Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll has named three Wales stars in the Lions XV he feels Warren Gatland needs to pick against South Africa.
The former Lions captain chose Jonathan Davies, Tomos Williams and Alun Wyn Jones in the line-up he believes can beat the world champion Springboks.
His side is dominated by Eddie Jones’ England stars, with no fewer than eight of them making the cut for O’Driscoll.
Only two of his fellow Irishmen are selected, with two Scots also getting in.
One of those Irish stars is James Ryan, who according to O’Driscoll should partner Wales captain Alun Wyn in the second row.
To accommodate that, O’Driscoll chooses England colossus Maro Itoje in the back row at blindside flanker. He is chosen next to former Ospreys star Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola.
Of the back-row selection, O’Driscoll told the Off The Ball podcast: “If Billy Vunipola can stay fit he’ll be No.8. Taulupe Faletau has been riddled with injury as well but Gats loves Faletau, so there’s every chance if he can get back to fitness, he’ll be in the mix somehow.
“And when you think of that try he scored against New Zealand in 2017, that was the difference in the second Test. It’s those moments coaches remember, the players who can deliver on the big occasions.
“Gats maybe has gone back to Welsh players in the past two Lions tours, because he knows they are tried and tested and they’ve delivered for him winning Grand Slams and Six Nations titles.
“The back-row is a really tough one and at seven do you pick Justin Tipuric, Sam Underhill or Hamish Watson on another day?
“I don’t think there’s a huge amount between the three of them. Probably Underhill, maybe Tipuric, ahead of Watson, but I’d be happy with any of the three of them.
“I questioned whether Alun Wyn Jones would still be capable of delivering in a year’s time.
“But I just know the warrior that is in him and the animal that he is.
“I know the appetite he has for work, so I fancy he’ll still be able to piece himself together for one last hurrah.”
O’Driscoll says there is nothing to choose between Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams at full-back, although he just plumps for the Scot.
“You’re not losing a lot either way in that,” he says.
O’Driscoll also argues Jonathan Davies will hold off the 13 challenge from Garry Ringrose as “the man in possession” of the Lions jersey.
“I think that’s working in his favour even though he hasn’t shown any form because he hasn’t played since the World Cup. Jonathan has been a big success on the last two tours, particularly the last one,” says O’Driscoll.
In selecting Davies, the Ireland great also addressed his own Lions partnership with the Wales ace against Australia in 2013 and admitted it simply didn’t work.
The two were thrust together after Jamie Roberts was struggling with a hamstring injury and England’s Manu Tuilagi was nursing a stinger.
It meant O’Driscoll found himself lining up with Davies for the opening two Tests with the Wallabies.
“We were out-and-out 13s and as much as I talked about moving into 12 for certain players, I’m far more comfortable in the 13 jersey, when I’m out there from an attack point of view with space, but also from the defensive point of view,” said O’Driscoll.
“Simply from the injuries to Manu Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts, we were forced into being the centre pairing for the first Test and that would definitely not have been a first choice selection had four or three centres been fit.
“As much as individually we were good players, as a partnership I just don’t think it worked in the two Test matches. We didn’t read off one another well, in attack and defence.”
O’Driscoll, of course, found himself dropped in favour of Davies for the Test decider back in 2013 – a Warren Gatland decision that provoked a storm.
However, while O’Driscoll is open about why his tie-up with Davies flopped, he is gushing about Jamie Roberts and the partnership they had against South Africa in 2009.
O’Driscoll’s Lions career spanned 12 years and eight Tests and he said: “I really did gel with Jamie Roberts, given we were two players who’d never played together before that.
“I felt as though we had a very good understanding of one another from early on.
“Jamie was a young player then, and not wishing to sound conceited, you are trying to help and guide younger players, as much as I was helped by the older players in my early years on the 2001 tour.
“I think he was about 22 or 23 back then. He was very much the student, trying to soak up as much information in understanding his role.
“The beauty of that is he knew what his strengths were. He carried ball and had the necessary aggressiveness against South African defences as well.
“It married up our partnership really well where he was comfortable with me going in and playing at 12 and him running dummy lines or taking on that crash ball.
“I think he probably developed and honed his passing game in later years. But he was known as someone who ran a viciously hard line, picked some great angles and scored some terrific tries, as a result of the cleverness of those lines.
“He was happy to play that role within that Test team. I really enjoyed playing with him because we were able to understand and play-off one another.”
Of the XV he has picked to take on the Springboks next year, O’Driscoll said: “I think the best Lions team I played in is a toss-up between 2001 and ’09 and I think this team matches any of them.
“You look at the calibre, you want X-factor and guys who can win games on their own I look at 15 and 14 immediately in Hogg and Watson.
“This team has the capability of taking on the Springboks.”
Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions XV: Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jonny May (England); Owen Farrell (England), Tomos Williams (Wales); Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), James Ryan (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Maro Itoje (England), Sam Underhill (England), Billy Vunipola (England).