The 2021 Lions tour of South Africa. Part 1. class v form.

Brought together from the four nations that make up the United Kingdom - Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland the Lions rugby team tours the southern hemisphere every four years matching our best players against theirs. Selection for a Lions tour is considered by many to be the highest accolade in northern hemisphere rugby.

A Lions series consists of matches against domestic sides in either Australia, New Zealand or South Africa followed by a 3-match series against the respective international sides. Historically, Lions test matches have included the greatest players to have played the game – Willie John McBride (Ireland), Gareth Edwards (Wales), Dan Carter (New Zealand) and David Campese (Australia). Team selection always gives rise to much debate. Everybody has a view, everyone has something to say. Class v form is a question that normally forms part of the discussion. Should the team manager select the players who have performed for their countries over the last few years (those who are said to have class) or should he select the players who are currently shining on the rugby paddock but are unproven at the international level (those with form)?

This year the Lions are scheduled to tour South Africa. Playing against the current world champions (South Africa) was always going to be a tall order. If they are going to meet the challenge presented by the Spring Boks ( South Africa) at home then the Lions' Manager Warren Gatland is going to have to select the right combination of youth, experience, class and form.

The hard grounds of South Africa (with the possible exception of Newlands in Cape Town, owing to the weather in July) calls for mobility and athleticism. Having watched the 1997 tour on TV, been at the test matches for 2009, and also been in South Africa at the time of the 1974 and 1980 tours, I can tell you that the Springboks pride themselves on their physicality. They intimidate upfront, to release their talented backs to do more damage out wide.

To win in South Africa you have to fight fire with fire. Remember the ’99 call’ of McBride ( if something kicked off on the pitch a player would call 99 and all the lions piled in whether they were involved or not) and his “Invincibles” in ‘74.

The need to match the physical challenge of the Spring Boks is reflected in the selection of Lions tour captains for South Africa. They are typically granite-hard, huge men, who rarely took a backward step, notably Willie-John McBride (1974), Bill Beaumont (1980), Martin Johnson (1997) and Paul O’Connell (2009).

And so to the 50plus4men's choice for this year's Lions squad. Our selection is based not only on current class and form but also on character. We have tried to identify those men who we believe possess the same qualities the legends of earlier tours.

The first three rounds of the Six Nations have certainly given us all food for thought. So, whilst the last round will likely have an impact on finalising our proposed squad, based on the games played up to now and including this last weekend only, we have selected 48 players, within the following buckets.

- On the plane

- In the waiting lounge

To complement this, we have also considered those ‘awaiting a ticket’, currently injured and possible wildcards. See the full listing in our next articles.

Author: Adrian W

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