Brian O’Driscoll has had his say over what he believes is the strongest fifteen available to Lions coach Warren Gatland.
O’Driscoll, veteran of four tours and official captain of the 2005 tour of New Zealand, has been running the rule over the players available to Gatland as the Lions embark on a test series against the same opposition this summer.
Writing for Thomas Pink, official outfitters of the 2017 Lions tour, the Ireland legend has picked five of his compatriots for the lineup – sharing top billing with England – though he has omitted captain Rory Best as hooker.
He has, however, opted for Tadhg Furlong in an otherwise all-English front row. CJ Stander is in at blindside flanker, with the popular partnership of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton in at the scrum-half and out-half positions respectively.
Robbie Henshaw at outside centre completes the Irish contingent.
In Best’s place, meanwhile, O’Driscoll has opted for England’s Jamie George. The Saracens hooker has struggled to dislodge Dylan Hartley in the national setup but is widely believed to be higher up in Gatland’s thinking than Eddie Jones’.
Joining George in the front row is Mako Vunipola at loosehead prop, Maro Itoje in the second row, Mako’s brother Billy at number eight and Owen Farrell at inside centre.
O’Driscoll has also opted for four Wales players in his side, including strong favourite for the captaincy Sam Warburton. The former Leinster man has already given Warburton his full backing to lead the Lions for the second tour running (he will have seen the Cardiff Blues’ flanker’s credentials up close having been with him on the 2013 tour of Australia), and although Warburton is not even seen as a guaranteed starter by some, O’Driscoll has him right in there at openside.
Also in there is Alun Wyn Jones. The Ospreys lock was among the frontunners to be made Lions captain, especially once he succeeded Warburton as Wales captain just before the Six Nations, but an underwhelming campaign has seen his stock fall in that regard.
The remaining Welsh players are on either wing, with George North and Liam Williams filling the positions.
The one Scotland player in the fifteen, though widely regarded as a player with one of the most secure positions not only in the squad but as a starter, is Glasgow Warriors full-back Stuart Hogg.
Brian O’Driscoll is speaking on behalf of Thomas Pink – Official Outfitter of the British & Irish Lions.