The Lions Test XV Warren Gatland should now pick: Pundits and writers make selection

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The shadow boxing is over and eyes turn to the real business of the Lions Tests in South Africa this week.

Lions coach Warren Gatland will mull over his options in the coming days before naming his XV on Thursday for the opener with the world champions at the weekend.

It will be a fascinating selection, with so many positions up for grabs.

Indeed, it is thought only four Lions players are absolutely nailed on to play in the game – Anthony Watson somewhere in the back three and Tadgh Furlong, Maro Itoje and Tadgh Beirne among the forwards.

READ MORE:Why that quartet are the only Lions guaranteed Test places

Every other position is still up for grabs, albeit some players – like Tom Curry, Conor Murray, Dan Biggar and Josh Adams – would appear to have an early edge over their rivals.

But which team will give the Lions the best hope of victory over the Springboks?

Our writers – including big-name columnists – have their say.

Ben James – I sense a surprise at scrum-half

Has it ever been harder to pick a Lions XV?

Heading into the Test week, there are so many spaces up for grabs.

Return to play protocol permitting, Liam Williams looks the likely full-back given the lack of minutes Stuart Hogg has seen, while Josh Adams and Anthony Watson are the front-runners for wing spots.

In midfield, Robbie Henshaw is thought highly of by Gatland despite his lack of minutes and, as tempting as it is to throw Owen Farrell in there at 12, I expect the Irishman to partner Chris Harris in the centre – although I wouldn’t be surprised if Elliot Daly was picked to start in what is clearly his best position; outside centre.

Dan Biggar should be the fly-half, while I think Ali Price might just have snuck in to steal the scrum-half spot with neither Conor Murray or Gareth Davies impressing.

In the front-row, Wyn Jones and Tadhg Furlong are my props, while Luke Cowan-Dickie is the sort of contact-seeking ball-carrier you want in South Africa. The only concern is that Gatland will see him as more of an impact player.

I’m on the fence about Alun Wyn Jones coming back in, with Iain Henderson a superb player who simply deserves a Test appearance and Adam Beard also worthy of a spot, but Gatland brought the Wales captain out for reason so I see him starting.

In the back-row, I think Tom Curry gets the nod over Hamish Watson and Tadhg Beirne and Taulupe Faletau are the perfect players to suit how Gatland wants to play.

Ben James’ Lions XV: Williams; Watson, Harris, Henshaw, Adams; Biggar, Price; W Jones, Cowan-Dickie, Furlong, Itoje, AW Jones, Beirne, Curry, Faletau.

Simon Thomas – The late call-up who has forced his way into the mix

There was strong criticism and even outright derision in some quarters when Adam Beard was called up to the Lions squad following the shoulder dislocation suffered by fellow Osprey Alun Wyn Jones.

That reaction was unfair and ill considered given Beard’s international track record and those who made the comments are now looking pretty foolish.

Not only has the 25-year-old emphatically proved the doubters wrong with his performances on tour, he has put himself firmly in the mix for Test selection.

He is made for the challenge of taking on the Springboks, with his size and his ability to swim across their lineout mauls, causing disruption and disarray.

In addition, he offers the ball-handling ability Gatland wants from his front five, as demonstrated by his long miss pass ahead of his own try against the Stormers on the weekend.

Along with Maro Itoje, he has been the outstanding lock on tour and with Alun Wyn only just back in action, I would start Beard in the first Test, with loosehead Wyn Jones another Welsh unsung hero to have made a big case for selection.

Simon Thomas’ XV: Williams; Watson, Harris, Aki, Adams; Biggar, Price; W Jones, Cowan-Dickie, Furlong, Itoje, Beard, Beirne, Curry, Faletau.

Gwyn Jones – Too risky for Alun Wyn?

Warren Gatland will have to come up with a plan aimed at subduing Faf de Klerk’s influence on the game; the Lions must get him on the floor, tie him into rucks and make him tackle lots of runners to reduce his effectiveness.

Conor Murray’s form is shaky, he doesn’t pose a physical threat to the fringe defenders and his leadership lacks authority and presence when interacting with the referee.

He kicks to the box well enough but I’m struggling to see what else he is offering at the moment. Unfortunately, the other scrum-halves haven’t grasped their opportunities either, leaving Murray in the box seat.

Gatland must have a good idea of who his starting line-up will be, I suspect he has known the majority of that side for months but injuries and current form will have coloured his thinking in a few positions that were left open.

Alun Wyn Jones’ recovery from a dislocated shoulder is difficult to comprehend and is further evidence of what a remarkable man he is, but I think including him in the first Test is too much of a risk for me.

Gwyn’s Lions XV: Williams, Watson, Daly, Henshaw, Adams; Biggar, Murray; W Jones, Owens, Furlong, Itoje, Henderson, Lawes, Curry, Faletau.

Who is in your Lions team? Make your selection now

Graham Price – Pack picks itself

There are areas of concern – and plus points – for Gatland to ponder as he prepares to pick his team.

The Springboks are a little ring rusty, lack match fitness, but will be typical South Africa – physical, strong driving lineout, effective with the pick and carries.

You don’t choose a 37-year-old Morne Steyn at fly-half if you’re going to play an expansive game.

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They’ll kick the leather off the ball in the Tests and it will be up to Gatland to devise a game plan, and pick a team, capable of dealing with that.

As it happens I don’t think the Lions are too far off the mark with their tactics either, they just need to execute the plans better when the real business begins.

The pack has pretty much picked itself for a week. Other positions, like Stuart Hogg versus Liam Williams for full-back, Conor Murray or Ali Price at nine and the centre spots are up for grabs.

Pricey’s Lions XV: Williams; Watson, Henshaw, Aki, Adams; Biggar, Price; W Jones, George, Furlong, Itoje, AW Jones, Beirne, Curry, Faletau.

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