Saturday it all begins, the British & Irish Lions will take the field to face the World Cup winning Springboks in the 1st test of the series. The preparation is done and it is time for Warren Gatland to select his match day 23, an unenviable task as he sets about picking from the best of the best that the Northern Hemisphere has to offer.
The Lions have run rampant so far on their 2021 tour of South Africa, with the wingers in particular racking up a number of tries, none more so than Josh Adams. They have shown their intent to play an attacking brand of rugby and will rely on their superior preparation and match fitness to tire the Boks before looking to spread the ball and exploit what they hope will be a tiring defensive line.
Wednesdays clash between the SA "A" side and the B & I Lions showed what can happen if the Lions don't win the physical exchanges however, as they were drawn into a slog fest, going through multiple phases and failing to come up with a try. This will prove key in the balancing act that Gatland is required to perform in selecting his squad. He needs the big men he does select, to be able to dominate up front, in order for him to give his loose trio space to roam and his backs the ability to impose their pace out wide.
I don't think there has been a harder to select Lions squad as there are simply so many players on this tour that have shone and put their hands up. The biggest talking points for me, come in the loose trio and the back 3. Whilst Flyhalf is a contentious position, I don't expect Gatland to stray from Dan Biggar, if the player proves his fitness this week. Marcus Smith put in a stellar performance against the Stormers, but I doubt he'll make the test side after only joining the side a few days ago. Owen Farrell has failed to lay down a marker on this tour, but his experience and kicking ability nail him a spot in the 23, and if Biggar is unavailable, he should start at 10.
The return of Alun Wyn Jones, the most capped test player of all time, also poses a selection headache. Jones has been re-appointed as tour captain, but questions remain over his match fitness for test level rugby. I would be more concerned about this if the game was at altitude but I expect the ever reliable player, who simply will not go gently into that good night, to be the first name penciled in for Saturday.
Saturday is a mere few days away, Rassie and Warren can do all the talking they want to the media, what will ultimately count however, is who manages to win the tour. I believe Gatland will pick a very mobile side in the hope that the purportedly undercooked Boks tire in the latter stages, if their big forwards are dragged all over the park early on. So here is my starting Lions side, heading into the 1st test.
Alun Wyn Jones (c)
Duhan Van der Merwe