Jim Telfer picks his 2021 Lions Test XV

Coaching legend has named two Scots, three Englishmen, and five players each from Ireland and Wales in his Lions Test team

Jim Telfer would have Alun-Wyn Jones as captain of his Lions Test team against South Africa this summer. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Alun Wyn Jones trained with the Welsh squad before being passed fit to rejoin the Lions. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

15. Stuart Hogg

He probably won’t be Gatland’s first choice as he may go with Liam Williams. There is a feeling that Hogg may be a little shaky under the high ball and that he isn’t always the best tackler. I think both these things are unfounded and that Hogg is as able as anyone else in the squad. The Lions Test team always needs a little vision, X-factor if you like, in the ranks and that is what Stuart Hogg brings in spades.

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14. Anthony Watson

He has had more than his share of injuries over the years but when he is fit and firing he is among the best around. He is an experienced player, I have avoided the temptation to select any ‘bolters’, always opting for experience over youthful promise throughout the team. Most importantly in South Africa, Watson is secure under the high ball because the wingers are going to receive plenty of box kicks. Where the tour will be held is all important because Murrayfield/Twickenham is a very different proposition. The latest news suggests that the tour will be held in South Africa so that is what I have assumed in selection.

13. Garry Ringrose

He is a tremendous player for Ireland and for Leinster. A safe defender with a sharp outside break. When he plays well, Ireland play well, it’s that simple. I remember him coming through at U20’s level and some Irish pals of mine said he was the next Brian O’Driscoll. Ringrose has the intelligence to defend the all important 13 channel and the pace to get himself out of trouble if he makes a mistake.

12. Robbie Henshaw

An easy selection for me as Robbie Henshaw was one of the stand-out players in the recent Six Nations. He makes the game look simple by doing the basics very well and almost always doing the right thing at the right time. I might consider Manu Tuilangi at inside centre, not outside, but only if he was 100 percent match fit and he is a long way off that right now.

11. Liam Williams

As I have already said, Gatland might want the Welshman at full-back but I have him on the wing. He is good in the air, obviously, but he offers a lot more than just that. Williams is a clever player and experienced. There will be some who call for Louis Rees-Zammit, but while the young speed man may travel in the extended squad there is no real time on tour to allow players to develop so I have gone for experience.

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10. Finn Russell

I am not convinced that Gatland will agree with me but I have selected Finn at ten simply because he can win a match for you or enable someone to do so. In contrast to some reports, I thought that Finn played very well on Friday night against France, when he was on the field. He knows what he is doing on the field but it sometimes looks as if no one else does and that means everyone around him needs to be switched on at all times. Gatland may prefer to go with Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell at ten/twelve. These are all top-notch players but while I am a big fan of Farrell I don’t think the English captain has done himself any favours in this Six Nations.

9. Conor Murray

This is not an area of strength for the Lions but Murray is the choice mostly because he can land a box kick on a sixpence; it is rare that one of his kicks can’t be contested. He is good defensively and he can threaten with the ball in hand … not that he very often does. I am not a great Ben Youngs fan and I think Ali Price has a few things to work on. I would back up Murray with Gareth Davies of Wales on the bench.

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1. Wyn Jones

There were plenty of candidates for this post and I mulled over the respective merits of Cian Healy, Mako Vunipola and Rory Sutherland before opting for Wales’ Wyn Jones. He does it all, scrummages strongly, carries and defends with aggression. Healy is getting a little long in the tooth and Sutherland was probably better last season when he was so powerful in the set scrum, especially for someone who only moved from the back-row as an adult. Mako Vunipola does not look fit or at the top of his game.

2. Ken Owens

This is not an area of strength although it could have been, had both of Scotland’s injured candidates, Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown, had more rugby under their belts. England’s Luke Cowan-Dickie is a contender but Jamie George looks like he is carrying a few too many pounds around the middle to be fully fit. Owens has been crucial to the Welsh revival in the Six Nations following that forgettable autumn series.

3. Tadhg Furlong

Furlong is a big beast of a man and you need to meet and match the Springboks for power in the forwards. He also has good footwork, as he proved against Scotland, and soft hands. He is the outstanding tighthead with Kyle Sinckler not too far behind although the Englishman seems beset with demons if things don’t go his way.

4. Alun-Wyn Jones (captain)

You need a strong captain and Alun-Wyn Jones has enjoyed an outstanding season for Wales. You need someone to inspire confidence in the dressing room ahead of kick-off, like a Martin Johnson character, and that is exactly what you get with Alun-Wyn who just gets better and better with age.

5. Maro Itoje

Such an athletic and clever player, if you ignore the penalty count, Itoje has to be in the starting XV. He is a line-out specialist, both in attack and defence, although England probably don’t use him as much as they should. I am not convinced that James Ryan is quite as good as his biggest fans would have us believe. I hope England’s Joe Launchbury goes with the squad as he does all the little unseen things that make the difference in the tight exchanges; a midweek skipper in the making?

6. Tadhg Beirne

Another supremely intelligent player whether he plays at lock or in the back-row and I have him at six to match the power that the World Champion Springboks will field in their back row. He was excellent not only in the Six Nations but also in the PRO14 final in a losing cause for Munster.

7. Tom Curry

There are a host of players who put their hand up for this shirt and I have been swithering between four or five different players including Hamish Watson, Josh Navidi, Josh van der Flier and Sam Underhill, who may yet prove the best of the bunch. But I have gone for Curry because he is Mr Consistency. If you saw him across the changing room you would know that you were going to get 100 percent effort from your open0side. I hope Watson travels but I don’t think Scotland get the best out of him by having him as a ball carrier in the heavy traffic rather than use him as a distributor/attack weapon in the wider channels.

8. Taulupe Faletau

This was a relatively easy one for me as I am not a Billy Vunipola fan. England number eights tend to bash the ball up but when Faletau’s picks and goes you always think something will happen. I would back him up with the dynamic Englishman Sam Simmonds and perhaps even Zach Mercer, another intelligent player who starts at eight ahead of Faletau for Bath most weeks, with the Welshman wearing six.

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I hesitate to say too much about individual Scots and their aspirations to tour with the Lions but I hope we should get perhaps five or six players in the wider squad including Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell. I wouldn’t select him for his poor defence but Duhan van der Merwe may go given his raw speed and power. Rory Sutherland, Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie can all keep their fingers crossed. Ritchie played his best game this season for Scotland against France but only after a relatively quiet Six Nations. Still only 24, he would benefit more than most by touring with the Lions.

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About Jim Telfer 1 Article
Jim Telfer was capped 22 times in the back-row for Scotland between 1964 and 1970 out of Melrose rugby club, and played six Test matches for the Lions over two tours in 1966 and 1968. He was head or assistant coach of the Scotland national team for 16 out of 23 years between 1980 and 2003, taking in the 1984 and 1990 Grand Slams, as well as the 1999 Five Nations triumph. He was also Director of Rugby for the SRU between 1995 and 1998. He was head coach of the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand and assistant coach to Ian McGeechan for triumphant 1997 series in South Africa.


  1. Hate to disagree with Jim but Tom Curry??? Check his 6 Nations stats – doesn’t come close to Hamish!!!!

  2. Please stop the politics there are plenty of other forums for that. Telfer has form for picking slightly unusual players. Look at the front row in 97,Smith,Wood & Wallace. Oz du R and Co still. Have sleepless nights over the hammering they were subjected to.

  3. Teller is a Scottish Nationalist .
    I don’t think he qualifies impartially to make any intelligent , impartial view .

    • Not sure your comment qualifies as intelligent. His politics have nothing to do with his rugby acumen. I think he can stand over that quite well.

      Keep your political anxieties to another forum. This is about Rugby…or hadn’t you noticed?

    • That ridiculous, nonsensical comment would look better if you’d contrived to spell the great man’s name correctly in the first place….

      From what I know of Jim, he is a socialist, a proud & committed Scot who believes in self-determination – but he is not a Scottish Nationalist (as in SNP).

  4. I would have Russell at 10 and Farrell at centre to provide the biff in D that we will need and for the goal kicking.
    As annoying as he can be Farrell is a class act and very physical which is needed when going to South Africa.
    Russell to provide spark.
    I Dont see the point in taking Sexton. Although he has had a half decent 6N he is very fragile these days and seems to not be great at avoiding head injuries with him being more off than on the field for club and country over the past 12 months or so.
    Id even have Ford ahead of Sexton.

    • The report I saw had Watson as 6N man of the series. Its hard for me to question Jim Telfer with his record but I would be disappointed if at least 6 Scots players didn’t go on tour and a minimum of 3 in the starting line up. The six would be Sutherland, Hogg, Watson, DVDM, Russell, Harris. Its a shame Redpath got injured, if his form had continued I think he would have been a possibility as well.

  5. Obviously opinions vary but Watson is the epitome of consistent. It also seems that there is some kind of myth about DVDM being weak in defence, Duhan missed 2 tackles in the 6 Nations. LRZ missed 6.

  6. Tom Curry the man of the series. Rumour has it, though not yet confirmed, that Richie McCaw has a poster of him in his bedroom!
    Godfrey Dann.

  7. I think Geech and Telfer have been talking. No Watson included in the 15 for either of them.

    Watson would make any starting 15 I had, and would continue to be there well ahead of Curry. He has gone for Curry because he is “Mr. Consistency”??? What has Mish been?

    Probably the most consistent player, bar none, in that position, in the northern hemisphere.

  8. Chris Harris was excellent against France. I think he has an outside chance. He certainly put his hand up for selection.

  9. I think I would want to see Hamish Watson instead of Tom Curry and Cian instead of Wyn Jones

  10. Hamish Watson is not Mr.Consistent? He has been consistently excellent to world class for the past 2/3 years. I don’t know the stats but pretty sure i have seen Tom Curry give away a good few penalties recently.

    Is there a big difference in quality between Sam Simmonds and Matt Fagerson out of curiosity? I’m surprised no one is at least giving him a bolters chance.

  11. For me the thing that might count against Finn is his goal kicking. I believe the Lions need a top class kicker and I’m not convinced Finn is consistent enough.

  12. Interesting selection but surprised at no mention for Zander Fagerson who has been on great form barring that unfortunate red card.


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