The Irish Times - Sports Weekend

Some predictabl­e picks but wise heads are needed to grind it out

- Johnny Watterson

A peek into Warren Gatland’s head and the view is of a pragmatist. Remember Brian O’Driscoll and the third Test in 2013. Eight years ago and Gatland hasn’t softened.

But Gatland still needs magicians as well as heavy lifters against a South African side not short on muscle and while there are many who don’t like the cut of Finn Russell, assistant Gregor Townsend does.

The question is whether Gatland wants a team to stop South Africa from winning or a Lions side that can beat them.

Wal e s wi n g e r Lo u i s Rees- Zammit has caught eyes a n d s c o r e d t r i e s . He’ s 20- years- old and a match winner, while Hugo Keenan played fullback in his first season and instantly owned it. Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe with eight tries in 10 Tests will be thinking he’s worth a ticket.

Because it’s a three Test series, the Lions need minds who are adaptable. That’s in the strike zone of Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Beirne and Andrew Porter who are also in form.

The conundrum is that players such as Garry Ringrose and James Ryan, who have potential to play on the Test side, are climbing their way back up after injury. Jacob Stockdale too, has he done enough this season?

Experience is central especially when South Africa bring pressure to the game. Owen Farrell as well as Johnny Sexton, whose ‘ A’ kicking game is unmatched but who’s still an injury concern, should travel.

Stuart Hogg, Alun Wyn Jones, Conor Murray and Maro Itoje, another versatile player and occasional penalty machine, but what an effective presence in the England pack. The Lions need wise heads and while they may be predictabl­e picks, they are trusted lieutenant­s and the only question is what form they can bring.

Props, they win matches don’t they? Ellis Genge, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, and Porter will be feeling it with Luke Cowan Dickie and maybe a Jamie George or Ronan Kelleher shift at hooker, Kelleher a dynamic force off the bench. His mobility and football skills should bring him into play.

The backrow is a riot of talent with England leading. Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Wales with Justin Tipuric and Scotland’s retro looking

Hamish Watson also demanding atten- tion.

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