Rugby Union

FAN'S VIEW: George and Van der Merwe start in my Lions XV

FAN’S VIEW: Warren Gatland will get Jamie George back to his best and he starts at hooker in my Lions XV, but there’s no room for George North with Duhan van der Merwe on the wing

  • British and Irish Lions tour South Africa this summer, with first Test on July 24
  • Head coach Warren Gatland is set to name a 36-man squad on May 6
  • Sportsmail’s rugby correspondents picked their first Test XVs last week
  • Lions fan Daniel Cullinane selects his team to start in Johannesburg 

After reading the thoughts on who should be in the British and Irish Lions starting Test XV of Sportsmail rugby correspondents Chris Foy, Nik Simon and Will Kelleher, I put forward my views as a Lions fan on who should start in South Africa.

The process of picking the Lions squad will be more complicated this time around because of England’s poor form.

Head coach Eddie Jones remarked in 2020 that England could fill 20 places in the squad for South Africa. Based on the recent performances, that number looks quite optimistic now. But the Lions head coach Warren Gatland won’t use form as his only indicator for selection.

A number of the English players are proven Lions and he is one of the best coaches in world rugby for building high performance. With a change of environment and a different message, Gatland will produce improved performances from players like Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland watches Bristol v Harlequins last month

SPORTSMAIL’S LIONS XVs 

CHRIS FOY’S XV

15 Stuart Hogg (Sco)

14 Anthony Watson (Eng)

13 Robbie Henshaw (Ire) 

12 Manu Tuilagi (Eng)

11 George North (Wal)

10 Jonathan Sexton (Ire)

9 Conor Murray (Ire)

1 Wyn Jones (Wal) 

2 Ken Owens (Wal) 

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ire) 

4 Maro Itoje (Eng)

5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wal, C) 

6 Tom Curry (Eng)

7 Hamish Watson (Sco) 

8 Taulupe Faletau (Wal)

NIK SIMON’S XV 

15 Stuart Hogg (Sco)

14 Anthony Watson (Eng)

13 Jonathan Davies (Wal)

12 Owen Farrell (Eng)

11 Liam Williams (Wal)

10 Finn Russell (Sco)

9 Danny Care (Eng) 

1 Joe Marler (England) 

2 Ken Owens (Wales)

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

4 Maro Itoje (England

5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wal, C)

6 Tom Curry (Eng)

7 Justin Tipuric (Wales) 

8 Taulupe Faletau (Wal) 

WILL KELLEHER’S XV

15 Liam Williams (Wal) 

14 Anthony Watson (Eng) 

13 Jonathan Davies (Wal) 

12 Manu Tuilagi (Eng) 

11 George North (Wal) 

10 Owen Farrell (Eng) 

9 Conor Murray (Ire) 

1 Maku Vunipola (Eng) 

2 Ken Owens (Wales) 

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ire) 

4 Maro Itoje (Eng) 

5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wal, C)

6 Tom Curry (England) 

7 Sam Underhill (Eng) 

8 Taulupe Faletau (Wal) 

Few gave Wales any hope of winning the Six Nations. But history shows that if they win their first game, they can be unstoppable. Just like the Wales team, captain Alun Wyn Jones has got better and better, and was the stand out skipper across the tournament.

Ireland too built as the competition progressed. Half backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray delivered timely performances against England to remind Gatland of their Lions credentials.

Because of an historic win over England at Twickenham and victory against tournament favourites France, Scotland will have more of an influence this year on Lions selection than they have done in quite some time.

In the front row I have opted for Wyn Jones, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong. Based on his performances throughout the Six Nations, Wyn Jones has to start the first Test. He was strong in the scrum and against the Springboks that is vital for success. Mako Vunipola was my first choice, but he had a mixed competition and struggled against Ireland. Tadhg Furlong should be selected on his sidestepping alone! He’s only just returned from long term injury, has improved game by game and was outstanding against England.

Ken Owens was the popular choice for the Sportsmail’s correspondents, but I have chosen Jamie George at hooker. I don’t think George suffered the same drop in form compared with some of the other Saracens players. He has credit in the bank and did well for the Lions in New Zealand in 2017. He started all three tests and kept Owens on the bench. Gatland will get him back on top form and start him for the first test.

Jamie George has lost his place for England but was a standout performer on the 2017 tour

Ken Owens if favourite to start at hooker after a strong Six Nations for Wales

SECOND ROW 

In all honesty I didn’t believe that Alun Wyn Jones would be involved with the Lions in South Africa. The longevity of the man is incredible and he proved me wrong in the Six Nations. His leadership credentials are unquestionable and he will undoubtedly lead the Lions in South Africa. He’ll join forces with Maro Itoje, his second row partner from four years ago.

Itoje was penalised heavily during England’s Six Nations campaign. He was being spoken of as a Lions captain but has lost some ground over the last couple of months. Regardless of what happened with England, he is world class, a proven Lion and works well with Jones.

BACK ROW

Taulupe Faletau is head and shoulders above everyone else to fill the No 8 shirt. Billy Vunipola’s poor form continues. He raised his game for England against France but he hasn’t played at his best since 2016. Player of the Championship Hamish Watson had an impressive Six Nations for Scotland on the openside. But I would go with Tom Curry, just so that I could partner him with Sam Underhill. They are both world class flankers and work really well together. With Faletau, they could be immense.

Sam Underhill (with ball) is back in action for Bath having missed the Six Nations through injury

HALF BACKS 

There’s been a lot of noise for Finn Russell’s inclusion. The Scotland No 10 has moments of magic but also a few that could be deemed reckless. Gatland likes his 10 to be steady. He’s far more likely to opt for Dan Biggar, Farrell or Sexton. The performance of the Irish half backs against England came at the right time. Based on big match and Lions experience, I’ve picked Murray and Sexton as my half backs.

MY LIONS XV – @dcullinane02

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

14 Anthony Watson (England)

13 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)

12 Owen Farrell (England)

11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland)

10 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

9 Conor Murray (Ireland)

1 Wyn Jones (Wales)

2 Jamie George (England)

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

4 Maro Itoje (England)

5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, captain)

6 Sam Underhill (England)

7 Tom Curry (England)

8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

CENTRES

I’d pick Owen Farrell at 12. By his own standards, he has been off the mark for England, but his winning mentality and resilience demands that he starts against the Springboks. I don’t think he is an international 10 but at inside centre he is a supreme distributer, an extra kicking option and is solid in defence. He’s also played with Sexton a number of times and they complement each other well. Robbie Henshaw is my starting 13. He’s been in great form for Ireland. It was a close call between him and Henry Slade but Henshaw has been class and deserves to start.

BACK THREE 

I agree with Chris and Nik on who should be full back. Stuart Hogg has been in great form for Scotland as player and captain. He’s a great kicker out of hand and seems to have so much time and space when he runs with the ball. He will be desperate for a first Test start on his third tour and it’s hard to see who will challenge him.

However, I didn’t agree with Chris and Will’s choice of George North on the wing. He did a good job for Wales in the centre and that may well remain his position going forward – but I can’t remember the last high class performance he gave on the wing. Instead I have opted for Anthony Watson, one of England’s best players in this year’s Six Nations. He contributed a couple of moments of individual brilliance and scored some good tries.

I have also chosen a player who has gone under the radar so far, Scottish wing Duhan van der Merwe. He scored more tries and made more metres than any other player in the Six Nations. He’s big and physical and can offer the kind of challenge needed to beat the Springboks.

It’s less than three months until the tour kicks off in South Africa. Before then, form and injury will continue to play its part in deciding who runs out in the famous red jersey. This year maybe the toughest selection challenge the Lions have had in years.

George North starred at centre in the Six Nations, having spent most of his career on the wing

South African-born Duhan van der Merwe is an option for Gatland after a strong Six Nations




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