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Pundit Arena’s 36-man British and Irish Lions squad

Lions

With Warren Gatland’s official British and Irish Lions squad set to be named on Thursday, we thought we’d give naming our own squad a go.

There will always be plenty of disagreement among fans when Lions squads are named, as plenty of tough calls have to be made, with some players missing out by the smallest of margins.

We’ve named the 36 players we believe will give the Lions the best opportunity of winning against the world champion Springboks this summer, based on form, balance of the squad and big-game temperament.

Front row

Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ronan Kelleher, Rory Sutherland, Wyn Jones, Mako Vunipola, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler and Andrew Porter.

We’ve gone with nine front-row players in the squad, with three players in each position of hooker, loosehead prop and tighthead prop.

The front row will likely be crucial against South Africa, as the Springboks will hope to lean on one of their traditional strengths in the scrum to eke out penalties against the visitors.

Ronan Kelleher is perhaps the most controversial choice in the front row, but the athletic hooker should prove to be an absolute nuisance in the loose on the hard ground in South Africa. His throwing at the lineout is shaky at times, but he has improved on that area since last year.

Scotland’s Rory Sutherland has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since his country’s final match of the Six Nations against France, but is expected to be back in time for the Lions’ first match against Japan on the 26th of June.

Andrew Porter is behind Tadhg Furlong in Ireland’s pecking order, but showed what he is capable of in the Wexford man’s absence. The Leinster prop has a great engine for his position, and is very mobile in the loose.

Second row

Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Maro Itoje, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan and Iain Henderson.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is well deserving of achieving the same honour with the Lions, and has been playing as well as ever despite being 35 years old.

Maro Itoje didn’t have the greatest Six Nations as he was consistently penalised for infringements at the ruck, but the England lock is one of the best players in the world when he is on form and can regain that form if he sorts out his discipline issues.

Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson were two of Ireland’s best players in this year’s Six Nations and have carried that form into the club rugby season with their provinces. Both men can also play in the back row, which will give Gatland some breathing space in what promises to be an attritional tour.

James Ryan hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby as of late due to a couple of head injuries, but is an extremely consistent player with no obvious weaknesses in his game.

Back row

Josh Navidi, CJ Stander, Hamish Watson, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds and Taulupe Faletau.

As always, competition in the back row is fierce, with plenty of excellent players missing out on the cut. Taulupe Faletau, Hamish Watson and Tom Curry were somewhat easy choices based on their recent form, but the remainder came down to the wire.

We’ve gone with the somewhat unheralded Josh Navidi, who should prove to be a handful for the Springboks at the breakdown. The Welshman often does the dirty work for his team but always has a positive impact on his side’s overall performance.

International outcast Sam Simmonds deserves to go based on his try-scoring exploits for Exeter Chiefs, despite not having played for his country since 2018.

While CJ Stander will hang up his boots at the end of the season, the South African-born back rower is in top form, and will bring the physicality and work rate which will be needed to temper the Springboks.

Half-backs

Conor Murray, Gareth Davies, Danny Care, Johnny Sexton, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell.

The competition at scrum half is probably the weakest of any position in the squad, as no number nine truly stood out above the rest in this year’s Six Nations (apart from France’s Antoine Dupont of course).

Conor Murray and Gareth Davies have been consistent performers for their countries, and are both reliable picks to tour with the Lions this summer. Danny Care on the other hand, is an outside choice but the Englishman has been playing with plenty of freedom for Harlequins lately and could tear it up for the Lions in the midweek games.

At fly-half, Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton have excelled for their countries in recent times, although the Ireland captain’s injuries may come as a concern in what should prove to be a physically challenging tour.

Finn Russell isn’t exactly what Gatland normally looks for in a number 10, but the Scot offers something very different than the other fly-halves and can carve open the opposition at will when he is on form.

Centres

Robbie Henshaw, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Davies and Garry Ringrose.

Robbie Henshaw is the obvious first choice at centre, after a string of brilliant performances for both Ireland and Leinster in which he excelled in both attack and defence.

We’ve gone with England captain Owen Farrell as a centre rather than a fly-half, on account of the lack of depth in the position at the present moment.

Lions

In-form Wales star George North has been ruled out due to an ACL injury, while Manu Tuilagi hasn’t played since September due to an ankle injury.

Scotland’s Chris Harris has been in fine form recently, but the Gloucester centre is mostly a defensive player, something which won’t be urgently needed with likely Lions starter Henshaw.

Jonathan Davies and Garry Ringrose will offer plenty in attack, and have shown on countless occasions in the past their ability to perform in big games.

Back three

Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Duhan van der Merwe, Liam Williams and Stuart Hogg.

Young Wales winger Louis Rees-Zammit was an easy choice after an extraordinary first Six Nations campaign, as was influential Scotland captain Stuart Hogg.

Anthony Watson was one of England’s best players in a disappointing Six Nations, and looks set to reclaim his starting spot on the wing which he held down in all three tests against the All Blacks four years ago.

Lions

Jonny May hasn’t been at his best recently but on his day he is one of the most gifted attacking players in the world, and has the speed to rival even some of the Springboks’ flyers.

Duhan van der Merwe has burst onto the international scene since making his Scotland debut last year and will bring plenty of power against the most physical side in world rugby.

Liam Williams may currently be behind Hogg in the fullback pecking order, but the Welshman isn’t far from the form that saw him start for the Lions in New Zealand four years ago.

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