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Scrum V's starting Lions XV picks

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has some tough selection decisions ahead
Lions head coach Ian McGeechan has some tough selection decisions ahead

With an exciting Six Nations championship safely tucked away for another season, thoughts now turn to this summer's British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan will name the squad he will take into the world champions' backyard on Tuesday.

This year's crop will be looking to repeat the great series win in 1997 the last time the Lions visited, or perhaps emulate the legendary '74 side that finished their tour unbeaten.

Scrum V has asked some of its pundits and guests to put forward the starting Lions XV they think should take the field in the first Test with the Springboks in Durban on 20 June.

Our experts all agree that Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Wales' Alun Wyn Jones are the best lock pairing, while Lee Byrne is a constant at full-back.

Likewise Ireland's Grand Slam-winning captain Brian O'Driscoll is an ever-present at outside centre - with all but one of our pundits deciding BOD is the man to lead the Lions as well.

Do you agree with the selections? Discuss the Lions' chances and select your own starting XV.

MARK TAYLOR (2001 Lions tourist and former Wales captain)

Three main areas of contention for me were the wing, inside centre and back row.

MARK TAYLOR'S Lions XV
15 Lee Byrne
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll (c)
12 Gordon D'Arcy
11 Delon Armitage
10 Stephen Jones
9 Mike Phillips
1 Gethin Jenkins
2 Jerry Flannery
3 Adam Jones
4 Paul O'Connell
5 Alun Wyn Jones
6 Ryan Jones
7 David Wallace
8 Jamie Heaslip

Obviously, excluding Shane Williams is a massive call, but I felt that the form shown by England full-back Delon Armitage with his ability to play on the wing gave him the edge.

At inside centre, I rate a fully-fit Gavin Henson as the best in the world, but a lack of game time coupled with the success and experience of the Irish partnership sees Gordon D'Arcy getting my vote.

Back-row selection was also tight, as I feel Ryan Jones is at his best at number eight, but the form of the Irish forwards almost gave them a clean sweep.

As it is, Ryan gets the six shirt due to his leadership ability, which will be crucial in such a demanding tour.

STUART DAVIES (Former Wales back-row)

I've based my selection on form, reputation, inclusion of representatives of the four nations and having regard to likely tactics.

In respect of the latter I imagine that we won't want an arm-wrestle with the Boks and will want a high-tempo game.

STUART DAVIES' Lions XV
15 Lee Byrne
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll (c)
12 Riki Flutey
11 Shane Williams
10 Ronan O'Gara
9 Mike Phillips
1 Gethin Jenkins
2 Jerry Flannery
3 Euan Murray
4 Alun Wyn Jones
5 Paul O'Connell
6 David Wallace
7 Martyn Williams
8 Jamie Heaslip

With this in mind, the forwards are loaded with guys who are athletic ball handlers but who can also 'front-up'.

It's a tight one at outside-half since Ronan O'Gara and Stephen Jones are similar players.

Jones' better defensive ability just loses out to O'Gara's kicking game and his understanding with Brian O'Driscoll.

O'Gara apart, there's danger everywhere in the backline and his job will be to get the most out of them.

Mike Phillips' excellent game against Ireland gets him the nod at nine and Riki Flutey is the form horse at inside centre.

If I have a worry it's the potential collective defensive weakness of playing him with O'Gara.

O'Driscoll gets the captaincy on the back of a magnificent Six Nations for him and Ireland.

KINGSLEY JONES (Sale boss and former Wales captain)

Selecting a team is all about the balance, not just selecting the best XV individual players.

There are a number of other factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as the opposition's strengths and weaknesses.

I have selected both Gethin Jenkins and Andrew Sheridan in the front row - Gethin is better on the left than the right but he has to be in the team for his work-rate and all-round contribution.

KINGSLEY JONES' Lions XV
In BOD we trust: Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll is most pundits' pick to lead the Lions
15 Lee Byrne
14 Mark Cueto
13 Brian O'Driscoll (c)
12 Jamie Roberts
11 Shane Williams
10 Stephen Jones
9 Dwayne Peel
1 Andrew Sheridan
2 Jerry Flannery
3 Gethin Jenkins
4 Alun Wyn Jones
5 Paul O'Connell
6 Joe Worsley
7 Martyn Williams
8 Jamie Heaslip

There has been no stand-out tight-head on display in the Six Nations this year and this pair were simply the best two props in the tournament, and the South Africa scrum is not their biggest strength.

The Lions will need players who can go forward and Sheridan along with Jamie Roberts at inside centre will bring you that.

The hardest positions to select are in the back row; Ryan Jones and David Wallace are both great players, and Tom Croft gets better all the time.

But I have picked a creative back-row with Jamie Heaslip and Martyn Williams, and Joe Worsley there for his physicality and defence.

At scrum-half, Dwayne Peel can bring a tempo to the game that will be required to move a big and physical Boks team around.

I have picked Brian O'Driscoll as captain with Roberts playing alongside him. Gordon D'Arcy or Gavin Henson could easily push Jamie out, but Roberts gets selection for his size and power.

Others are obvious selections. I have picked three Sale Sharks players, Mark Cueto being the third.

Tommy Bowe has had a good tournament, but Cueto is the most consistent and makes the least mistakes, and though not flashy always finds his way to the try line.

By the way, Charlie Hodgson should find his way on the trip too!

GARETH LLEWELLYN (Former Wales record caps holder)

I have selected a big, confrontational pack to stand up to the Springbok forwards.

Northampton and England hooker Dylan Hartley is my surprise selection, as there were no real stand-out performances in that position this year.

GARETH LLEWELLYN'S Lions XV
15 Lee Byrne
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll (c)
12 Gavin Henson
11 Shane Williams
10 Stephen Jones
9 Dwayne Peel
1 Gethin Jenkins
2 Dylan Hartley
3 Adam Jones
4 Alun Wyn Jones
5 Paul O'Connell
6 Tom Croft
7 David Wallace
8 Ryan Jones

He is big, physical and aggressive, just what's needed in South Africa.

Adam Jones edges Euan Murray at tight-head, whilst Gethin Jenkins as the other prop and the two locks - Paul O'Connell and Alun Wyn Jones - are shoe-ins.

In the back row, David Wallace and Tom Croft will thrive on the hard pitches, while Ryan Jones just gets the nod over Jamie Heaslip at number eight.

Dwayne Peel's service at scrum-half will help release an attacking set of backs, while Stephen Jones has been the standout 10.

Gavin Henson just needs game time, while Brian O'Driscoll has been superb.

Ospreys pair Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams are proven finishers on the wing, and a fit Lee Byrne will hold off the challenge of Rob Kearney and Delon Armitage for the full-back spot.

LYN JONES (Former Wales flanker and ex-Ospreys coach)

The three qualities that are needed over and above standard requirements for international players are: speed, vision and skill under pressure.

LYN JONES' Lions XV
15 Lee Byrne
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll
12 Riki Flutey
11 Sean Lamont
10 Stephen Jones
9 Chris Cusiter
1 Gethin Jenkins
2 Jerry Flannery
3 Euan Murray
4 Alun Wyn Jones
5 Paul O'Connell
6 Joe Worsley
7 David Wallace
8 Ryan Jones (c)

Experienced players and coaches are critical to success for the Lions.

Apart from Sean Lamont on the wing, all the players have excelled during this season's Six Nations.

But Scotland are not the same side without the elder Lamont brother in their team.

However, Wales and Ireland have shown themselves to be the two outstanding sides during the last two Six Nations, each winning a Grand Slam.

Both nations have played with a skill and intensity that the four other nations in the tournament have failed to match, and deservedly dominate selection.



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see also
Cueto dreaming of Lions call-up
01 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Henson not fit for Lions - Davies
04 Apr 09 |  Ospreys
Four in frame for Lions captaincy
26 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions fears for injured star trio
28 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions abandon extended squad plan
15 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions must have unity - McGeechan
15 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Lions Watch - Pundits' verdict
24 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad selector
07 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union


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