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2020-21 B & I Lions International Rugby Men South Africa 2021

Lions 2021: Ulster involvement

Warren Gatland and his team of coaches are set to announce the British and Irish Lions squad, that will take on South Africa in July and August, on Thursday 6th May

The squad will be limited between 35-37 players, four shy of the number taken to New Zealand four years ago but the same number that toured South Africa in 2009, probably due to the, closer time zones and readily available flights between the UK to South Africa.

Breakdown of players selected on the last three tours*

2009

Props – 5
Hookers – 3
Locks – 5
Back row – 7
Scrum halves – 3
Out halves – 2
Centres – 5
Back three – 7
Total – 37

2013

Props – 6
Hookers – 3
Locks – 5
Back row – 7
Scrum halves – 3
Out halves – 2
Centres – 4
Back three – 7
Total – 37

2017

Props – 6
Hookers – 3
Locks – 5
Back row – 8
Scrum halves – 3
Out halves – 3
Centres – 6
Back three – 7
Total – 41

*Only includes players initially selected for the tour, not those called up to cover injury during the tour.

Competition for places will be even greater this year so versatility will prove beneficial, but which Ulstermen stand a chance of securing a seat on the plane?

Iain Henderson – Likely

The Academian was one of the stand out Irish performers in the Six Nations this season. Under Andy Farrell he’s established himself as a regular in the national team and a critical component of a reliable lineout. The 2017 Lions Tour kickstarted four years of great form in the white of Ulster and green of Ireland. On that tour he travelled as a lock/back row option and proved a valuable player, playing in all the warm up games except against the Crusaders.

Lock is a fiercely competitive position. Alun Wyn Jones looks set to be the tour captain while I can’t see James Ryan or Maro Itoje being left out. Jonny Gray and Tadhg Beirne are also in the reckoning after impressive Six Nations’ campaigns for Scotland and Ireland respectively.

I think the lock options will be Jones, Itoje, Gray, Courtney Lawes with Beirne and Henderson travelling as lock/flanker hybrids.

Rob Herring – half chance

Herring has gone under the microscope in an Ireland shirt since Rory Best retired. Ronan Kelleher seems to be the preferred option in the southern media, but Herring has not let the side down when selected.

Ken Owen will travel while there’s also good cases to be made for English duo Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie. Scotland’s George Turner has performed very well in 2021.

I think it’s likely we could see Owens, George and LCD travel with Turner and Herring missing out. If an injury replacement is required, the Ulsterman will be number one call.

John Cooney – outside bet

Although shunned by the IRFU, John Cooney was been in super form for Ulster in the PRO14, Champions Cup and Challenge Cup this season. He has been vocal about his continued omission from international honours so a Lions Tour would go a long way to softening the blow of a lack of Ireland caps.

With the coaching ticket confirmed over two weeks ago, forwards coach Robin McBryde confirmed that “not all of them [the 57 players who were discussed] are internationals, or current internationals, so the door is never closed”, throwing a glimmer of light to Ulster’s scrum half.

I don’t think there was a stand out scrum half in the Six Nations. Ali Price and Ben Youngs had a couple of decent games while Wales’ Kieran Hardy was impressive against England before leaving injured from the game.

I’m still expecting Conor Murray and Youngs to travel as the first and second choice, leaving a battle for the third spot, between Price, Davies, Williams, Danny Care, Jamison Gibson-Park and Cooney for the third spot.

Ulster Lions down the years

  • 2017 – Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Jared Payne
  • 2013 – Rory Best, Tom Court, Tommy Bowe
  • 2009 – Stephen Ferris
  • 2001 – Tyrone Howe, Jeremy Davidson
  • 1997 – Jeremy Davidson
  • 1989 – Steve Smith
  • 1983 – David Irwin, Trevor Ringland
  • 1980 – Colin Patterson
  • 1977 – Mike Gibson
  • 1974 – Richard Milliken, Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride, Stewart McKinney
  • 1971 – Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride
  • 1968 – Mike Gibson, Roger Young, Syd Millar, Willie John McBride
  • 1966 – Roger Young, Ken Kennedy, Ronnie Lamont, Willie John McBride
  • 1962 – David Hewitt, Raymond Hunter, Willie John McBride, Syd Millar
  • 1959 – David Hewitt, Syd Millar
  • 1955 – Cecil Pedlow, Robin Thompson
  • 1950 – Jack Kyle, Noel Henderson, Bill McKay
  • 1938 – Harry McKibbin, George Ernest Cromey, Sam Walker, Robert Alexander, Paddy Mayne
  • 1930 – Henry O’Hara O’Neill
  • 1924 – Norman Brand
  • 1910 – Alexander Foster, Arthur McClinton, William Tyrrell
  • 1904 – Charlie Patterson, Reg Edwards
  • 1903 – Ian Davidson, Alfred Tedford
  • 1899 – Tom McGown

If I’m missing anyone let me know!

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