Itoje at flank in O’Driscoll’s Lions XV

Former British & Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll has named a starting lineup of players he would like to see face the Springboks in the opening Test of next year’s tour.

O’Driscoll – who captained the invitational team during their tour of New Zealand in 2005 – revealed his team during an interview with Irish radio show Off The Ball.

Similarly to both Will Greenwood and former Lions coach and player Ian McGeechan, O’Driscoll’s team is largely made up of English players who started in the 2019 World Cup against the Springboks.

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There are eight England players in total, with the rest of the team consisting of three Welshman and a couple each from Ireland and Scotland.

The major talking point is O’Driscoll’s selection of England’s Maro Itoje at blindside flank. Itoje has played most of his professional rugby at lock, but was influential as a loose forward in England’s defence of their Six Nations crown in 2017.

This could be an effort to replicate the Springboks’ successful conversion of 2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit from lock to blindside flank.

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‘The back row aside from Billy is very difficult,’ O’Driscoll explained. ‘I’m going to go from a size aspect and it makes another decision easier. I’m going to go with Maro Itoje at six. That size will matter, particularly against South Africa who we have seen decimate teams physically.

‘You look at Pieter-Steph du Toit playing at six, you have got to match him. Itoje is someone who is capable of doing that.’

There are four England players in O’Driscoll’s Lions backline, including captain Owen Farrell, who is named at flyhalf, replicating both Greenwood and McGeechan. Manu Tuilagi is shifted from his regular outside centre position to add some muscle at inside centre, perhaps to mirror how the Springboks often used Damian de Allende to crash the ball forward during the 2019 World Cup.

O’Driscoll’s British & Irish Lions XV – 15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Jonathan Davies (Wales), 12 Manu Tuilagi (England), 11 Jonny May (England), 10 Owen Farrell (England), 9 Tomos Williams (Wales), 8 Billy Vunipola (England), 7 Sam Underhill (England), 6 Maro Itoje (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), 4 James Ryan (Ireland), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Jamie George (England), 1 Rory Sutherland (Scotland).

ALSO READ: ‘Itoje is not ready to captain Lions’

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images