Manu Tuilagi has been out of sight since November but he definitely should not be out of Warren Gatland’s mind when he names his Lions squad.
Think of the one player South Africa would not want running at them this summer and it is Tuilagi. He is close to a comeback for Sale after his torn Achilles and by the time the series starts he should be purring.
He has to go on the tour.
I would also have Sam Simmonds inked in. It is bizarre how the Exeter No 8 continues to be overlooked by England – especially as they played so poorly in the Six Nations.
I’m hoping Gatland won’t make the same mistake as Eddie Jones.
If he is in it will be a wonderful moment for Simmonds when the news breaks.
For me in 2001, I hadn’t been named in the initial preliminary squad and hadn’t started a Test for England so I wasn’t tuned in for the announcement.
I was actually fixing a fence in the garden because we had a Great Dane at the time which kept escaping when I got the call from Sale’s media manager Dave Swanton to tell me I was in.
That tour was such an incredible learning experience in the company of great players from across the four nations and one which did so much for me. Five tries in my first game for the Lions, that phone box score inside three minutes of the First Test and top try scorer on the tour. Fun? You bet.
What sticks with me most though was the incredible travelling support – the sea of red in the stands – and it’s such a shame the 2023 Lions will not have the chance to experience that.
It’s great that the tour is on but something will definitely be missing. With no Lions fans, the bubble restrictions and the fact that they are playing the world champions I think this will be the hardest tour ever.
There is only one man to lead them on it – Alun Wyn Jones. He had a great Six Nations leading Wales to the title, has all the experience in the world and is a figure who is used to playing with the pressures of captaincy.
I know Maro Itoje has been talked about for the job in some quarters but to lead the Lions you need to be a captain of your national side or at least your club and Itoje is neither so just let him do what he does best and play.
It isn’t as if Jones will be short on leadership back-up with Stuart Hogg and Owen Farrell – both national captains – on the trip.
Farrell had a disappointing Six Nations and is playing Championship rugby at the moment with Saracens but I would expect him to regain his form as a Lions tour progresses.
It is the sort of environment which will bring the best out in him and if it does I would pick him at stand-off in the Test side.
I would also select Jamie George, a terrific Lion in 2017 who lost his England place in the Six Nations as well as Hamish Watson, the Scotland flanker.
He showed in the Six Nations he can punch above his weight and he can help the Lions to move South Africa around and, in tandem with Tom Curry, disrupt them at the breakdown.
I’d also want Louis Rees-Zammit on the wing. He has the pace to go the distance on the hard grounds of South Africa. He has only played a handful of Wales Tests but a rookie can make a big impact on a Lions tour.
I guess I should know.
Jason Robinson’s Lions XV for the 1st Test: Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Manu Tuilagi (England), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales); Owen Farrell (England), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, capt), Tom Curry (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales).
Warren Gatland’s likely 36: Back three – Hogg, L Williams, A Watson, Rees-Zammit, May, Nowell. Centres: Henshaw, J Davies, Ringrose, Tuilagi. Half-backs: Biggar, Farrell, Russell, Murray, T Williams, Care. Front row: W Jones, M Vunipola, Sutherland, George, Owens, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Furlong, Z Fagerson. Second row: Jones (capt), Itoje, Ryan, Beirne. Back row: T Curry, H Watson, Tipuric, Navidi, Underhill, Faletau, S Simmonds.
Jason Robinson is writing for Express Sport in association with TXM Group (www.txmgroup.com).
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Sport Feed