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Brian O’Driscoll names his Lions XV to beat South Africa and explains why his own partnership with Jonathan Davies flopped

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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.

Australia hooker Stephen Moore takes on Brian O’Driscoll (L) and Jonathan Davies during the Lions first Test in 2013 (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“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).



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Six Nations Rugby

Exeter Chiefs vs London Irish Odds and Picks

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London Irish fan cheering in the stands

A spectator shouts during the first half of an Aviva Premiership rugby match between the Saracens and the London Irish at Red Bull Arena, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Exeter Chiefs are 11.5-point home favorites over London Irish in their Rugby Premiership match slated for Tuesday, May 18th
  • Exeter have won three straight matches
  • London Irish have lost three straight matches

The Exeter Chiefs have proven to be a fairly productive away outfit in recent Rugby Premiership matches, but London Irish get to throw a new wrinkle at the defending champions as they clash on Tuesday – supporters.

This week will mark the first time all season that spectators are permitted at Rugby Premiership matches. Approximately 4,000 are expected to attend Tuesday’s Exeter-London Irish contest at Brentford Community Stadium.

Oddsmakers are establishing the Chiefs, 4-2 in their past six away matches, as healthy 11.5-point favorites to overcome the crowd and add to their win total.

Exeter Chiefs vs London Irish Rugby Premiership Odds

Player Moneyline Spread Total at DraftKings
Exeter Chiefs -500 -11.5 (-122) OFF
London Irish +330 +11.5 (-109) OFF

Odds as of May 16th.

Kickoff for Tuesday’s match is 2:45pm ET.

Will New Home Help London Irish?

London Irish relocated to the new Brentford Community Stadium for this season as tenants of Brentford FC. When it comes to facing Exeter, a new home might be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Irish.

At their previous ground of Madejski Stadium in Reading, London Irish had dropped three matches in a row to Exeter. They given up 45 points in each of the past two defeats.

Through the three-match win streak, the Chiefs own an average winning margin of 21.3 points per game. The last London Irish home victory over Exeter was a 28-26 decision fashioned during the 2014-15 season.

The Chiefs are 7-2 straight up through the past nine meetings with London Irish. This is including a 26-3 home verdict earlier this season at Exeter’s Sandy Park.

A Lions’ Share

Exeter have played for the past five Rugby Premiership titles, winning twice. That sustained excellence was recognized when four members of the side were selected by manager Warren Gatland to play for the British Lions during this summer’s tour of South Africa.

Gatland chose the forward trio of Jonny Hill, Sam Simmonds and Luke Cowan-Dickie, along with full-back Stuart Hogg in his initial 37-man squad. That gives Exeter the joint second-most players on the tour, tied with Leinster, and one less than Saracens.

The omission from the squad of two other Exeter players – England centre Henry Slade and Scotland lock Jonny Gray – was a bit surprising.

Simmonds, the reigning European player of the year, is leading all Rugby Premiership scorers with 16 tries, one shy of equaling the single-season record. There was shock earlier this year by the lack of his inclusion in England’s ill-fated Six Nations squad.

Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling

London Irish are a disappointing 2-7-1 over their past 10 matches. The beginning of this stretch was the 26-3 loss at Exeter on February 13th.

At home, though, it’s been a different story. The exiles are 4-1-1 in the past six matches played at their home ground. There was also good news for London Irish this week with Australian center Curtis Rona agreeing to a long-term contract extension to remain with the club.

Rona scored the first-ever try at Brentwood Community Stadium. He’s produced nine tries in 45 appearances for the club.

London Irish are winless this season against the top three Rugby Premiership sides, with an 0-3-1 slate. They display a point differential of -59 in those four matches.

The closest item to a bright spot was a 34-34 home draw with Bristol Bears.

Pick: Exeter Chiefs -11.5 (-122)

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Sale of 14% stake in Six Nations to be reviewed by competition watchdog

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The Irish competition watchdog will investigate the proposal by the Six Nations – which is owned by the British, Irish, French, and Italian rugby unions – to sell a 14% stake in the tournament series to investment fund giant CVC Partners. 

The proposed transaction, which was first announced in March, was reportedly worth £365m (€423m) to the Six Nations over five years, with the Irish Rugby Football Union set to secure about €56m, after the tournaments’ finances were hugely hit by the Covid-19 sporting disruption. The Six Nations company generates income for the men’s, women’s and U-20 tournaments. 

CVC is already a major player in the European rugby world. 

It has invested in the Pro14 and the Premiership of England’s 12 top teams, which is broadcast on BT Sport and Channel 5 in the UK and NBC in the US. 

Early last year, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission cleared CVC to take a minority stake in Celtic Rugby, which owns and generates media income for the Pro14 league. 

On its investigation of the latest CVC plan, the commission said Six Nations Rugby “acts as agent of the unions for the commercialisation of media rights and sponsorship packages in relation to all of the annual Six Nations Rugby Championship, the Autumn Internationals series and certain other related commercial rights”.

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The unlikely Wales player who’s made himself a nailed on starter this summer after years on the fringes

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In 2018, Warren Gatland sprung a huge shock by calling up a largely unheralded Jonah Holmes to his Wales squad for the autumn campaign.

Few Welsh rugby onlookers knew anything about the player in question and fewer knew he was eligible to play for Wales.

Holmes’ qualification is through his grandparents but it was his 10 tries in 11 matches for Leicester Tiger in the previous season that caught Gatland’s eye.

Injuries to Hallam Amos and Owen Lane opened the door and Holmes went on to make his debut against Tonga.

In the two-and-a-half years since, Holmes has been involved in two Six Nations squads, a Rugby World Cup training camp and another autumn campaign.

Yet he has just two starts – one of which coming against Italy during the 2019 Grand Slam – and a further three caps off the bench to his name.

In short, he has been a constant in Wales squads over the last few years but has always appeared to be a peripheral figure.

Rarely has he seemed a credible contender to break into an extremely strong Welsh back three when all candidates are fit and firing, despite often receiving glowing reviews from coaches.

This summer, though, will be a different story for the Dragons winger.

The 28-year-old now has 10 tries in his last nine appearances for the region, scoring two tries in four matches, the latest of which coming against the Ospreys on Sunday.

In a fairly convincing defeat for Dean Ryan’s side, Holmes shone.

He produced two accomplished finishes. One saw him gather a cross-kick, bump off Ospreys full-back Dan Evans and shrug off Keiran Williams on the way to the line. The other showcased his pace as he raced clear of the covering defence with virtually no room to work with.

Not happy with that, he then produced the initial break and offload that eventually sent Rio Dyer over for another score.

Put simply, Holmes is proving too hot to handle right now and Wales boss Wayne Pivac simply can’t ignore him.

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“Jonah just looks very difficult to bring down at the moment and I think our game is suiting him,” said Dragons boss Ryan.

“We just need to keep pushing him to hit the heights because he’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play in a long time.

“We’ve got an established way of moving and it involves everyone.

“Jonah’s got a lot of license to move around and get on the ball. He’s a good footballer. If people kick badly to him then he’s able to bring it back.

“He just looks incredibly strong at the moment.

“I’m sure the guys at international level will look at that as a great asset that they can rely on.”

Holmes’ upturn in form in the last three months has been startling.

What really makes his recent try-scoring exploits stand out is the fact he began life at Rodney Parade, having signed from Leicester over the summer, relatively quietly.

He bagged one try in his first four months at the region – which included seven appearances.

Jonah Holmes in action against the Ospreys

So what’s changed?

Ryan pointed to the favourable conditions that the players are now operating in as opposed to the heavy, boggy surface that they had to deal with at Rodney Parade over the winter months.

The pitch – which also hosts Newport County – suffered to such a degree that both teams vacated their home for a period to allow it to recover. The Dragons played three of their home games at the Principality Stadium.

Ryan believes this is allowing his side to express themselves more freely and bringing the likes of Holmes into the game more.

“Playing here in January and February was tough for try-scorers,” he pointed out.

“I don’t think he’s played poorly across the year, it’s just the game has been difficult.

“We tried to play here against Connacht and we couldn’t move the ball.

“Moving to the international stadium was the catalyst for us being able to speed our game up and we’ve been able to continue that in the last few weeks.

“That enables him to be more threatening.

“I think he’s played well all year. It’s just sometimes about what gets offered up to you.

“January is different from now.”

In the world of Jonah Holmes, January is very different from now.

He was unavailable for selection in the 2021 Six Nations squad due to injury but whether he would have received the call had he been fit is up for debate.

Now, though, he has surely secured one of the wing slots when Wales face Canada on July 3.

His form is irresistible and right now it seems inconceivable that Pivac will go another way.

Holmes has done his fair share of sitting on the sidelines over the last few years.

With Wales’ Lions away in South Africa, it will be time for him to take centre stage at the Principality Stadium this summer.



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