Sir Ian McGeechan backs England lock Maro Itoje to lead the British & Irish Lions in the first Test against the Springboks in 2021.
As part of a feature for the Telegraph, McGeechan – who coached the Lions during two tours to South Africa in 1997 and 2009 and represented the team 1974 and 1977 – was among the men asked to pick a 41-man Lions squad for their tour to SA and further name a starting XV for the first Test against the Boks on 24 July next year.
McGeechan’s starting lineup includes seven England players who faced the Springboks in the 2019 World Cup final in Japan. The rest of the team is evenly balanced with three players each from Scotland and Wales and two players from Ireland.
Scotland star Stuart Hogg forms a back three with Anthony Watson and Liam Williams, while England’s Manu Tuilagi partners Jonathan Davies in midfield. A halfback partnership of Owen Farrell and Gareth Davies completes the backline.
Billy Vunipola and Tom Curry form the loose trio with Scotland’s Jamie Ritchie. The second row is made up of Itoje and Ireland’s James Ryan. England’s Jamie George is flanked by Irish tighthead Tadhg Furlong and Scottish loosehead Rory Sutherland.
‘When I look back at those wonderful tours to South Africa in 1997 and 2009 the thing that really stands out for me is the number of leaders I had in those squads and in the Test team,’ McGeechan said in the Telegraph. ‘They were everywhere.
‘In 1997 we had Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Keith Wood, Jason Leonard, Tim Rodber, Jerry Guscott, Neil Jenkins, Gregor Townsend, the list goes on. In 2009 Paul O’Connell, Phil Vickery, Alun Wyn Jones, Stephen Jones, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’Driscoll. You need leaders across the field. Players who will stand up and be counted.
‘My starting XV reflects that. Hogg at fullback, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, James Ryan, Jamie George. And Maro Itoje as captain. I think the Lions could really build a head of steam under him. He’s a winner and a natural leader. Three Scots in my starting XV might raise eyebrows – Gats only took two to New Zealand in total, as I did to South Africa in 2009 – but you couldn’t argue against any of them.
‘Scotland were in great form this year. And this exercise is ultimately about form right now. Plenty can, and will change over the next 12 months I’m sure. I don’t think I ever correctly predicted, at the beginning of any of my tours, the starting Test XV. It’s one reason why the challenge of the Lions is so unique and different. But I believe this team would pack a punch in South Africa.’
McGeechan’s British & Irish Lions starting XV: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 James Ryan, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rory Sutherland.
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