By Paul Jones
Warren Gatland believes he has picked a British & Irish Lions squad that can go to South Africa and beat the world champion Springboks this summer.
The former Wales head coach will complete a clean-sweep of southern hemisphere tours as the head coach of the Lions when he follows on from his success in winning the series in Australia in 2013 and drawing in New Zealand four years ago with the trip to South Africa.
Gatland today named a 37-man touring party for the Castle Lager Series and once again his first pick was a Welsh captain for the third successive tour.
Sam Warburton was the man in charge in 2013 and 2017 and the leader of the Lions pride this time will be the world’s most capped player, Alun Wyn Jones.
“When I rang him and asked him he was pretty honoured to be able to accept it. It’s great recognition for someone who is going on his fourth Lions Tour and he should be really proud of this selection,” said Gatland.
“But there’s also the caveat and the conversation that, ‘Your form needs to be good enough to be selected in the Test side’. There’s no one better to have that conversation with than Alun Wyn.
“He fully understands how much competition there is in that second row and that if someone is playing better than him, he could be on the bench or someone else might captain the Test series.
“We’re going to need other leaders and we’re going to need someone else to captain games that he’s not involved in.
“He’s a player that leads from the front, sets a great example in training and has a huge amount of respect. He’s been there, done that and is a world record-holder in terms of Test caps.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with him for a number of years. He was the only player in the Welsh squad who was there before me, so he’s got a huge amount of experience.
“In the last few years he’s done an incredible job in terms of leading Wales. He has captained a Lions team in the third Test in 2013, which was a pretty good performance, and picking someone who comes from a team that’s won the Six Nations was a relatively easy decision.”
There are 10 Welshmen in the 37-man squad and while the captain will be making his fourth trip, there are third tours for back row men Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau and back-to-back honours for Dan Biggar, Liam Williams and Ken Owens.
Just as Lewis Jones was the youngest player on the 1950 Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia, and Leigh Halfpenny was in South Africa in 2009, Louis Rees-Zammit will be the baby in the tour party at just 20.
One of his key tasks on tour as the youngster squad member will be to carry the Lions mascot, ‘Bil’, and ensure its safekeeping.
Gareth Davies finally gets the chance to play for the Lions after being called up as a training reserve in New Zealand in 2017. The other newcomers are Scarlets prop Wyn Jones and Cardiff Blues wing Josh Adams.
“Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in,” admitted Gatland.
“Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position. We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make.
“However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month’s time to start our preparation to take on the World Champions. We’ve left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.
“Being selected for a Lions Tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named. We believe we’ve picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa.”
Before heading to South Africa the Lions will play a warm-up game against Japan in Edinburgh. Then they will play five matches before heading straight into a three match Test series.
2021 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS SQUAD
Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues / Wales)
Bundee Aki (Connacht / Ireland)
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints / Wales)
Elliot Daly (Saracens / England)
Gareth Davies (Scarlets / Wales)
Owen Farrell (Saracens / England)
Chris Harris (Gloucester / Scotland)
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster / Ireland)
Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs / Scotland)
Conor Murray (Munster / Ireland)
Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors / Scotland)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester / Wales)
Finn Russell (Racing 92 / Scotland)
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh / Scotland)
Anthony Watson (Bath / England)
Liam Williams (Scarlets / Wales)
Tadhg Beirne (Munster / Ireland)
Jack Conan (Leinster / Ireland)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs / England)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks / England)
Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors / Scotland)
Taulupe Faletau (Bath / Wales)
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster / Ireland)
Jamie George (Saracens / England)
Iain Henderson (Ulster / Ireland)
Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs / England)
Maro Itoje (Saracens / England)
Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys / Wales – Captain)
Wyn Jones (Scarlets / Wales)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints / England)
Ken Owens (Scarlets / Wales)
Andrew Porter (Leinster / Ireland)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs / England)
Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh / Scotland)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys / Wales)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens / England)
Hamish Watson (Edinburgh / Scotland)