Could this be Warren Gatland’s 36 man Lions squad?

Hopes are high for a bumper crop of Scots on this summer's Lions tour to South Africa, but Warren Gatland is a pragmatist

Warren Gatland
Lions head coach Warren Gatland. Image: © Craig Watson.

WARREN GATLAND is taking a small Lions squad of 36 bodies, which will likely be split 20/16, forwards and backs. We are presuming that Gatland, never the most imaginative coach in the world, will stick with what he knows, opting for experience over youth with the odd exception where he will look for a clear and obvious point of difference; a game breaker, someone who makes a splash at the very highest level of Test match rugby, because the Lions need to win two of them to consider this tour a success.


Liam Williams and Stuart Hogg

Unlucky: No one really. Bolter: Leigh Halfpenny!

The full-backs pretty much pick themselves. No one else really elbows their way into the frame. Hugo Keenan’s time may yet come but Elliot Daly’s stock has fallen sharply this season, alongside a few other Englishmen.

WINGS (4):

Anthony Watson, Sean Maitland, Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Unlucky: Jonny May. Bolter: Jordan Larmour.

The wings are wide open with Anthony Watson the only one who is nailed on. Sean Maitland has been playing as well as ever and must have a shout as he also covers 15 while Josh Adams can double up at 13. Thereafter Gatland has two opportunities to pick a ‘point of difference’ player; Louis Rees-Zammit for his pace or Duhan Van der Merwe for his power.


Jon Davies, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Owen Farrell and Henry Slade.

Unlucky: Chris Harris.  Bolter: Cameron Redpath.

This is not an area of strength for the Lions with George North out of the equation and Manu Tuilagi currently injured. There is a chance that Gatland will name the Sale Shark and cross his fingers the big fella can make the flight but we have presumed otherwise. Ireland duo Henshaw/Ringrose are both shoo-ins and Owen Farrell goes as a 10/12. Jon Davies’ best days are behind him but he has been there and done it while Henry Slade’s versatility (10, 12 or 13) may earn him a ticket.


Finn Russell and Dan Biggar

Unlucky: Jonny Sexton. Bolter: George Ford

Gatland has to make a big call at ten and we think he will leave Jonny Sexton at home. The Irishman showed his enduring class during the Six Nations but he would be targeted relentlessly by the Saffas and his mind is writing cheques his body can no longer cash. Dan Biggar is probably the best kicking fly-half in Europe, which is vital in the thin air and hard grounds of the Republic, while Finn Russell is one of those game breakers the Lions will need.


Conor Murray, Gareth Davies and Jamison Gibson-Park

Unlucky: Ali Price. Bolter: Tomos Williams.

Conor Murray goes as favourite to start the Tests thanks to his box kicking ability and defensive duties but Gareth Davies will push him all the way, especially if the Lions go one down and need to add some urgency to proceedings. With Ben Youngs ruling himself out, the third spot could be between Tomos Williams and Ali Price but we’ve looked to left field, with Jamison Gibson-Park for his attacking threat. You remember Matt Dawson’s cheeky scrumhalf snipe in 1997… right?

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PROPS (6):

Mako Vunipola, Wyn Jones, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler.

Unlucky: Rory Sutherland. Bolter: Zander Fagerson.

Gatland will take six props and he has some good ‘uns. On the right side of the scrum,  Zander Fagerson’s ball playing skills miss out to the size and brute strength of Ireland’s Andrew Porter who gets the nod because the head coach well remembers what the Beast did to Phil Vickery and the Lions’ scrum at Kings Park back in 2009. Tadhg Furlong is favourite for the Test team and England’s Kyle Sinckler his probable back up. On the loosehead berth Mako Vunipola and Wyn Jones, outstanding in the Six Nations, should travel with the last place a toss up between Joe Marler, who quit England but could return in red, and Rory Sutherland, whose best showing was 15 months ago and is currently racing to recover from a shoulder injury.


Ken Owens, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George

Unlucky: Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown. Bolter: Ireland’s Ronan Kelleher.

Ken Owens and Luke Cowan-Dickie probably go and either of the Scots, Stuart McInally or Fraser Brown could have joined them had either of them got a little more time in the saddle. Instead, Gatland will probably go for the experience/bulk of Englishman Jamie George although the abrasive Ronan Kelleher has a shout.

LOCKS (5):

Iain Henderson, Alun Wyn Jones, James Ryan, Maro Itoje and Tadhg Beirne

Unlucky: the injured Joe Launchbury. Bolter: Jonny Gray.

This is one of the easier asks. Alun Wyn Jones captains the team and starts alongside Majo Itoje in the Tests, with good support from the Irish duo. Tadhg Beirne is listed as a lock but will push hard for inclusion as a Test match six.


Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Justin Tipuric, Sam Underhill and Sam Simmonds

Unlucky: Hamish Watson. Bolter: Zach Mercer or Caelan Doris.

How many ‘small’ men can Gatland justify when touring South Africa where the 6’ 5”, 120kgs giant that is Pieter-Steph du Toit is a flanker!? We think one … and we think Gatland being Gatland will opt for old favourite Justin Tipuric ahead of Player of the Six Nations Hamish Watson. Sam Underhill fills the chopper/stopper role that Dan Lydiate made his own in the past and the Lions will undoubtedly need one. Ireland’s number eight Caelan Doris is injured right now but could yet feature. Sam Simmonds’ best chance of a Test match spot is in the No7 jersey, although Tom Curry remains favourite to start the Tests alongside Taulupe Faletau.

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About Iain Morrison 62 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.


  1. 8 scots in the squad and the ones I said last night would make it, although my post has vanished for some reason….

  2. Sunderland, Z Fagerson, Watson, Price, Russell, Harris, VDM, Hogg all to make it. Redpath, Gray and Turner as stand by players, that’s the word on the street, apparently….

  3. I’m going to agree with Iain Morrisons selection, it’s probably not far away from being accurate. Shame that there are those who decide to criticise a respected former international for giving his opinion. Can people not debate without being mean?

  4. To all here who feel the need to be rude without provocation…this is Iain’s opinion. Whether it may or may not be click bait is entirely irrelevant. As he is not Warren Gatland or part of his backroom team that means, for those that have clearly lost their reason and manners, that he has no bearing on who goes.

    Being entitled to your opinion, I am sure you will agree, is a right we all enjoy. Having the manners to put that opinion in a concise and constructive way is another matter. That’s not a right…its a choice you have.

    It doesn’t really matter who goes at the end of the day. That’s not something we can control here. What does matter is how that Lions tour goes, and how exciting the matches are, both at test and mid-week level. I am looking forward to seeing us put it up to the world champs in their back yard. No bigger challenge for northern hemisphere players or fans exists.

    Try to focus on that…

      • Having been on two Lions tours as a fan, I would have to disagree. There is very much an “Us” when it comes to a lions tour. There are no divisions or rivalries between fans and I think the provinciality of your comment highlights perhaps a lack of experience of that. The players are representing the northern hemisphere, from a Rugby perspective, regardless of who goes.

        Would I like to see more Scots in the side? Absolutely. Unquestionably.

        Is that within our control? No. You might want to look at the actions of the SRU for the last twenty-odd years for the root cause of the Scottish “us” not having a good representation on the previous tours.

        What I like most about the Lions is the air of unity it produces amongst players and fans alike from the northern hemisphere, that we don’t see in the Pro14, 6 nations or the RWC. Its quite unique as a concept.

      • Provinciality? ?

        Thank you for condescending to broaden my horizons Grant. Always good when someone with a Scotty dog icon tells you to stop being parochial.

        It’s not provincialism old boy. It’s just I can count.

        I can also notice (and once again count) the link between number of coaches with any knowledge of Scottish players and number of Scots picked.

        I can also notice Mako Vunipola playing 80 minutes in 2013 because Graham Rowntree didn’t know enough about Ryan Grant to bring him off the bench.

        Looking forward to supporting the genuinely British and Irish Lions this time.

      • Have you lost your reason altogether or is it just your blind arrogance and lack of manners that fails you?

        That dog is my own…its no symbol of anything other than I like Scottish terriers. My mother bred them.

        If you feel I have been condescending then that is entirely on you….not me. I canty control how you feel.

    • Personally, I won’t be paying any attention to the Lions tour if only 3 Scots are selected as Morrison suggests.

      I don’t feel any obligation to give the Lions unconditional support, unlike Scotland who I support fit better or worse (too often worse).

  5. This article is little more than trashy clickbait, and shame on me for biting.

    Jamison Gibson-Park? No Watson? Get real. Can’t wait for the squad to be announced tomorrow so this whole tiresome ‘discussion’ is over.

  6. A villain in a James Bond movie would have a ‘nefarious motive’ David, hardly a appropriate analogy, so in your rather odd wording i would agree with you, i don’t see that as what is happening here however.

    I choose to believe this is click-bait for obvious reasons, over and out.

  7. Neil,

    Is it not more likely that someone simply has a different opinion to you, because they see the world slightly differently to you, as opposed to your opinion being so unimpeachably right that anyone who does not agree with you must have some sort of sinister motive?

  8. A disappointing selection but it won’t be a surprise if it turns out pretty close to being right. While the bulk of the Lions squad have been tested and battle hardened in the six nations, it would be interesting hear your views of who they’ll face in the first test and if SA may be under-cooked with little or no real test match form in a long while to justify selection or build to test match intensity.

  9. I disagree with the premise, detail and execution of this entire article.

    • Well, I’m enjoying the view from the beautiful sunny uplands of “BeingRightland”. It’s cracking this time of year. It’s nestled delightfully on The Moral Highground.

      8 Lions and at least two more on standby surely.


      • Now now Will, we always knew we were right 🙂 let not rub dirt in there faces anymore.


  10. What a lot of nonsense this is.

    Marler, Sinckler, and Vunipola at Prop. But no Sutherland, or Fagerson?

    Maitland, and an untested/still very exposed LRZ on the wing?

    Davies at Centre, even though he’s been outplayed all year at club level, and downright woeful in the 6N? Ringrose hasn’t produced in two years! Slade but no Harris??

    Ryan was appalling all 6N. He’s been battered every time Leinster, or Ireland play a big, physical team – as we saw yet again with the SF against La Rochelle. By rights he should not even make the touring squad.

    Larmour is turning into a club level player only. Yet you have him as a Lions bolter?!?

    Gibson Park is the very definition of mediocre. While at backrow, having Underhill in there when he was yet again so poor he got pulled early in Bath’s European fixture, confirms this article is utter clickbait nonsense.

    Very disappointed in this. Shameless.

  11. 2 Scots in the entire squad, what is this trash clickbait?
    16 English, have you been living under a rock the past 6 months?

    • Neil — Iain Morrison has played international rugby for Scotland and is fully entitled to express his well-reasoned opinion on the Lions selection. You, I suspect, have not played international rugby for Scotland, but you are equally entitled to express your opinion. What you are not entitled to do is bad mouth Iain from behind the cloak of anonymity you habitually exploit on this site.

      • Ian Morrison may have been an international rugby player for Scotland (and full-respect and admiration for representing the country) but that does not make him unable to post a clickbait article.

        I truly do not believe that he genuinely thinks Watson wont go in his or Gatland’s eyes, (to name just one of the questionable selections).
        This is a Stephen Jones strategy, there is no well-reasoning in that omission as Watson is off similar build to a few of the selections yet dominates them statistically.

    • Neil, I don’t know if Hamish Watson will go or not, I don’t think he is as nailed as many think.
      I also don’t care much if Iain Morrison is writing clickbait or not. If he is, well its what journos sometimes do, something more and more common. If he isn’t, then I could just read it as another example of his long standing negativity towards Scottish teams. Or I could accept that its the team he thinks Gatland will select which is what I think he says, not the team he would pick himself. Perhaps Mr Morrison would tell us who he would pick

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