British & Irish Lions: Rugby Union Weekly squad selection summit – BBC News

Manu Tuilagi, Finn Russell and Josh Navidi
Manu Tuilagi, Finn Russell and Josh Navidi were all points of contention as Rugby Union Weekly attempted to pick their 36-man Lions squad
Date: Thursday, 6 May Time: 12:00 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

The aim was to discuss, reconsider, compromise and finally produce one definitive 36-man squad.

It didn’t work out like that.

Instead 2009 British and Irish Lion Ugo Monye and Rugby Union Weekly co-presenter Chris Jones agreed to disagree over their selections to tour South Africa this summer.

These are the controversial calls, left-field shouts and unreconcilable differences that made up their selection meeting on this week’s episode.

And for the real thing, join us from 11:45 BST on Thursday for live text coverage of the announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad and captain for 2021.

Back three

(differences in opinion marked in bold)

Ugo: Louis Rees-Zammit (Wal), Anthony Watson (Eng), Stuart Hogg (Sco), Liam Williams (Wal), Josh Adams (Wal), Jack Nowell (Eng)

Chris: Louis Rees-Zammit (Wal), Anthony Watson (Eng), Stuart Hogg (Sco), Liam Williams (Wal), Josh Adams (Wal), Jonny May (Eng)

Ugo: “I feel guilty about this pick. Jonny May was a world XV pick last year and not much has changed in 2021 apart from England and Gloucester struggling.

Jack Nowell
Nowell came off the bench in the second and third Tests in New Zealand four years ago

“Nowell has only played 100 minutes of rugby since the Premiership final in October as he comes back from injury, but Gatland loves him.

“Nowell is a good team player, a good squad man and, with his appetite for work and strength over the ball, he brings something different.”

Chris: “I think that Jonny May has come on so much as a player, you want him there. In November he scored that superb length of-the-field try against Ireland. You can’t tell me that much has changed.”

Centres

Ugo: Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Manu Tuilagi (Eng), Henry Slade (Eng), Garry Ringrose (Ire)

Chris: Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Jonathan Davies (Wal), Henry Slade (Eng), Garry Ringrose (Ire)

Ugo: “Tuilagi is only just coming back from a long-term injury but on his day he is one of the world’s best, a big point of difference and, against the world champions, that quality could be invaluable.”

Chris: “Part of me does want to select Tuilagi because there is a long time to prove fitness between the squad announcement on Thursday and the tour opener against the Stormers on 3 July.

“Without the injured George North as well, I realise I might be short of power in my midfield selection.

“But I think it would be a big gamble to pick a player who has suffered with injuries in the past and has been sidelined since September.”

Ugo: “You need to have Slade to give you a kicking option. Owen Farrell could, but if he is touring as a fly-half then then you need Slade to bring that dimension.”

Fly-half

Ugo: Dan Biggar (Wal), Owen Farrell (Eng), Marcus Smith (Eng)

Chris: Dan Biggar (Wal), Owen Farrell (Eng), Finn Russell (Sco)

Ugo: “People will be screaming at me for this, but if Biggar and Farrell are your Test fly-halves, your third fly-half has to be very different to the other two.

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith would be the first uncapped player to tour with the British and Irish Lions since Will Greenwood in 1997

“You need a third-choice 10 who accepts that role. Smith would be over the moon to tour, has energy and vitality that will reverberate around the squad and can be the fulcrum of the midweek side.

“People are free to agree, disagree, be angry, but that is the thinking.”

Chris: “In terms of a Lions squad that goes down well with Scotland fans, Finn Russell being overlooked for an uncapped Marcus Smith would go down like an unsavoury sandwich.

“I would be stunned if Russell doesn’t go.

“We have got to talk about the fact that neither of us are taking Johnny Sexton – a modern great, the Ireland captain, the starting 10 for the second and third Tests in New Zealand four years ago.

“My thinking is just about fitness and durability of a player who will turn 36 during the tour.

“He has had three failed head injury assessments since February.”

Scrum-half

Ugo: Conor Murray (Ire), Gareth Davies (Wal), Danny Care (Eng)

Chris: Conor Murray (Ire), Tomos Williams (Wal), Danny Care (Eng)

Ugo: “Faf de Klerk is a real heartbeat for South Africa, and Gareth Davies is a physical, energetic nine who can get at his opposite number.

“I think he would be an unbelievable match-up to take on De Klerk.

Chris: “With [co-presenter of Rugby Union Weekly] Danny, I don’t think it is blind faith in a pal. There are legitimate reasons why he gets on the plane: he offers something different off the bench, he’s in good form, he’s in a good place mentally, he’s got loads of experience.

“He will also have the respect of the squad and be a good tourist. I don’t think that is a trite thing to mention in 2021. In this ‘bubble’ environment it is more important than ever.”

Loose-head prop

Ugo: Wyn Jones (Wal), Mako Vunipola (Eng), Cian Healy (Ire)

Chris: Wyn Jones (Wal), Mako Vunipola (Eng), Rory Sutherland (Sco)

Chris: “Sutherland is around four weeks away from fitness with a shoulder injury. If he can prove his fitness, I would take him. If not, I’d take Healy.

Rory Sutherland
Sutherland is one of those hoping to increase Scotland’s representation after only two of his countrymen made the initial squad in 2017

“I think with Jones, Vunipola and Healy (29, 30 and 33 respectively) you are short a little bit of dynamism and that trio are ticking up in terms of age compared to 27-year-old Sutherland.”

Hooker:

Both: Luke Cowan Dickie (Eng), Jamie George (Eng), Ken Owens (Wal)

Tight-head prop

Both: Kyle Sinckler (Eng), Tadhg Furlong (Ire), Zander Fagerson (Sco)

Second row

Both: Maro Itoje (Eng), James Ryan (Ire), Alun Wyn Jones (Wal), Tadhg Beirne (Ire)

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Flanker

Ugo: Tom Curry (Eng), Hamish Watson (Sco), Justin Tipuric (Wal), Aaron Wainwright (Wal), Jamie Ritchie (Sco)

Chris: Tom Curry (Eng), Hamish Watson (Sco), Justin Tipuric (Wal), Josh Navidi (Wal), Sam Underhill (Eng)

Ugo: “I think Wainwright has a bit of X-factor. He could be world class. I like his match-up with Pieter-Steph du Toit and he brings extra height and a jumping option in the line-out as well.

Aaron Wainwright
Wainwright, seen here scoring against France in the quarter-final, was a key man for Wales in the 2019 World Cup, but has struggled for a regular starting place since

“Ritchie is just brilliant. Curry and Watson are two players in a particular mould but Ritchie is a different type of player as I look for balance and different ways of operating.”

Chris: “I don’t think that Wainwright has played enough at the highest level recently to go ahead of Navidi, who was in great form in the Six Nations.

“I thought Jamie Ritchie was terrific in the Six Nations, especially in that win away against France on the final day. I really like him, but I wouldn’t be comfortable boarding that plane without Underhill.

“I think against South Africa, you need Underhill to be chopping down those big runners.”

Number eight

Ugo: Taulupe Faletau (Wal), Sam Simmonds (Eng)

Chris: Taulupe Faletau (Wal), Billy Vunipola (Eng)

Ugo: “I don’t think either the Lions or South Africa have a player like Simmonds. He changes the dynamic of how you play. He is lightning quick. I would love to see him in a fresh pair of mouldies on a hard track in South Africa.

“He is a dangerous guy, a point of difference.

26 June Japan (Murrayfield, Edinburgh)
3 July Stormers
7 July South Africa Invitational
10 July Sharks
14 July South Africa A
17 July Bulls
24 July South Africa
31 July South Africa
7 August South Africa

“As good a player as Vunipola is, in the last 18 months or two years, against big physical packs, he hasn’t done the things we know he can.”

Chris: “I think you go to South Africa without Vunipola’s power at your peril.

“We probably have not seen a fully rampaging, barnstorming Vunipola for a while, so he is my reputation pick.

“I am not saying he has to be a Test starter, but I want him as an option.”

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