Simmonds set to be picked for Lions, with Jones named captain and some big names missing out


Alun Wyn Jones will be unveiled as the 2021 Lions captain at lunchtime on Thursday and then players around Britain and Ireland will discover if they have made the cut for the tour of South Africa.

Head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants held a final selection meeting on Wednesday and faced several agonising decisions.

While all the indications were that Exeter No 8 Sam Simmonds has a good chance of being picked despite his England exile, some big names will miss out on a place in the chosen 36.

Sportsmail assesses the selection scenario in each area and predicts what the coaches will have decided . . .

Exeter No 8 Sam Simmonds has a good chance of being picked despite his England exile

Exeter No 8 Sam Simmonds has a good chance of being picked despite his England exile

Back three

So many pedigree options but George North’s injury may have opened the door to giant South Africa-born Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe, following his Six Nations exploits.

Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson and Liam Williams are certainties, while Wales’ rookie sensation Louis Rees-Zammit has emerged as a likely inclusion.

If Jack Nowell had not spent so long injured he would have been a contender but the final place may go to Welsh finisher Josh Adams.

Prediction: J Adams (Wal), S Hogg (Sco), L Rees-Zammit (Wal), D Van der Merwe (Sco), A Watson (Eng), L Williams (Wal).

Centres

If England captain Owen Farrell is regarded as an inside centre option, it leaves four more midfield slots up for grabs. 

Jonathan Davies is a decorated Lion and a Gatland favourite so he will be picked, as will Robbie Henshaw based on supreme form for Ireland. 

Alun Wyn Jones will be unveiled as the 2021 Lions captain at lunchtime on Thursday

Alun Wyn Jones will be unveiled as the 2021 Lions captain at lunchtime on Thursday

Garry Ringrose is a lethal runner at his best, but Henry Slade’s left-footed kicking is a trump card. 

Manu Tuilagi has been out of action for months but the Lions coaches will be keen to use his gainline-busting power.

Prediction: J Davies (Wal), O Farrell (Eng), R Henshaw (Ire), H Slade (Eng), M Tuilagi (Eng).

Half-backs

The scenario here is complex. Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar are the only shoo-ins. 

It’s surely between Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell for the other No 10 spot — there are concerns over the former’s physical resilience and the latter’s temperament. Russell could shade it. 

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton (above) could be one of the big names to miss out

Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton (above) could be one of the big names to miss out 

Gareth Davies is perhaps next in line at scrum-half behind Murray, while Danny Care’s purple patch for Harlequins may have pushed him ahead of Ali Price.

Prediction: D Biggar (Wal), D Care (Eng), G Davies (Wal), C Murray (Ire), F Russell (Sco).

Props

The fog is clearing, at least at loosehead. 

England pair Joe Marler and Ellis Genge have not been contacted as tour contenders, while Scotland’s Rory Sutherland is injured. 

: Scotland's Finn Russell could get the nod for the tour despite concerns over his temperament

: Scotland’s Finn Russell could get the nod for the tour despite concerns over his temperament

By a process of elimination, Wyn Jones of Wales is set to be joined by Cian Healy and Mako Vunipola.

At tighthead, it is Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler plus one — most likely Tomas Francis, Zander Fagerson or Andrew Porter.

Prediction: T Furlong (Ire), C Healy (Ire), W Jones (Wal), A Porter (Ire), K Sinckler (Eng), M Vunipola (Eng).

Hookers

Ken Owens was a mainstay of Wales’ Six Nations title triumph and is highly regarded by Gatland as a leader, so he will be named. 

Jamie George may have lost his England starting place recently but his feats on the 2017 tour will surely mean he has enough credit in the bank to be chosen.

Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie has the power and tear-away streak to be selected ahead of Irish pair Rob Herring and Ronan Kelleher.

Prediction: L Cowan-Dickie (Eng), J George (Eng), K Owens (Wal).

Locks

Given that some of the leading second rows can also operate at blindside flanker, there should be five of them — especially as South Africa may reprise their ‘bomb squad’ policy of deploying a full tight five on the bench in the Tests. 

Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje are the familiar pair from 2017, while Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne is another certainty. Iain Henderson and Jonny Gray would be form choices.

Prediction: T Beirne (Ire), J Gray (Sco), I Henderson (Ire), M Itoje (Eng), AW Jones (Wal, captain).

Back row

Astonishing riches here. The Lions could field three or four world-class units. As Itoje, Beirne and Henderson can all play at blindside, the onus will be on having more out-and-out opensides and No 8s.

Taulupe Faletau and Tom Curry are not only squad certainties, it will be a shock if they don’t start in the Tests.

Head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants held a final selection meeting on Wednesday

Head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants held a final selection meeting on Wednesday

Gatland values the tough, grafting, versatile Josh Navidi and Sam Underhill is capable of repelling giant Springbok carriers.

With an emphasis on physical clout, it may come down to one or other of Justin Tipuric and Hamish Watson, with the Welshman the more likely to go. And if Simmonds does make the cut, it could mean incumbent England No 8 Billy Vunipola does not.

Prediction: T Curry (Eng), T Faletau (Wal), J Navidi (Wal), S Simmonds (Eng), J Tipuric (Wal), S Underhill (Eng).

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