Lions Squad Predictions 2021

I'm sure you probably fed up of reading these now? However, there is that morbid curiosity constantly bringing you back to posts such as these, that inescapable urge to disagree with Celtic compatriot's on who they think would do a job down in Cape Town. Well, we feed off of that urge like the lowly bottom-feeders that we are, sipping from the tears of frustrated Rugby fans that we've accumulated over the last six months reviewing controversial international matches. To give the article some semblance of relativity, we will be comparing and contrasting our picks with who we believe Gatland will pick in May. Enjoy... Or don't, that won't stop this article from popping up in your feed an unnecessary amount of times.

Our L H Prop's: Gatland's L H Prop's:

Wyn Jones Wyn Jones

Mako Vunipola Mako Vunipola

Joe Marler Rory Sutherland

Our Hooker's: Gatland's Hooker's:

Ken Owens Ken Owens

Luke Cowan Dickie Luke Cowan Dickie

Jamie George Jamie George

Our T H Prop's: Gatland's T H Prop's:

Tadhg Furlong Tadhg Furlong

Kyle Sinckler Kyle Sinckler

Tomas Francis Tomas Francis

Our Locks: Gatland's Locks:

Maro Itoje Maro Itoje

Iain Henderson James Ryan

Alun Wyn Jones Alun Wyn Jones

Joe Launchbury* Iain Henderson

Our Flankers: Gatland's Flankers:

Tom Curry Tom Curry

Tadhg Beirne Courtney Lawes

Justin Tipuric Justin Tipuric

Sam Underhill Sam Underhill

Hamish Watson Hamish Watson

Our Number 8's: Gatland's Number 8's:

CJ Stander CJ Stander

Jack Conan Billy Vunipola

Taulupe Faletau Taulupe Faletau

Our Scrum Halves: Gatland's Scrum Halves:

Gareth Davies Gareth Davies

Danny Care Conor Murray

Ali Price Ali Price

Our Fly Halves: Gatland's Fly Halves:

Dan Biggar Dan Biggar

Finn Russell Finn Russell

Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton

Our Centres: Gatland's Centres:

Robbie Henshaw Robbie Henshaw

Owen Farrell Owen Farrell

Jonathan Davies Jonathan Davies

George North George North

Chris Harris Chris Harris

Henry Slade Henry Slade

Our Wingers: Gatland's Wingers:

Louis Rees-Zammit Louis Rees-Zammit

Jack Nowell Jack Nowell

Duhan V D Merwe Duhan V D Merwe

Keith Earls Josh Adams

Our Full Backs: Gatland's Full Backs:

Stuart Hogg Stuart Hogg

Liam Williams Liam Williams

Anthony Watson Anthony Watson

Our Starting Team: Gatland's Stating Team:

Wyn Jones Wyn Jones

Luke Cowan-Dickie Jamie George

Tadhg Furlong Tadhg Furlong

Maro Itoje (c) Maro Itoje

Iain Henderson Alun Wyn Jones (c)

Tadhg Beirne Tom Curry

Justin Tipuric Justin Tipuric

Taulupe Faletau Taulupe Faletau

Gareth Davies Conor Murray

Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton

Louis Rees-Zammit Liam Williams

Robbie Henshaw Owen Farrell

George North George North

Jack Nowell Jack Nowell

Stuart Hogg Stuart Hogg

Our Sub Bench: Gatland's Sub Bench:

Joe Marler Mako Vunipola

Ken Owens Ken Owens

Kyle Sinckler Kyle Sinckler

Joe Launchbury Courtney Lawes

Hamish Watson CJ Stander

Danny Care Gareth Davies

Anthony Watson Anthony Watson

As you can clearly see, not much difference between the two sides! The obvious differences would be based around our choice to exclude James Ryan, Courtney Lawes and Josh Adams from the tour and I can explain the reason why for each one. Ryan, although a future leader who's performing fantastically well domestically, I feel doesn't match up to the mere bulk of an absolute tank like Henderson. Henderson is a beast around the park, and when matching up against 120kg - 130kg Lock's, I just feel Ryan and Itoje would be a little too lightweight. Lawes I feel hasn't had nearly enough game time to really prove his worth back into that side; with so many outstanding Lock's available, it would be a disservice to their season if unavailable... However, if Launchbury's injury from the weekend is long term, I would probably pick Lawes over Ryan for his tactical versatility. Adam's is a very, very narrow miss, but I think Earl's sheer experience and level headedness might be incredibly important for what is a fairly youthful and inexperienced back three. I doubt he would be near the starting set up, but if this Six Nations proved anything, he is clearly an underrated talisman who can put a shift in against a multitude of Wing stereotypes.

Other noted differences are based around our approaches to the starting line-up, a line-up that looks very different despite the squads being so similar. I think Gatland really likes George, and to be honest, outside of a poor Six Nations campaign, George has been one of the standout Hookers over the past half decade; he also included him last tour despite not being a fixture for England at that point. I chose Cowan-Dickie for his sheer aggression and physical presence; a real counter-mauler who's deadly around the fringes. Another difference is at Second Row, in which I reluctantly left Alun Wyn Jones out... Why? Well as good as a captain that he clearly is, I just believe he might be a little undersized for these enormous South Africans. It's certainly incredibly risky putting the captaincy on Itoje, but if rumours and previous interviews are true, his leadership skills were much called upon last tour when Warburton suffered a couple of injury set backs. If there was ever a time for Itoje to truly live up to his potential as 'Future England and Lions Legend' then now would be the time to do so.

In the back row, I thought the added bulk of another Second Rower like Beirne really suits this Lions setup. He showcased against England how a man of his stature who can jackal and carry, can really isolate the likes of Curry or Watson from really doing anything of impact. Against other behemoth's like Du Toit, I think we just need a nasty son of a gun in that back row. Picking Curry is also understandable, as his tenacity and blind pig-headedness with ball in hand is actually a real plus that England have started to utilise more effectively over the last year.

Despite not having a stellar Six Nations, I still think Davies edges the starting birth for me. Unfortunately this is an area I think South Africa could really exploit, with De Klerk being a far better option than anyone we have in the northern hemisphere. However, the inclusion of someone like Care, a real live wire with buckets of experience, on the bench might be enough to turn a tide if De Klerk starts running away with it. Despite my predictions of Gatland picking Conor Murray, I just think Murray is way too slow to compete both physically and defensively with someone like De Klerk.

I have LRZ and Jack Nowell on the Wing's and I think it's easy to see why. LRZ is currently the in form Winger in the Northern Hemisphere, destroying teams domestically and putting in a Player of Tournament shift internationally. Jack Nowell is very fresh from injury, but showed against Bristol last weekend why he is comfortably the best Winger in England. Gatland also likes Nowell and I think would rather risk a talent like that, than the declining form of Johnny May.

I also believe Gatland will pick William's on one wing to add some extra bulk into the back line and some back three support should Hogg need it. By doing so, it frees up a position on the bench for someone like Watson to slip in to 15; I really don't like Watson on the Wing but I think he's a necessary game changer to keep in the starting squad.

Bench wise, the game is impossible to predict as both Launchbury and Vunipola could easily fall out here; I do actually really rate Marler's chances of being included and I think his scrummaging prowess might be crucial in turning the tide if South Africa get the shove on. I also like having an explosive player like Watson on the bench in true 'Finisher' fashion. A bit of an unidentifiable commodity, he could really surprise tiring, lumbering South African forwards with his ball carrying ability.

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