O'Brien and Laidlaw pick their six Lions certainties to face South Africa
"Oh my God!"
Picking five players from the British & Irish Lions squad that will be guaranteed starters against South Africa in the First Test. Sounds easy, but it is far from it.
You may be confident with three names, if you were put to the pin of your collar. Possibly four. Five, though? Now we're getting into dicey territory.
That was the task set to Sean O'Brien and Greig Laidlaw on the the latest episode of House of Rugby's Lions Series [LISTEN from 19:45 below], by Alex Goode ahead for Saturday's first encounter with the Springboks. Laidlaw, in fairness, gamed the system to his advantage.
Lions assistant coach Neil Jenkins says the wider squad was told the matchday selection, by Warren Gatland, on Tuesday afternoon, with the public finding out the team on Thursday morning.
In the interim, Goode tasked Laidlaw and O'Brien, who toured together as Lions in 2017, with predicting the players they can definitely see making that starting XV. O'Brien drew the short straw and went first:
- Robbie Henshaw
- Dan Biggar
- Maro Itoje
- Tadhg Furlong
- Josh Adams
When Goode expressed his doubts that Adams - in competition with Duhan van der Merwe, Anthony Watson, Liam Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit - would nail down a spot, O'Brien declared, "He's starting. He's starting all day!"
"I can't believe you didn't say Conor Murray," Goode remarked, forcing Laidlaw to wave the saltire.
"Ali Price has forced himself enough in the picture that [Murray starting] is not certain," the Scot said. "Coming back to Alun Wyn Jones returning, does that mean you don't have to start Conor Murray? Ali has been good."
Still needing to name his five definite starters, Laidlaw played it smart by agreeing with O'Brien on his first four picks. He was not so certain on Josh Adams.
"Adams has been excellent so far," he said, "and he can really sniff out a try, and he's just been finishing them off. He wasn't great against Stormers but it was a hard game to play, as you wouldn't want to get injured for the Tests.
"Who'd be my fifth? Tom Curry. I think we'll start Tom Curry."
It just goes to show how many top players are vying for Test jerseys that two proven Lions struggled to settle on even five guaranteed starters. The competition is fierce, and the Test Series hasn't even begun.
WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE: