Telegraph Sport's Lions squad day four: Back row – do you agree with our writers' selections?

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Mick Cleary
·5-min read
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CJ Stander, Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau carry the ball in a composite image - Telegraph Sport's Lions squad day four: Back row – do you agree with our writers' selections? - Getty Images/PA
CJ Stander, Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau carry the ball in a composite image - Telegraph Sport's Lions squad day four: Back row – do you agree with our writers' selections? - Getty Images/PA

Lions head coach Warren Gatland will announce his squad for the tour to South Africa on May 6 — and in advance of the big selection announcement Telegraph Sport's rugby writers have nominated their own picks to take on the world champions.

The spotlight fell first on the props, the hookers and potential locks. Now we move on to the back row.

Mick Cleary, Chief Rugby Union Writer

My back row: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England), Tom Curry (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland)

No Sam Underhill, no Josh Navidi….although we all know the attrition rate of a Lions tour means that there will be call-ups. There is quality in the back-row options with the prospect too of Maro Itoje doing a shift there if needs be. Billy Vunipola needs to up his game, as he himself knows only too well. The Lions will bring the best out of him. Stander brings wallop, Watson, too, in a different way.

Gavin Mairs, Chief Rugby Union Correspondent

My back row: Justin Tipuric (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Sam Underhill (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England)

Vunipola goes on reputation and his power after a disappointing Six Nations, but Gatland knows he must bring the best out of him to confront the physicality of the Springboks. It is a tough call on Jack Conan, who seized his chance with Ireland but might have just come too late for the Lions head coach. Hamish Watson is a genuine Test contender while Faletau is in pole position to start at No 8. I was keen to include Courtney Lawes to give Gatland another power option in the back row, but his injury just makes it too much of a risk.

Daniel Schofield, Deputy Rugby Union Correspondent 

My back row: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Jack Conan (Ireland), Courtney Lawes (England)

Probably the hardest area of selection any Lions coach has ever faced. You could legitimately put together three different combination of back-rowers who would not look out of place. As it is I have gone for a mixture of size and pace. Faletau is probably as closed to nailed on as you can get while Curry and Beirne would be a delicious starting combination. Jack Conan edged a recent head to head against Sam Simmonds, and I felt I just could not leave out Justin Tipuric while Courtney Lawes provides a mixture of defensive stopping power and an extra lineout option.

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Tom Cary, Senior Sports Correspondent

My back row: Tom Curry (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Sam Underhill (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Jack Conan (Ireland)

No Hamish Watson feels unbelievably harsh. But I’ve gone with Courtney Lawes for his ballast, his tackling, his jumping and as second row cover. Tom Curry is a cert to travel. I think Sam Underhill is also a must and Justin Tipuric offers a point of difference with his all-court game. At No 8, CJ Stander and Billy Vunipola are just not doing enough for me. Faletau and Conan are in better form. Would love to see Sam Simmonds in South Africa following repeated England snubs but can’t see it happening.

Ben Coles, Rugby Reporter

My back row: Tom Curry (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Josh Navidi (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Hamish Watson (Scotland)

Taking a sixth back-row over a fifth centre means CJ Stander gets added into my selection, and the physicality he'll offer in South Africa in his final bit of international action makes for an added bonus. A starting back row of Navidi, Curry and Faletau works well, but any number of Beirne, Itoje or Stander could start at six. Navidi, a bit like Ken Owens, is invaluable for Wales and offers the kind of abrasiveness the Lions will need. Watson deserves this chance after a fine Six Nations for Scotland, going on to be named player of the championship. The unluckiest player to miss out might be Sam Underhill.

Charles Richardson

My back row: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Matt Fagerson (Scotland), Billy Vunipola (England), Josh Navidi (Wales)

There was no better No 8 in the Six Nations than Matt Fagerson; on form he must tour. Tom Curry will start at openside – Sam Underhill, his equal, misses out due to injury – but blindisde is up for grabs. CJ Stander, for all his strengths with Ireland, was rejected by South African rugby, so chances of him defeating the Springboks are slim. Billy Vunipola and Hamish Watson offer too much to be left at home, and Josh Navidi is a firecracker; the kind of player who could just as easily make zero impact as end up as player of the series.

Richard Bath

My back row: Tom Curry (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland) 

This is the most difficult position. The two No 8s pick themselves, although it’s a pity there’s no room for Dombrandt, who is perfect for South African conditions. Beirne’s size, versatility and breakdown work make him a shoo-in. I’d take Curry, Tipuric for his link play and Watson for his carrying, but Jamie Ritchie, Sam Underhill, Ben Earls, Josh van der Flier and Josh Navidi can all consider themselves unlucky.

James Corrigan

My back row: CJ Stander (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tom Curry (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Josh Navidi (Wales), Hamish Watson (Scotland)

This could well emerge Gatland's toughest selection quandary. So much quality augmented by Tadgh Beirne, who will surely go as a second-rower. Simmonds and Underhill might consider themselves unlucky. 

HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you think of our writers' selections? Let us know in the comments section below.

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