Predicting those 57 players Lions coaches came up with in first selection meeting
"We sat down yesterday and discussed 57 players. There's plenty of variety there."
Shortly after he was announced as British & Irish Lions scrum coach, Robin McBryde provided a fascinating insight into the early selection chat for the 2021 tour to South Africa.
Head coach Warren Gatland announced his coaching ticket, on Tuesday, and we have McBryde, Steve Tandy (defence) and Gregor Townsend (attack) joining Lions veteran Neil Jenkins for this summer's tour.
Over the weekend, as he has done for the 2013 and 2017 tours, the Kiwi asked his assistants to give their squad selections. Each man got the pen and paper out and got to it. McBryde says, when Gatland got all their answers, there were 57 players in contention.
It appears increasingly likely that tour organisers are trying to cut down on the squad size. Gatland has gone big for his last two stints as head coach, but may be restricted to 36. Expect him to get another one or two on the plane, but that may be the height of it.
57 players though. That shows the selection ball is well and truly rolling.
If you're still in Europe, you still have a chance to impress. The Rainbow Cup is kicking off in just over a week, but Gatland & Co. will not get much from local derbies in a newly minted competition.
So, who are the 57, and how do you cut from there? To start off with, we broke the squad into 10 sections (merging second- and back-rows) and listed out every player that has a decent, or outside shout of making the cut.
Without much strain, we tallied 71 names. Obviously, that is too many so many of the names on my list must not have come up in conversation. With the coaching ticket in mind, past Lions form, Six Nations form and players sticking their hands up in Europe, it was time to pare down that list to 57 likely lads.
So, without further ado, here are the 57 players I feel came up in those five 36-man squads collected by Gatland [including his own].
57 Lions squad contenders for South Africa
Mako Vunipola (England), Wyn Jones (Wales), Cian Healy (Ireland), Joe Marler (England)
Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Zander Fagerson (Scotland)
Ken Owens (Wales), Jamie George (England), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Ronan Kelleher (Ireland)
Maro Itoje (England), James Ryan (Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Adam Beard (Wales), Courtney Lawes (England)
Tom Curry (England), Sam Underhill (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Toby Faletau (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Josh Navidi (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Josh van der Flier (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Rhys Ruddock (Ireland), Caelan Doris (Ireland)
Conor Murray (Ireland), Gareth Davies (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), Tomos Williams (Wales), Ali Price (Scotland)
Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Owen Farrell (England)
Jonathan Davies (Wales), George North (Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Garry Ringrose (Ireland), Chris Harris (Scotland), Manu Tuilagi (England), Henry Slade (England)
Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Anthony Watson (England), Josh Adams (Wales), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), Keith Earls (Ireland), Jonny May (England)
Liam Williams (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Hugo Keenan (Ireland), Elliot Daly (England)