Stephen Ferris gives Sky Sports his verdict on who has impressed, who has work to do and who could be a bolter for Warren Gatland’s squad, plus puts together a XV to tackle South Africa this summer
Stephen Ferris assess the Lions squad contenders and picks his XV to face South Africa
Former Ireland international and 2009 British & Irish Lions tourist Stephen Ferris assess how potential squad members are shaping up ahead of the tour to South Africa and names who he would pick to face the Springboks…
Who has impressed so far?
Stephen Ferris: Of course, I’m going to pick somebody Irish! But Iain Henderson has stood out. He’s been in and out with injury for the last year or so, his family circumstances have changed massively now he’s got a couple of kids and I think over the last couple of weeks he’s got settled.
He had to come on early in the Wales game, he looked completely out of breath after having a brilliant 40 minutes, and then all of a sudden he picked himself up over the last few weeks and against Scotland on Sunday he was monumental.
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He was brilliant particularly at the defensive line-outs, he was all over the place making big tackles and there were a couple of occasions in the match were he was counter-rucking a lot, getting himself back up off the floor and into the defensive line, ended up in the middle of a choke tackle and I think just his general work-rate is through the roof.
I don’t think he has the natural ability of Maro Itoje, the footballing ability of James Ryan or the leadership credentials of Alun Wyn Jones. But there is something about him which just ticks all of the boxes for being on a Lions tour.
He very quietly goes about his work, he’s not somebody who is going to be detrimental to the squad and if he doesn’t get selected for the team he will help everybody. He didn’t manage to get himself a Test place on the last tour, but we all remember the game he had against the Hurricanes on the last tour in 2017.
I know he got a yellow card in that game as well, but I think it will be on the horizon for him to get a Test place.
Who still has work to do?
SF: I think the scrum-half position is completely up in the air. Conor Murray could be there or thereabouts, but I’m not so sure. Jamison Gibson-Park, Ben Youngs, Gareth Davies – I’m not sure about any of them either.
I think that position is certainly up for grabs and maybe the last weekend of the Six Nations – I know France and Scotland still have a game to play as well – might be a great opportunity for some of those guys on the periphery to really try to knuckle down.
If Jamison Gibson-Park has another good game when Ireland play Engl and then I think he’s a certainty to be on the plane, but that starting jersey is still up for grabs.
Who could be a bolter?
SF: Somebody who has hardly played in this Six Nations is Courtney Lawes. He’s a big, powerful guy, he’s very good and he can play No. 6 as well, and I think against South Africa somebody like him could be very valuable.
Could Courtney Lawes make a push for a Lions place?
He gives you lots of options, he’d be very good to train against the opposition line-out and he’s got that wealth of experience as well. He’s probably someone everybody has forgotten about in an England jersey.
Will Connors was superb for Ireland again at the weekend too. He didn’t start the first couple of games, but he’s been brilliant since coming in and I thought him against Hamish Watson was a brilliant head-to-head.
They clashed a number of times and in my opinion Will Connors got the better of him seven out of 10 times in the game. He would have been looking for Irish honours this year and possibly not Lions honours, but he can certainly try to put in another good shift against England he’ll be in the reckoning.
Stephen Ferris’ Lions XV to face South Africa
15 Jacob Stockdale (Ireland); 14 Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), 13 George North (Wales), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Jonny May (England); 10 Owen Farrell (England, captain), 9 Conor Murray (Ireland); 1 Rory Sutherland (Scotland), 2 Jamie George (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 4 Maro Itoje (England, vice-captain), 5 James Ryan (Ireland), 6 Sam Underhill (England), 7 Tom Curry (England), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales).
Rory Sutherland gets in at prop in Stephen Ferris’ XV
When it came to putting this team together, I looked at consistency over the past 12 months instead of just picking right now on form. No. 1 would be Rory Sutherland, even though he didn’t have his best game against Ireland, Jamie George would be my hooker and Tadhg Furlong at tighthead, because we all know how good he was in 2017.
Maro Itoje would be in the second row alongside James Ryan, who I’ll go with ahead of Iain Henderson just because of the consistency. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry would be at six and seven respectively, and Taulupe Faletau gets the No. 8 shirt.
As much as he’s been written off for a long time, I’m going to go with Conor Murray at scrum-half and Owen Farrell at fly-half. I think the Lions are going to roll their sleeves up and go to the power game against South Africa, and with Farrell at No. 10 it gives you another option outside.
I think if Farrell is playing 10 I’d lean towards him as captain as well. He’s come in for a lot of criticism recently, but I think in general over the last couple of years he’s been pretty good. If it’s not him, it’s got to be somebody in the pack and then it’s either got to Itoje or Ryan.
Jonny May would be on one wing and Louis Rees-Zammit on the other. In the centres, it’s hard to look past George North at the moment at 13 and I’d go with Robbie Henshaw at 12, and I’d have Robbie Stockdale at full-back.