The Springboks won’t be quaking in their boots ... Is there enough vim and vigour in Lions tour squad?
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DURBAN - All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick was the biggest thorn in the side of the Springboks for over a decade, so when he suggested Warren Gatland pick the fiercest players he could for the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, he was talking from experience.
Fitzpatrick captained the All Blacks to a historic series win in SA in 1996, so he knows what it takes to win a series in this country, and that's why I believe Gatland has picked a squad that won't beat the Boks.
Fitzpatrick suggested Gatland pick the biggest beasts possible if he hoped to beat a Bok team that showed in the World Cup final that they had “even stronger players off the bench than they had started.” Now that we have seen Gatland's squad, I don't believe the New Zealand-born Gatland has heeded the warning of his countryman. I think there are too many tired Irish and Welshmen, including veteran captain, Alun Wyn Jones, and not enough vim and vigour that could have been provided by an England team that failed to impress in the Six Nations but nevertheless made the 2019 World Cup final.
The 35-year-old Jones captains a squad in which many Lions supporters had hoped Gatland would go for a young buck in England lock Mario Itoje, and it confirms the coach's conservatism that he is going for what he knows instead of what could be.
Considering the brilliant form that Itoje has been in, he would have been an inspiring choice, but instead Gatland has taken the safe option in Jones. The squad nevertheless includes 11 English players, 10 Welshmen, eight Irish players and a record-breaking eight Scotsmen, and as long as that Scottish representation includes the brilliant Stuart Hogg starting at fullback, I am happy.
Another “Scot”, South African-born wing Duhan van der Merwe adds some spice to the selection and the former Bulls player is a well-deserved selection. The George-born wing, who is 1.93m tall and 105kg, played two years for the SA Under-18 team and also for the Junior Boks in 2014. He has been selected with a view to his power and pace causing his former countrymen some discomfort in contact.
I think Gatland made a serious mistake in omitting CJ Stander, the “Irishman” who would have perfectly fitted Fitzpatrick's bill of a player who could stand up to the Bok pack.
The players I feel who could have stood up to the Boks, that Gatland has not picked, include England prop Kyle Sinckler, Welsh back rower Josh Navidi, Ireland centre Garry Ringrose and experienced backs Jonathan Davies and Henry Slade.
Among the notable inclusions are Irish centre Bundee Aki and the uncapped Englishman Sam Simmonds, the Exeter No 8. All in all, it is a Lions selection that would have mostly been anticipated by the Boks brains trust of Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, but hardly a squad that will have the World Cup winners quaking in their boots.