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The Lions team Warren Gatland should select for the first Springboks test

Lions Springboks

Very few British and Irish Lions players have disappointed on tour so far, but harsh decisions will have to be made for the first test against the Springboks.

South Africa have already named their team for the first test on Saturday, but Warren Gatland won’t make his Lions team announcement until Thursday, although he has apparently already informed his players who will be involved.

Plenty of players have put their hands up for selection for the first test, but only 23 can be involved on the day, although there is potential for plenty of changes in games two and three.

Below is the Lions team we believes should face the Springboks in the first test.

South Africa v Lions: Front row.

Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tadhg Furlong.

Sutherland and Wyn Jones have both been terrific on tour so far, but the Scottish prop has looked very good at scrum time alongside front-row partner Furlong in what is an area that will need to hold up against the Springboks.

The contest at hooker is also incredibly close, but Cowan-Dickie was absolutely everywhere against the Stormers, excelling in both attack and defence while making a number of superb steals on the ground.

Furlong was highly favoured to start before the tour began, and while Kyle Sinckler has given a very good account of himself, the Wexford man is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world.

Second row.

Maro Itoje and Iain Henderson.

Although Alun Wyn Jones has returned to the tour, the Welshman is likely to be a little bit off the pace and could benefit from another appearance off the bench before starting in the second test.

Itoje has been excellent on tour so far, and while he did give a couple of penalties away against South Africa ‘A’, he was arguably the Lions’ best player in that unofficial fourth test match.

Injury call-up Adam Beard has played very well for the Lions, but Henderson is a player who relishes the physical type of game that the Springboks bring and also brings leadership to the pack.

Back row.

Tadhg Beirne, Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau.

Beirne has been in sensational form all year for Munster, Ireland and now the Lions, and deserves to start on Saturday off the back of his jackling abilities and nose for the try line.

The contest between Curry and Hamish Watson is neck-and-neck, but the Englishman was at his abrasive best against South Africa ‘A’ and has just edged in front of the Scotsman in the pecking order.

Faletau has been somewhat quiet on tour so far, but on his day he is one of the best number eights in the world and will be far from intimidated by the Springboks on Saturday.

Half-backs.

Conor Murray (captain) and Dan Biggar.

Murray may not be in the best form of his career but the Irishman’s cool head and experience is exactly what’s needed in such a big game.

Ali Price has played very well on tour so far, but his quicker tempo could be used to better effect later on in the game when the South African defenders are tiring.

Biggar was the outstanding candidate at 10 before the tour started and remains just that, as Owen Farrell failed to impress in the big audition against South Africa ‘A’.

Lions Springboks

Centres.

Robbie Henshaw and Chris Harris.

Henshaw’s injury struggles have almost derailed his Lions test ambitions, but the Irish centre was been in phenomenal form all season and looked very good against the Stormers.

Harris has slowly but surely established himself as one of the best centres in Europe, and while he did miss a crucial tackle on Cheslin Kolbe last Wednesday, he is usually excellent in defence.

Elliot Daly has shown glimpses of genius for the Lions this summer, but his speed and versatility means he is a better option to come off the bench against tired legs late on.

Lions Springboks

Back three.

Anthony Watson, Josh Adams and Stuart Hogg.

The choice of wingers is arguably the hardest selection to make, but Watson and Adams just edge out Duhan van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Adams looked unstoppable in his first three games for the Lions, scoring eight tries, and while he was quiet against the Stormers he has banked enough credit to start in the first test.

Van der Merwe has been excellent in every game he has featured in, but Watson can seemingly create opportunities out of nothing, which was abundantly clear in the second game against the Sharks.

Hogg and Liam Williams have both looked great when given the opportunity, but the Scotland captain has shown slightly more promise and deserves to win a long-overdue test cap for the Lions.

Lions Springboks

Replacements

Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, Alun Wyn Jones, Hamish Watson, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.

The replacement front row is well able to scrummage but also packs plenty of power in the carry and could prove to be too much to handle for tiring Springboks defenders in the second half.

Alun Wyn Jones will provide plenty of leadership and experience from the bench should things go against the Lions early on, while Hamish Watson’s explosive power could really open up the Springboks.

Both Ali Price and Elliot Daly will bring plenty of pace off the bench, while Owen Farrell is a more than capable backup to Dan Biggar.

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