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The British and Irish Lions Squad 2021

A week has passed since the big reveal, and it was certainly worth the wait. We now know the full list of British and Irish Lions players set to tour South Africa later this summer, and the announcement was undoubtedly full of shock omissions and surprise additions to say the least. 18 first time Lion’s tourists take their place amongst the 37-man squad, with rugby veteran Alun Wyn Jones taking centre stage as captain. Let’s take a deep dive into the squad and the controversies surrounding some of the selections made.

England’s poor Six Nations was always likely to cost one or two players a place in this squad, but Kyle Sinckler, Henry Slade, Jonny May and Billy Vunipola are huge names missing off the list. Sam Simmonds, who hasn’t played for his country in more than three years, has been chosen over Vunipola in the back row position, and although his selection is thoroughly deserved, it does feel like Warren Gatland is putting his two fingers up to Eddie Jones who has refused to give Simmonds the nod. Courtney Lawes, who has been out injured since February, got the call up and will playing alongside Maro Itoje and Exeter’s Jonny Hill in the second row. Even with Saracens now playing in the Championship, they still have 5 players in the touring squad, which is the most from any club side.

Eight Lions marks Ireland’s smallest contingent since the 2001 tour. Andrew Porter, Jack Conan and Bundee Aki are the most surprising names, while Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and James Ryan are easily the biggest omissions. With the absence of Manu Tuilagi, it is likely that Bundee Aki has been picked to play in the midfield to add the firepower that would otherwise have been missing, however it has, and will be argued that other names would have been more capable of taking on this role. Jonny Sexton made it onto both the 2013 and 2017 tours, but the Ireland captain has struggled to stay fit recently, and missed Leinster's last game out with concussion, thus Gatland has decided to go for more durable players at number 10 to take away with him.

Only two Scotland players made the initial Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand four years ago, but this time round that has quadrupled to 8, the largest number of Scots in a touring party since 1989. Wins away to Wales, England and France over the past seven months have clearly addressed Warren Gatland’s previously held fears about Scottish players’ ability to perform on the road and shows how big an impression Gregor Townsend has made on the Scottish team since taking over. Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell were always a shoo-in, having cemented their place during their successful Six Nations campaign, however Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price and Rory Sutherland were 50/50 calls. Now they’ve made the initial cut, they need to prove that they deserve their place on the pitch.

At 20 years 93 days old Louis Rees-Zammit becomes the youngest Lions player on day of selection in a touring party since Ireland's David Hewitt in 1959. Rees-Zammit joins 9 other Welsh players on the plane to South Africa, and if George North wasn’t missing through injury, it would likely have been 10. Centre Jonathan Davies, who was man of the series in New Zealand, is one of the notable names missing out, however it is clear that the midfield was one of the toughest positions to get into with other big names also absent. Cardiff Blues flanker Josh Navidi has also missed out on back-row selection with Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Jack Conan, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry and Hamish Watson preferred.

Warren Gatland says taking on the world champions will be a huge challenge. "It's not going to be easy," he said. "It's probably using the experience from the last tour. Back in 2009 we played pretty well in the lead-up but the physicality they brought to the first Test was something we weren't quite ready for. We came away thinking we'd done a pretty good job, restored some respect back into the jersey. But we were disappointed, we felt we could have drawn or even won." All the coaches have spoken about how balanced the squad is, and that is why certain players were chosen over others. It will be interesting to see which players make the starting XV and who has the biggest impact in South Africa, as to beat the Boks on their own turf will take some doing.

Gatland's side begin preparations for the tour with a warm-up game against Japan at Murrayfield on 26th June and then the team will train and play in a coronavirus bubble, with camps in Johannesburg and Cape Town. There are then 3 Tests against South Africa, on the 24th July, 31st July and 7th August and it is set to be a tour for the ages!


Forwards: Tadhg Beirne (IRE), Jack Conan (IRE), Luke Cowan Dickie (ENG), Tom Curry (ENG), Zander Fagerson (SCO), Taulupe Faletau (WAL), Tadhg Furlong (IRE), Jamie George (ENG), Iain Henderson (IRE), Jonny Hill (ENG), Maro Itoje (ENG), Alun Wyn Jones (WAL), Wyn Jones (WAL), Courtney Lawes (ENG), Ken Owens (WAL), Andrew Porter (IRE), Sam Simmonds (ENG), Rory Sutherland (SCO), Justin Tipuric (WAL), Mako Vunipola (ENG), Hamish Watson (SCO).

Backs: Josh Adams (WAL), Bundee Aki (IRE), Dan Biggar (WAL), Elliot Daly (ENG), Gareth Davies (WAL), Owen Farrell (ENG), Chris Harris (SCO), Robbie Henshaw (IRE), Stuart Hogg (SCO), Conor Murray (IRE), Ali Price (SCO), Louis Rees-Zammit (WAL), Finn Russell (SCO), Duhan van der Merwe (SCO), Anthony Watson (ENG), Liam Williams (WAL).

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