Ronan O’Gara Picks His British & Irish Lions XV For the First Test

Test match animals.

The 2021 British & Irish Lions tasted defeat in South Africa for the first time last night when they came just short against an ‘A’ side that was filled with regular Springboks starters and World Cup winners.

It was the first real hit-out for Warren Gatland’s men and will have done them the absolute world of good as they get set for the Test series in a couple of weeks time.

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After the game, former Ireland and Munster outhalf, Ronan O’Gara, had a go on Sky Sports at picking his Test XV and it’s an interesting selection to say the least.

O’Gara, who toured with the Lions on three occasions, left some big names out, but did his best to explain each decision carefully as he always does.

“I think it’s a really difficult thing to do because of the choice,” O’Gara said when explaining his selection.

“In doing this I have very little experience in building a scrum or understanding how many lineout jumpers are needed to compete at this level, so I need to raise my hand in that regard.

“I think as you can see, the one criteria that has changed for me from playing to coaching is that people have to be fit, so I didn’t include Robbie Henshaw, because I think it would be smart if he has a hamstring issue to get him right for Test two and three.

“The exception being Alun Wyn Jones because I think he’s the leader, he’s the epicentre of this team. I think he goes straight into the engine room and you’re hoping that he probably defies medical logic to do what he does best.

In terms of the pack, O’Gara wanted to try and get the balance right and felt the hooker position is still very much up for grabs.

“I tried to get the balance right in terms of ball carriers and people who are good at the breakdown. With Watson and Tadhg Beirne you’ll win a few penalties and with cup rugby that’s essential. I like the fact that Mako Vunipola is a threat anytime he’s on the ball,” O’Gara continued.

“It’s a toss-up between the three hookers.

“I think Curry is… I saw him live against New Zealand in that game in the World Cup semi-final and he blew me away. He’s a phenomenal player.”

As already mentioned, O’Gara left Henshaw out but said that could change if he starts on Saturday against the Stormers. Elsewhere, it was quite difficult in areas, especially the back-three.

“In the backs, I think the halfbacks are proven, they’re big-game players,” O’Gara said.

“The back three is so hard to pick because Josh Adams scores tries and they’re gonna need to score a try or two. Rees-Zammit has probably been unlucky. I took into account what Sam [Warburton] said, I think high ball is crucial for me and Liam Williams is different class at that. I think Anthony Watson seems to have unbelievable pace.”

Ronan O’Gara’s 1st Test XV

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Anthony Watson
13. Elliot Daly
12. Bundee Aki
11. Liam Williams
10. Owen Farrell
9. Conor Murray

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Hamish Watson
8. Tom Curry