Exactly a week away from the first test between the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks, Off The Ball’s Saturday Panel looked at the potential starting line up for Warren Gatland’s side.
Former Lions from 1993 Nick Popplewell and Mick Galwey discussed their starting teams, with some similarities while they disagreed in other areas of the field.
Mick Galwey’s Lions test XV
Galwey believes that the arrival of Alun Wyn Jones in South Africa will throw a spanner in the works of the form previously seen on tour.
“What is really going to throw things up in the air is Alun Wyn Jones,” Galwey said. “He has to get a run, and if he is deemed fit, he probably will start.
“I really feel sorry for [Iain] Henderson, I thought he did really well. On Wednesday he kind of played like a fella that realised that Alun Wyn Jones was here, so from that point of view it was disappointing.”
For Galwey, though, the forward pack is quite predictable at this stage.
“The likes of Tadhg Furlong is a guarantee,” Galwey said. “My front row would be Wyn Jones, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong.
“Second row would be [Maro] Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones if he’s fit, if not Henderson will be there.
“The back row will be very interesting; from my point of view it is going to be huge. We saw in the midweek match what South Africa brings.
“Tadhg Beirne has done loads, you need a player like him, and I am a big fan of [Sam] Simmonds and Tom Curry.
“I don’t think Gatland will leave the Welsh forwards out of it, but if I was picking the back row, I would go with Beirne, Tom Curry and Sam Simmonds, and that in itself is going to cause debate.”
In the backline, although he was heavily criticised after the last match, Galwey chose Ireland’s stalwart scrum half, and discussed the backline that will play outside him.
While he is hoping for Dan Biggar to be fit, Galwey believes that the Lions do have an issue at outhalf.
“I’d definitely go with Conor Murray,” Galwey said. “Out half is an issue; it will be very interesting to see how Marcus Smith goes.
“In the centres, I hope Robbie Henshaw comes through today because he was the firm player coming into it.
“I’d have Bundee Aki with him. People might say that I have my Irish flag on here, but Aki and Henshaw, the way that they have played as a unit is phenomenal.
“The back three is going to be interesting. Stuart Hogg for me is the best fullback, Josh Adams is scoring all over the place, and on the other wing I am torn between Anthony Watson and Van der Merwe.
“I’d say probably Watson because he has the experience.”
Nick Popplewell’s Lions test XV
While he may not believe in the current form of every one of his selections, Popplewell believes that the likes of Ken Owens and Tadhg Furlong will definitely be starting in the forward pack for the Lions.
“I would have gone Wyn Jones, because I think he actually played very well and he scrummaged very well,” Popplewell said.
“I presumed with the Gatland relationship Ken Owens was on the teamsheet, and maybe [Luke] Cowan-Dickie coming on as a super sub.
“But I thought Owens was very poor; the decision making when they were facing 13 men to not choose the scrum was bonkers. Who made those decisions? Was that [Conor] Murray making the decisions or Ken Owens?”
Popplewell acknowledged that his selections are not based on players that he likes, but rather players that he feels will do the job.
“Itoje is what he is, I don’t particularly like him, but he is a great player,” Popplewell said.
“He will always give away a few penalties; the way he plays, he gives away penalties, but he gives you that little bit of an edge.
“If Wyn Jones is there, he is going to be picked. Courtney Lawes I think will start at six. Why? Because physicality full stop.
“I think Tom Curry is playing so well you can’t leave him out. I had also said Taulupe Faletau, but Simmonds is so bloody good.”
Like Galwey, Popplewell went with a Murray-Biggar partnership for his starting halfbacks, but differed for much of the rest of the backline.
“I think Murray, hopefully Biggar if he is fit,” Popplewell said. “It is going to be hard; Farrell looks out of sorts and Russell has got a knock.
“If Biggar is in trouble, Farrell at 10, jaysus that wouldn’t give me huge confidence.
“Then probably [Duhan] van der Merwe; defensively there are a few little issues there, but he is just so strong going forward.
“Twelve and 13, [Robbie] Henshaw and maybe Chris Harris, with Josh Adams and probably [Staurt] Hogg, with Liam Williams probably gutted not to be picked.”
Alun Wyn Jones
Ken Owens [Luke Cowan-Dickie]
Alun Wyn Jones
Taulupe Faletau/Sam Simmonds
Duhan van der Merwe
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