The team for the first test on a Lions tour was never won in advance.
Especially in the last three tours we’ve tried to guess head coach Warren Gatland.
My experience with him is that he has a very specific type of player in mind who has to implement whatever style of play he wants to use. There are going to be some players that have stood out that I’m not sure he’ll go with.
Here is who I would choose for the first Test against South Africa on July 24th. You can choose your starting XV at the bottom of this page.
15. Liam Williams (Wales)
Unfortunately for Stuart Hogg, he faced some Test-match intensity opposition and he didn’t. I don’t think he’s been better under pressure than Liam Williams, who has been pretty blameless.
14. Anthony Watson (England)
I think Anthony Watson is a game breaker and line breaker in a big test arena when the gaps are going to be small. As much as everyone is talking about Duhan van der Merwe, when I saw him under extreme pressure and he is not able to use his volume, I am not sure that he is as much of a threat as Watson.
13. Elliot Daly (England)
I’ve always thought 13 was Elliot Daly’s best position. It’s kind of easy to say I think he’s a test-match animal but at this level he feels like it’s really comfortable and he will protect his own wingers with defense. Especially against South African winger Cheslin Kolbe, you will need a 13 that is absolutely solid and full of rhythm.
12. Robbie Henshaw (Irlande)
I was torn between Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki. I would go with Henshaw as maybe Aki is a bit more predictable. Henshaw can still do the big jobs. I haven’t felt the Lions playing a hard-hitting 12 yet, but Henshaw can.
11. Josh Adams (Wales)
Josh Adams is in the tryout area, with eight for the Lions so far. You can go back to previous Lions tours when you feed this hungry animal. He finds himself in the right place, he finishes, his defense is good and he is great in the air. He is both thinker and finisher.
10. Dan Biggar (Wales)
Dan Biggar was the most remarkable opening half. Over the past 18 months he has matured. He showed less petulance and more confidence. He can deliver the run-pass-kick game but strategically he looks a bit sharper than Owen Farrell. I don’t think Gatland will go with newcomer Marcus Smith at 10, he could put Smith on the bench if he needs to raise him up. We’ve all seen a lot of Marcus know he can do it.
9. Conor Murray (Irish)
Ali Price played very well and embraced the threat for a test spot. He will be on Conor Murray’s heels, which will be good for Murray. When Murray was the second pick it’s often when we’ve seen him play the best for the Lions, but he’s got credit in the bank. The way Ali Price plays, Conor is going to know he needs to improve his game.
1. Mako Vunipola (England)
There needs to be a bit of balance in the front pack around ball speed and fitness. Being able to pick and go as well as play the first receiver and have it in the back. Mako Vunipola has these abilities. With the rest of the players around him, he’ll be pretty good on set piece. It would depend on who they put on the bench to have the cover just in case things don’t go well up front.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Angleterre)
I think Luke Cowan-Dickie was the most outstanding hooker in England. Everyone saw how England were beaten in the World Cup final against South Africa and one of the reasons was that they didn’t have an advantage up front. I think someone like Cowan-Dickie has an advantage over him. He’s the type of player the opposition would think needs to be done. He’s a real threat.
3. Tadhg Furlong (Irlande)
You have to have a good set piece and minimum parity in this area is the priority. Because of what he offers, I don’t see anyone touching Tadhg Furlong with a tight head.
4. Maro Itoje (England)
I would be surprised if Maro did not analyze himself around the indiscipline, against which he can do something. You can’t overlook how he can change a game with its intensity, loads, and physique. He could easily be the talisman in the front for the Lions.
5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales)
Alun Wyn Jones should be captain. He faced the Stormers after quickly recovering from an injury and returned directly there. He did not dodge. He has all the experience, the communication with the referee and the management of the match. It will give the team a huge boost to have him on the squad. You can’t underestimate the confidence that bringing a player like him back gives the rest of the team.
6. Tadhg Beirne (Irlande)
Like Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Beirne has the advantage. He’s an absolute grip, breaking up tackles and being a nuisance in defense. He is exceptional on the ball and around the mauls, stopping the big guys. Then he has the unloading game and the skills to break the line.
7. Tom Curry (England)
Tom Curry is probably the best seven in the world right now. He’s probably been inked with the squad for most of the year and Gatland will be smashed to pieces as he’s adapted.
8. Sam Simmonds (England)
Having a back line like Sam Simmonds who is such a threat, who can walk and score and pass and tie as well as compete wide gives you a whole different dimension. Gatland gave him many failures. I feel like he wanted to give him a full exam to see if he could be his diamond in the rough.
How not to have Owen Farrell on the bench? He’s got you covered in midfield, 10s and kicks, so I think he needs to be involved in the squad. I think Ali Price will be there too.
One area where South Africa A fell short when they beat the Lions on Wednesday was fitness. They clung to it for the last 20 minutes.
With Price and Farrell on the bench and Watson and Daly able to go to the back or Daly can go to the wing, you could have six substitutes up front and run South Africa to shreds.
You can choose your starting XV for the first test below. BBC Sport’s reading team will be revealed on the site on Thursday.
Can’t see this selector? Visit this page.
Matt Dawson was talking to Becky Gray of BBC Sport.