-bloomer Beirne – who failed to make the grade at Leinster – ticks each box.  

Reasons for concern? It seems absurd to call anyone approaching 18st a small man yet in the land of the giants, Beirne is exactly that. No other team in world rugby can match the Springboks for physicality, which is why the Munsterman is highly unlikely to feature in the second row and restrict his ambitions to the No6 shirt.

Iain Henderson (Ulster and Ireland)
Age: 29
Height: 6ft 6ins
Weight: 18st 3lbs
International caps: 63
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? Not only is he a really good player, he’s vastly underrated too. In truth, his form has been much better than James Ryan’s this season, where his understated manner has seen him win the respect of his team-mates. Has carried Ulster’s lightweight pack on his shoulders for years and will benefit from being surrounded by better players. Good option to captain the dirt-trackers.

Reasons for concern? Unless there is an injury, he’s not going to dislodge either Alun Wyn or Maro Itoje, which kinds of suggests he’s there as a back-up. The fact he has had two separate injuries this year may play on Gatland’s mind too.

Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs and England)
Age: 26
Height: 6ft 7ins
Weight: 17st 6lbs
International caps: 9
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been chosen? Hill slotted into the England slot vacated by George Kruis on his Japanese sojourn. It was no fluke, the 6ft 7ins lock had been putting in commanding performance for Exeter Chiefs for 12-18 months, picking up a Premiership title and Champions Cup. Happy to spoil mauls and hit rucks, Hill also has decent hands, witness his slick pass to Anthony Watson against Italy, and a cultured left boot, as we saw against Bristol. A player coming into his prime.

Reasons for concern? Not even in double figures when it comes to caps, Hill has not been tested on the greatest stage and his penalty count has often crept up with errant discipline. His ‘edge’, however, may just have won him a place on the plane.

Maro Itoje (Saracens and England)
Age: 26
Height: 6ft 6ins
Weight: 17st 3lbs
International caps: 51
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? Itoje has been oft-touted as a Lions captain, including by former skipper Sam Warburton no less. He is magnificent in the lineout and can be like having an extra back row on the pitch with his snaffling abilities at the breakdown. He has also developed the very handy knack of charging down the opposition scrum-half’s box-kicks, which could work wonders against the Boks.

Reasons for concern? Discipline. Itoje was the most pinged player in the Six Nations and was very fortunate not to have been sin-binned against Wales. He showed an inability to learn from his mistakes and play to the referee. In tight games at the highest level, this could be the difference between winning and losing.

Alun Wyn Jones, captain (Ospreys and Wales) 

Age: 35
Height: 6ft 6ins
Weight: 18st 12lbs
International caps: 157
Lions tours: 3 (2009, 2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? Alun Wyn Jones has defied time with his lung-busting performances into his 36th year, by leading Wales to his fifth Six Nations title. With a hard-nosed, lead-from-the front persona, he is just the type of Test Match Animal Warren Gatland will want at his disposal. Jones regularly tops the Test tackle counts and has turned into one of the game’s best tight-five handlers.

Reasons for concern? Turning 36 in September, Jones has been written off countless times but delights in proving doubters wrong. A recent WRU extension shows his coaches continue to believe he can deliver in the biggest games.

Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints and England)
Age: 32
Height: 6ft 7ins
Weight: 17st 7lbs
International caps: 89
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been chosen? Lawes missed the Six Nations with an ankle injury, but having been a tourist in 2017, Gatland has backed the Northampton Saint to provide ballast, both in the engine room and potentially at blindside flanker, where he can look the enormous Pieter-Steph du Toit squarely in the eye. Lawes is known for his bombastic, destructive tackles and he will not be intimidated out in South Africa. With a huge work-rate and underrated handling skills, the lock could yet make the Test 23, as he did in New Zealand.

Reasons for concern? Shy of competitive rugby for the past few months, Lawes has been picked on reputation rather than current form. With a rangy, lightweight frame, he may not have the kilos in the scrum when compared with giants RG Snyman and Eben Etzebeth, which may see him shunted into the back row.

Back row:

Jack Conan (Leinster and Ireland)
Age: 28
Height: 6ft 4ins
Weight: 17st 11lbs
International caps: 20
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been chosen? Think back to the England game in the Six Nations – and the moment it turned; Rob Herring throwing deep to the tail of the lineout, Conan collecting and offloading into the space he created, where Keith Earls had appeared, as if by magic. No one else in the Irish team could have done what he did and, in that snapshot, you can see why Gatland has opted for him. He’s skilful, fast, possesses great hands and is fresh – a useful commodity at the end of a long season.

Reasons for concern? With just 20 caps, inexperience at the highest level has to be an issue, as does the fact that when Leinster really needed a talisman against La Rochelle last weekend, they didn’t have one.

Tom Curry (Sale Sharks and England)
Age: 22
Height: 6ft 1ins
Weight: 16st 4lbs
International caps: 33
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been chosen? Curry toured Argentina with England in 2017, as a callow youth. Four years later, he flies to South Africa as one of the world’s best back-row players. At just 23, he has amassed 32 England caps, and played in the World Cup final. Abrasive on both sides of the ball, Curry’s power-packed ball-carrying regularly skittles defenders, while his wince-inducing tackles knock opponents back on their rumps. He is a superb pilferer on the jackal, and perfect to combat the monstrous Springbok back rows.

Reasons for concern? If you were to split hairs, you would say that, at such a young age, experience could count against him but he has matured hugely in the last 18 months and has been mentioned as a senior leader with England. Curry plays on the edge and will have to watch his penalty count.

Taulupe Faletau
Taulupe Faletau has been in scintillating form for Bath and resurgent Wales under Wayne Pivac (Photo by Getty Images)

Taulupe Faletau (Bath and Wales)
Age: 30 
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 17st 2lbs
International caps: 90
Lions tours: 2 (2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? After two years in which he’d continually rehabbed with broken arms, as late as November, there were concerns Faletau’s body had given out, but a triumphant return to form against England and Italy at the tail-end of the Nations Cup and a triumphant, error-free stint in Wales’ Six Nations-winning squad reaffirmed his status as the finest No8 in the northern hemisphere. Quick feet to evade contact, deft hands at the base of the ruck and dexterity in the wider channels mark him out as an all-court elite Test player.

Reasons for concern: As mentioned, Faletau’s kryptonite appears to be his arms, which have been broken three times in the past two years. One of the quieter members of the pack, a vocal reticence can be seen as a weakness but we’re splitting hairs. A truly world-class back row, who is comfortable playing at blindside.

Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs and England)
Age: 26
Height: 6ft
Weight: 16st 3lbs
International caps: 7
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Quite simply, Simmonds has been the ultimate forward in England – perhaps in all of Europe – these past two seasons. He has a skill-set rivalled by so few number eights, blistering speed, mesmeric footwork, and an incredible all-court game. The Exeter Chief was anointed European player of the year for last term, and currently tops the Premiership try-scoring charts. His continued omission from Eddie Jones’ England squad has confused and enraged in equal measure.  

Reasons for concern? Has not played international rugby since 2018, and will have to deliver some whopping early performances to force his way into the Test reckoning. Like Hamish Watson, his relatively modest stature is often highlighted by detractors – and is presumably a key issue for Jones – but power beats size and Simmonds has plenty of that.

Justin Tipuric (Ospreys and Wales)
Age: 31
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 15st 12lbs
International caps: 85
Lions tours: 2 (2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? For so long, Tipuric played second fiddle to Sam Warburton, but the Osprey has shown his value to the Wales squad since Warburton retired at 29. There is arguably no player with as many skills; he has the hands and pace of a centre, rarely misses a tackle, can be lifted at the tail of the lineout, is effective at the breakdown and is an experienced captain of his region. Quiet by nature, Tipuric’s plethora of skills are deafening when he crosses the white lines.

Reasons for concern? Tipuric isn’t the biggest of back-rows to duke it out with South Africa’s giants. He doesn’t look like he was born on a squat rack, so his naysayers will point out that he’s underpowered for the Test arena. Tipuric will aim to do his talking on the field.

Hamish Watson (Edinburgh and Scotland)
Age: 29
Height: 6ft 1ins
Weight: 16st 1lb
International caps: 41
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? The Six Nations player of the tournament is an incredible blend of dynamism and aggression. Outstanding over ball, Watson is one of the most explosive forwards in the game, repeatedly scuttling defenders and making yards in heavy traffic. The Scottish openside is playing brilliant rugby and regularly tops the charts for carries, defenders beaten and metres made.

Reasons for concern? Much has been made of Watson’s bulk – or lack of it – against the behemoths of South Africa, but that talk is gravely misguided. Sam Warburton, emphatically well credentialed to comment on such matters, said recently: “No chance, Hamish Watson is never too small.” That should put the debate to bed. In truth, when it comes to selection for the Test team, it is the Scot’s lack of versatility as a pure openside that could count against him.

Scrum-halves:

Gareth Davies (Scarlets and Wales)
Age: 30
Height: 5ft 10ins
Weight: 13st 10lbs
International caps: 62
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? One of the notorious ‘Geography Six’ in 2017, Davies has shown up on the biggest occasions for Wales. The World Cup’s top try-scorer with six in 2015, including the match-winning try against England, Davies also shone in Japan, with his eye for an interception and line-speed to unsettle attackers. Gatland may view him as the perfect impact player to replace Conor Murray off the bench.

Reasons for concern? Since the 2019 World Cup, Davies has been in and out of form and failed to nail down a place with both the Scarlets and Wales, as Kieran Hardy has risen to prominence. His box-kicking has been inaccurate and his service sometimes askew. Davies will need to rediscover his best form in South Africa.

Conor Murray (Munster and Ireland)
Age: 32
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 14st 7lbs
International caps: 94
Lions tours: 2 (2013 and 2017)

Why has he been picked? Physically strong, dangerous and powerful around the edge of rucks, a good kicker and a slick passer, Murray’s dominant displays on the 2013 and 2017 tours helped build his reputation as one of the world’s best scrum-halves.

Reasons for concern? His star has waned since his neck injury in 2018. Those breaks around the rucks? They are still there but we just don’t see as many of them. The box-kicks? Teams know what to expect now. When Ireland were beating the All Blacks in Chicago five years ago, he was unafraid to go off script. The radical thinker has since turned conservative. His game has suffered accordingly.

Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland)
Age: 27
Height: 5ft 10ins
Weight: 13st 7lbs
International caps: 42
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? At his best, Price marries free-wheeling elan with excellent kicking and shrewd game management. He whipped Scotland around the paddock in the dying embers of their last-gasp stunner in Paris magnificently. He is a major threat around the fringes, teeing up Darcy Graham for a scorching try against Wales, and has matured into a leader for Glasgow and Scotland.

Reasons for concern? Made a number of high-profile errors during the Six Nations, notably against England and Ireland, and is liable to being charged down.

Fly-halves:

Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints and Wales)
Age: 31
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 14st 10lbs
International caps: 92
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? The form fly-half in the party, Biggar was majestic during Wales’ march to the Six Nations title and he has been hitting the right notes with a resurgent Northampton in recent weeks. Overlooked in 2013, while an impressive squad member outside the Test 23 in 2017, Biggar is primed to take centre stage in South Africa. Brave in the air, with a varied kicking game, the Gowerton-born pivot is also fiercely committed defensively.

Reasons for concern? Biggar has long been maligned for his inability to get the backline going as poetically as his contemporaries and lacking the flair of the romantic Welsh 10s, Barry John, Phil Bennett and Jonathan Davies, but he’s a Gatland-type player and revels in proving doubters wrong.

Finn Russell (Racing 92 and Scotland)
Age: 28
Height: 6ft
Weight: 14st 7lbs
International caps: 55
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? Russell can deliver what no other pivot in Europe – perhaps in world rugby – can, with his wondrous attacking threats. The fly-half is a sorcerer on the ball, dragging defences this way and that, has beautiful distribution under pressure and an unrivalled short kicking game. He offers a different proposition to Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell.

Reasons for concern? Russell has long been pilloried for his ‘maverick’ tendencies, and apparent reluctance to stick to structure. In the white-hot arena of a Lions Test series, his genius could be telling, but his willingness to try things a danger.

Centres:

Bundee Aki (Connacht and Ireland)
Age: 31
Height: 5ft 10ins
Weight: 15st 10lbs
International caps: 31
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? It is a very good question and only Gatland will be able to give a very good answer. His form has disappeared this year – while injuries and a suspension have hardly helped. At this stage, if everyone was available, he wouldn’t be a first choice with Ireland. What he does bring to the party, however, is physicality. That will do no harm in South Africa.

Reasons for concern? All of the above. This really is the surprise choice in the 37-man squad. However, Aki is a confident character and if he gets into his groove, he could justify Gatland’s faith quite quickly.

Owen Farrell (Saracens and England)
Age: 29
Height: 5ft 11ins
Weight: 14st 8lbs
International caps: 97
Lions tours: 2 (2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? Gatland will be hoping form is temporary, class is permanent. Farrell led England to the 2019 World Cup final, has close to a ton of Test caps, was a crucial member of the 2013 squad and a key figure in 2017, when his kick in the third Test secured a draw in the match and the series. His experience will be vital on tour.

Reasons for concern? Looked woefully out of touch in the Six Nations, which has been exacerbated by not playing any top-flight or European rugby with Saracens. South Africa is no place to be carrying passengers.

Robbie Henshaw
Robbie Henshaw is arguably the form inside centre at Gatland’s disposal after a titanic Six Nations (Getty Images)

Chris Harris (Gloucester and Scotland)
Age: 30
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 16st 1lb
International caps: 28
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? In a word, defence. Harris, unseen by many casual observers, is a borderline superhuman defender. The Gloucester man is not only a fantastic tackler, but his intelligence and leadership within Scotland’s defensive system is superb. Harris covers vast expanses of ground, makes the shrewdest of reads and decisions, and organises the Steve Tandy-implemented set-up from outside-centre. These will be priceless qualities up against the South African backline. He is adding gears to his attacking game and has been a figurehead for Gloucester. Harris can, if needed, play on the wing.

Reasons for concern? While his work without the ball can scarcely be faulted, the Lions will need more than a defensive bulwark in midfield, especially if they are shorn of the power of Manu Tuilagi or the excellence of a fit and firing Jonathan Davies. Harris is not as poor an attacker as some would suggest, but he must bring his best ball-carrying form to bear in South Africa.

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster and Ireland)
Age: 27
Height: 6ft 4ins
Weight: 15st, 7lbs
International caps: 52
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? The Irishman has brought a whole new dimension to his game this year, smartening up his decision-making, showing an insatiable desire for work and an ability to offload. When Joe Schmidt was Ireland coach, there were times when it seemed as if the players were being operated by remote control. Under Andy Farrell, more independent thinking is allowed and no player has benefited more from the tactical liberation than Henshaw. Physically, the Springboks won’t intimidate him, while his aerial skills could well come in useful.

Reasons for concern? Earlier in his career he showed defensive weakness as an outside-centre whenever his Leinster or Ireland team operated a drift defence. This year he has played as a 12 and tackled superbly.

Back three:

Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues and Wales)
Age: 26
Height: 6ft 1ins
Weight: 15st 1lb
International caps: 32
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Josh Adams was the top try scorer in world rugby in 2019 with nine tries. He endured a quieter 2020, but with three tries in three Six Nations game, 17 tries in his 32 Tests shows his potency as a finisher. The Carmarthen-born wing is also aggressive defensively and composed in the air, with the physical heft to compete for the ball on the deck. Warren Gatland gave him his debut and rates him highly.

Reasons for concern? While Adams is quick, he would still lag behind the likes of Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit and Jonny May in a foot race. He was also left uncharacteristically red-faced when breaking Wales’ bubble during the recent Six Nations, but you’d hope lessons have been learnt.

Elliot Daly (Saracens and England)
Age: 28
Height: 6ft 1in
Weight: 14st 11lbs
International caps: 55
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? One of the more surprising selections, picked for what he can do rather than what he has been doing this season. Daly, with his siege-gun boot, pace and intelligence, was a stand-out in New Zealand four years ago, but he is light years from that form in the here and now. Gatland has backed him to come good – if he does, he could be a major asset once more.

Reasons for concern? That drastic loss of form. Playing Championship rugby for Saracens, he has little opportunity to rekindle the kind of rugby needed on a Lions tour.

Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs and Scotland)
Age: 28
Height: 5ft 11ins
Weight: 14st 9lbs
International caps: 85
Lions tours: 2 (2013, 2017)

Why has he been picked? Hogg is the form full-back available to Gatland, playing better than ever after moving to Exeter Chiefs and winning an English and European double. The Scot is fabulous with ball in hand, plotting routes through defences, and has a terrific kicking game. Since taking over the national captaincy, Hogg has emerged as a fine leader too.

Reasons for concern? Hogg has been repeatedly criticised for his perceived frailties under the high ball and in defence. Although they are not the strongest elements of his game, nor are they glaring weaknesses. Any chinks in his armour, though, could be ruthlessly exposed by the Springboks and Faf de Klerk’s box-kicks.

Stuart Hogg
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg has played the best rugby of his career since joining Exeter Chiefs (Photo by Getty Images)

Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester and Wales)
Age: 20
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 14st 9lbs
Internationals caps: 9
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Did you see the solo try he scored against Scotland? Rees-Zammit has been a breakout star in the last 12 months, regularly scorching the earth for Gloucester, before scoring five tries in nine Tests for Wales, four of which came in this year’s Six Nations. He possesses blistering speed that will be enhanced by the hard tracks out in South Africa, and his improving defensive aptitude and kicking from hand mark him out as a player who is refining his game on a continual basis.

Reasons for concern? At just 20, Rees-Zammit will be the most inexperienced member of the squad. Much like Keith Earls in 2009, the scrutiny on him to perform under the unsparing glare of the world’s media may weigh on his shoulders, but there is little evidence yet, that he wilts under pressure. A toe-to-toe battle with Cheslin Kolbe would be mouth watering.

Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh and Scotland)
Age: 25
Height: 6ft 4ins
Weight: 16st 9lbs
International caps: 10
Lions tours: 0

Why has he been picked? Van der Merwe is utterly unique among the wingers available to Gatland. He is an almighty game-breaker, and that attacking profile has earned him a seat on the plane despite the flaws elsewhere in his game. Van der Merwe is a colossal specimen at 6ft 4ins and more than 100kg. He is astonishingly fast and fiendishly hard to stop. He scored a championship-best five tries in five games for Scotland in 2021, including at Twickenham and in Paris, and beat more defenders than any other player. Returning to his native South Africa in the red of the Lions is a pulse-quickening prospect. Unleashing him on the hard grounds of home was clearly too tantalising for the coaches to resist.

Reasons for concern? Since joining Edinburgh in 2017, Van der Merwe has posted the most prolific attacking numbers in the Pro14. But to operate as a complete international player, he needs more. He is better at looking for work, and getting more touches, but his defence and defensive positioning is a significant area of weakness, exposed by the French. He is also suspect under the high ball.

Anthony Watson (Bath and England)
Age: 27
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 14st 7lbs
International caps: 54
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? Shone on the wing during the Six Nations, despite being starved of the ball due to England’s straitjacket game plan, scoring four tries. He also excelled on the last Lions tour to New Zealand, playing in all three Tests, and is brilliant in the air.

Reasons for concern? Looks to be a nailed-on Test starter but is prone to injury, with Achilles and ankle problems robbing him of a lot more caps. Will his joints hold up on the punishingly rock-hard South African surfaces?

Liam Williams (Scarlets and Wales)
Age: 30
Height: 6ft 2ins
Weight: 14st 5lbs
International caps: 74
Lions tours: 1 (2017)

Why has he been picked? His heroics in the first Test in Auckland wrote his name into Lions folklore, but his value to the tourists goes beyond a turn of pace and some attacking brio. Williams may have a wiry frame, but he is fearless in defence, with an uncanny ability to snaffle ball on the deck with his devil-may-care attitude. Versatile enough to play anywhere across the back three, the Scarlets full-back is also composed in the air if the Springboks test him with aerial bombs.

Reasons for concern? Williams is naturally fiery and his over-competitiveness has led to disciplinary problems in the past, most recently in a Welsh regional derby where he was red-carded. He was also sent off against the Springboks for a late tackle in 2014. A calm head will be needed.

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