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Predicting the Lions squad for 2021 tour of South Africa: Who will Warren Gatland choose to tackle the Boks?

Warren Gatland
Who will Warren Gatland choose for the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa? Credit: getty images

Warren Gatland has been named head coach of the British and Irish Lions for a record third time and will lead the Lions on their 2021 tour to South Africa.

The 55-year-old Kiwi was also in charge for the previous two Lions trips. He oversaw victory in Australia in 2013 and a drawn series in New Zealand two years ago.

He is, without question, the most qualified man for the job. And so, with that in mind, thoughts now turn to who he might pick.

I have had a crack at selecting who I think he might choose, bearing in mind it is two years down the line and everyone will therefore be two years older. Will the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, who will be 35, and Jonathan Davies, who will be 33, make the cut?

Predicted 41-man Lions squad

(Age player will be in 2021, nationality)

PROP

Loosehead

Mako Vunipola (30, England)

He is arguably the best loosehead prop in world rugby and the guaranteed starter in the No 1 jersey.

Jack McGrath (31, Ireland)

Solid, dependable; the Irishman would be the perfect back-up to Vunipola. Gets in ahead of Cian Healy and Allan Dell.

Rob Evans (29, Wales)

If you were to create a Vunipola-McGrath hybrid, Rob Evans would be the result. The man for all occasions.

Tighthead

Tadhg Furlong (27, Ireland)

The starter at tighthead. It is incredible to think that he will only be 27 when the Lions tour South Africa.

Kyle Sinckler (28, England)

Sinckler's rate of improvement has been remarkable and by 2021 he will be entering his prime. The back-up to Furlong but could easily supplant the Irishman.

Tomos Francis (29, Wales)

The Welshman would initially travel as a mid-week player because this is a position where Gatland is spoiled for choice. Ireland's Andrew Porter and Scotland's Zander Fagerson will have to wait until 2025.

HOOKER

Jamie George (30, England)

The Englishman is getting better and better and is likely to be the first-choice hooker.

Stuart McInally (30, Scotland)

During the Six Nations he established himself as Scotland's starting hooker, and will only get better.

Niall Scannell (29, Ireland)

The Irishman has had to play second fiddle to Rory Best for so long. Now he has his chance. Wales' Ken Owens will be 34 in 2021. If the Lions tour was in 2019, he would be in.

LOCK

Maro Itoje (26, England)

Guaranteed starter. Works hard, plays hard and has just the right amount of attitude to get the under the skin of the Springboks.

Alun Wyn Jones (35, Wales)

I was temped to put Jonny Gray or Courtney Lawes in this slot, not even considering that Jones, who will be 35 in 2021, would come into contention. But then Gatland told the press at his unveiling that either the veteran Welshman or Owen Farrell will probably be his captain. So...

Alun Wyn Jones is a true Lions warrior Credit: afp

James Ryan (24, Ireland)

The Irishman will probably be the like-for-like swap for Itoje come replacements time. If Gatland's first-choice second-row pairing is Itoje and Jones, Ryan will be the Englishman's greatest challenger for that lock jersey.

George Kruis (31, England)

Mr Lineout. And the understudy to Jones. At 35, though, Jones is unlikely to go the distance so Kruis, a master lineout technician, can expect Test game time.

Cory Hill (29, Wales)

This slot is a straight shoot-out between two Welshmen, Hill and Adam Beard, and Hill's athleticism edges it.

BACK ROW

Josh Navidi (30, Wales)

Burst onto the international scene and hasn't looked back. His all-action style of play at blindside provides vital tempo.

Peter O'Mahony (31, Ireland)

A total warrior. And what a player to have in your side. He would put his body on the line for the cause and seemingly doesn't know the meaning of pain.

Peter O'Mahony (right) has Lions experience Credit: getty images

Tom Curry (23, England)

Rapidly turning into a truly world-class openside. Pips his international team-mate Sam Underhill to this Lions spot. Like O'Mahony, he isn't afraid to put this face where it hurts.

Hamish Watson (29, Scotland)

A proper scavenger. And when he builds up a head of steam he's like an unstoppable cannonball.

Ellis Jenkins (28, Wales)

This is one of my wildcard selections. Tragically, Jenkins is currently out long-term with a serious knee injury, but his match-defining displays pre-injury still linger in the memory. He has two years to get back up to speed.

Billy Vunipola (28, England)

Starting No 8 for England. Starting No 8 for the Lions. He will relish going toe-to-toe with the Boks.

Taulupe Faletau (30, Wales)

The Welshman has endured a horrible run of injuries but, if fit, can be just as destructive as his cousin, Billy.

Taulupe Faletau in action against New Zealand Credit: getty images

SCRUM-HALF

Conor Murray (32, Ireland)

By the 2021 Lions tour, Murray will be entering the twilight of his playing career. But his tactical awareness and game-management experience will be crucial.

Gareth Davies (30, Wales)

Will probably dovetail with Murray for the starting No 9 jersey.

Ben Spencer (28, England)

A bit of a wildcard pick, but by 2021 the Saracens No 9 could very well be England's No 9, and his box-kicking is a potent weapon.

FLY-HALF

Owen Farrell (29, England)

With Johnny Sexton too old - he will be 35 and most probably retired - Farrell should be the starting No 10. And as we know, he can also play inside centre. Also captain material.

Finn Russell (28, Scotland)

A real box of tricks. The Lions will start with Farrell for his solidity, but can bring on Russell if they need a bit of magic.

Joey Carbery (25, Ireland)

By 2021, he will have stepped out of Sexton's shadow. Just squeezes in ahead of Dan Biggar and George Ford.

CENTRE

Robbie Henshaw (28, Ireland)

His previous Lions tour - to New Zealand - was curtailed by injury. The inside center's combination of size and pace is a potent mix.

Manu Tuilagi (30, England)

To take on South Africa you need to compete physically. You need a wrecking-ball option. Bundee Aki is a possibility, but even the giant Boks won't like Manu running at them.

Manu Tuilagi played for the Lions in 2013 Credit: getty images

Sam Johnson (28, Scotland)

A bit of a wildcard pick but Johnson has impressed for Scotland. If this was a Lions squad for 2019, 31-year-old Hadleigh Parkes would be in with a shout, but not in two years time.

Garry Ringrose (26, Ireland)

The Irishman has matured into a world-class outside centre and it is highly likely that the starting Lions centre combination will be an all-Ireland one.

Henry Slade (28, England)

He can play at inside centre, outside centre and, if needs be, fly-half, and this versatility could mean he guarantees himself a place on the bench at the very least.

Elliot Daly (28, England)

The final centre spot is a tough one. Right now Jonathan Davies would be a shoo-in, but he will be 33 in 2021. There is every chance he will still be playing well enough to merit selection, but for now I have gone with the versatile Englishman, who will be 28 come Lions year.

Elliot Daly representing the Lions Credit: getty images

WING

Jacob Stockdale (25, Ireland)

A try-scoring prodigy. Nailed on for the left-wing spot in the Test XV.

Jack Nowell (28, England)

The pocket-rocket. Nowell's physique makes him a nightmare for opposition defences - fast and hard to knock over. He can also play at centre and full-back.

Jonny May (31, England)

The speedster. And strong under the high ball. Chances are he will start on the opposite wing to Stockdale.

Joe Cokanasiga (23, England)

Currently full of potential. He has the pace of a back in a forward's body. If this can he honed in the next two years, the Springboks won't know what's hit them.

Josh Adams (26, Wales)

Fast and strong and fearless. Adams is the sort of player you could easily see start in the mid-week team and by the first Test be wearing the No 14 jersey.

FULL-BACK

Liam Williams (30, Wales)

What a player. Fast, strong, elusive and a total rock under the high ball. He is playing some of the best rugby of his career for Wales and Saracens and there is no reason he can't maintain this level in two years time. In pole position for the full-back jersey.

Stuart Hogg (29, Scotland)

This will be his third Lions trip, and on the 2021 tour he'll still only be 29. He could easily squeeze a fourth in. A sensational counter-attacking full-back.

Anthony Watson (27, England)

The final spot is a straight shoot-out between Watson, Leigh Halfpenny and George North, and it's Watson who gets the nod as he can cover wing and full-back equally well.

Who do you think Warren Gatland should choose for the 2021 Lions tour of South Africa? Let us know in the comments section below.