2021 British and Irish Lions Tour: Predicting the 36-man squad

2021 British and Irish Lions Tour: Predicting the 36-man squad
Warren Gatland selected 41 players to tour New Zealand four years ago but his preparation for the tour to South Africa will be vastly different. The British and Irish Lions have a shorter tour to South Africa in terms of games which means that Gatland is set to take just 36 players to the Republic. 
Gatland has mentioned that he will have a select group of players on standby for the tour and may well call in reinforcements as he did in New Zealand. However, versatility will be a key factor when narrowing down the 50+ players who have been sent save-the-dates letters to just 36.
We have predicted that Gatland will pick a mixture of proven test pedigree while rewarding some players with their form. Gatland isn't shy to throw in a surprise or two in his squads and this year is unlikely to be any different. 
We predicted the 36 names which will be read out on Thursday for the 2021 British and Irish Lions touring squad announcement. 
6x PROPS: Wyn Jones,  Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler

It's unclear as to how many players Gatland will pick per position but he is likely to take at least six props, three on either side of the scrum. We have predicted that Andrew Porter will be named in the squad with his ability to play either side of the scrum playing a big part of his selection while he also did an excellent job while Tadhg Furlong was injured. Tadhg Furlong joins his fellow Irishman in the squad and looks to be the front runner for the starting tighthead role. Kyle Sinckler completes the options at tighthead.
The opposite side of the scrum is far more contested with the likes of Wyn Jones, Mako Vunipola, Rory Sutherland, Ellis Genge, Cian Healy and even Joe Marler all making strong claims for their inclusion. Mako Vunipola hasn't quite been in his best form but he may just have enough credit in the bank with Gatland to secure a spot along with the form loosehead from the Six Nations, Wyn Jones. The final spot on the loosehead side would likely come down to whether Joe Marler has made himself available for selection. Marler made himself unavailable for the Six Nations but his stellar form for Harlequins and his proven test pedigree may well see him edge the likes of Rory Sutherland and Ellis Genge. 
3x HOOKERS:  Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George
Two English hookers could well make the cut for the tour alongside Ken Owens. Owens is among the players being mentioned as a potential captain for the tour and could well take the role in a game against one of the invitational teams or the four franchises. Cowan-Dickie's form with Exeter and England should see claim a boarding pass to South Africa but at the expense of Irish hookers Rob Herring and Ronan Kelleher, who are both unlucky to miss out. The biggest question will be over the third hooker role as Jamie George, like many of his fellow Saracens and England teammates haven't quite been on top form for club or country. George is another player who could make the tour on his past performances and experience rather than his current form. 
4x LOCKS: James Ryan, Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson 
There are three front runners for the squad in the second row with Alun Wyn Jones widely tipped to lead the tourists. Maro Itoje and James Ryan look certain picks too while the final spot in the second row is far less predictable. Richie Gray looked to be forcing his way into the conversation but his form recently has dipped somewhat while Jack Ball, Cory Hill and Adam Beard have been consistently solid for Wales alongside Jones. Tadhg Beirne also made a strong case for selection during the Six Nations while George Kruis impressed before leaving to Japan but is unlikely to get a look in. We have predicted that the fourth spot in the second row will go to Ireland's Iain Henderson. A tourist in 2017, Henderson was in stellar form for Ireland during the Six Nations and captained his country during the tournament. 
7x BACK ROWERS: Tom Curry, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, CJ Stander, Sam Underhill, Hamish Watson, Courtney Lawes
Tom Curry had a somewhat indifferent Six Nations campaign but his recent performances for Sale Sharks will reaffirm his credentials. Justin Tipuric was likely one of the first names Gatland penned in his squad and fellow Welsh back-rower Tualupe Faletau certainly played his way into the squad during the Six Nations, if he wasn't already. One of the biggest calls could be whether Billy Vunipola makes the cut or not. We have predicted that CJ Stander will go instead of the English no.8. Gatland could stun some with the selection of two back-rowers who didn't feature throughout the Six Nations. Courtney Lawes could double up as a second row and blindside flanker over someone like Tadgh Beirne with Sam Underhill drafted in having recovered from injury that saw him miss the Six Nations. Finally, the Six Nations player of the championship looks to complete the back row options after a tournament that should be too good to ignore.
3x SCRUMHALVES: Conor Murray, Gareth Davies, Ali Price
Ben Youngs withdrawal from consideration for the tour will open the door for Ali Price to make the cut but there are plenty of players in the mix. Danny Care and Ben Spencer are rumoured to have received save-the-date letters for the tour while John Cooney may well be in the mix too. Conor Murray looks to be the front runner for the starting jersey with Gareth Davies likely to take a spot. Rhys Webb is working his way back to fitness and could also find a route into the squad.
3x FLYHALVES: Jonathan Sexton, Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell
We have predicted that Warren Gatland will upset Scotland supporters by not selecting Finn Russell. The big factor that could see Russell miss out is his goal kicking. Unfortunately for Russell, the starting flyhalf for the Lions will likely be the place-kicker too, unless Owen Farrell plays inside centre. Russell has misfiring from the tee during the Six Nations with Stuart Hogg even taking over the kicking duties - a compromise that Gatland may be unwilling to make. Russell also doesn't kick for Racing 92 with scrum-halves Teddy Iribaren and Maxime Machenaud kicking for the Parisian club. Dan Biggar's accuracy off the tee, ability under the high ball and excellent form should see him claim a place in the squad while Jonathan Sexton is likely to be backed for the tour despite his unfortunate run of injuries, much like 2013. These predictions might not be popular but that hasn't stopped Warren Gatland in the past.
5x MIDFIELDERS: Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies, Manu Tuilagi, Garry Ringrose, Chris Harris
George North looked certain to feature in his third British and Irish Lions tour and his injury has opened the door for Chris Harris. Henry Slade could be the unlucky centre to miss out along with Huw Jones, who certainly improved his chances during the Six Nations. 
Manu Tuilagi is working his way to full fitness and it's unlikely that Gatland excludes him from the touring squad. His ability to comfortably play 12 and 13 counts hugely in his favour and the potential partnerships with the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Chris Harris and Garry Ringrose are exciting. 
5x OUTSIDE BACKS: Anthony Watson, Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Elliot Daly
Watson, Hogg and Williams are all near certainties in the squad. All three players are in fine form of late and are all trusted by Gatland. There will be a number of tough calls in the back three as we have predicted that Gatland will leave the deadily trio of Duhan van der Merwe, Josh Adams and Jonny May out of the squad. Elliot Daly's long-range boot, which will come in handy on the highveld, and versatility could play a huge role on the tour. Finisher Louis Rees-Zammit could be the youngest player selected for the tour and his form definitely deserves an inclusion. 
Predicted British and Irish Lions Touring squad:
Wyn Jones, Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler
Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jamie George
James Ryan, Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson
Tom Curry, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, CJ Stander, Sam Underhill, Hamish Watson, Courtney Lawes
Conor Murray, Gareth Davies, Ali Price
Jonathan Sexton, Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell
Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Davies, Manu Tuilagi, Garry Ringrose, Chris Harris
Anthony Watson, Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Elliot Daly

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