Player profiles: The eight Irish Lions heading to South Africa

John O’Sullivan on the Irish players picked by Warren Gatland and what they offer

Bundee Aki - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

Bundee Aki - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

 

Bundee Aki (Connacht)

Age: 31
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 101kg (15st 10lbs)
Ireland caps: 31
Lions Tests: 0

A surprise selection in the sense that he wouldn’t have been mentioned as a strong contender but that doesn’t denigrate his quality. Warren Gatland likes his centres to be physically strong and abrasive on both sides of the ball and the New Zealand born centre fits that bill to a tee. The fact that he’s played both club and international rugby with Robbie Henshaw is certainly a plus when it comes to quickly establishing units within a team dynamic.

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)

Age: 27
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 99kgs (15st 7lbs)
Ireland caps: 52
Lions Tests: 0

Robbie Henshaw - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Robbie Henshaw - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

Making his second tour with the Lions having gone to New Zealand in 2017 before injury prematurely ended his involvement. He will be hoping for better fortune this time. The Athlone native was the form centre in the Six Nations Championship and if he can maintain that level of form will be a racing certainty for the Test team. The fact that he can play either centre position to high level international standard gives his coach flexibility in selection terms. It’s a fitting reward.

Conor Murray

Age: 32
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 93kgs (14st 7lbs)
Ireland caps: 89
Lions Tests: 5

Conor Murray - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Conor Murray - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

A third Lions tour for the Munster scrumhalf and while his form has been a little bit up and down over the past 12 months at his best there is no doubt that he is the pick of the three vying for the test role. Murray excelled in this environment in both Australia (2013) and New Zealand (2017) and if he can get back close to those levels then the Test place will be his with Gareth Davies his strongest challenger prior to the start of the tour.

Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

Age: 28
Height: 6’
Weight: 123kgs (19st 4lbs)
Ireland caps: 49
Lions Tests: 3

Tadhg Furlong - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Tadhg Furlong - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

The Leinster tighthead prop was one of the few players that united the media and former players when choosing a putative Test team to face the Springboks later in the summer; he was in everyone’s team. He’s lightly raced this season because of injury so should be in fine fettle for the tour. He can lock a scrum, sniff out try scoring opportunities, carry and tackle, has the footwork of a centre and the passing skills of an outhalf.

Andrew Porter (Leinster)

Age: 25
Height: 6’
Weight: 114kgs (17st 11lbs)
Ireland caps: 37
Lions Tests: 0

Andrew Porter - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Andrew Porter - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

A fitting reward for the consistent excellence that Porter has brought to performances in both the blue and green jerseys; he possesses that attractive quality for coaches in that he can scrum on both sides of the frontrow. Furlong’s injury meant that Porter stepped out of the understudy’s role at club and international level and did so with aplomb. He also possesses power and skill-sets that go far beyond the basic duties and will be a strong contender for the Test 23.

Tadhg Beirne (Munster)

Age: 29
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 113kg (17st 9lbs)
Ireland caps: 22
Lions Tests: 0

Tadhg Beirne - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Tadhg Beirne - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

Along with Robbie Henshaw he was Ireland’s standout performer in the recent Six Nations given the consistent quality of his work. A superb athlete he reads the game extremely well and this is perhaps most evident in his poaching skills at the breakdown. He knows then the steal is on and rarely gives away penalties in this facet of the game. He can play secondrow and blindside flanker with equal facility.

Iain Henderson (Ulster)

Age: 29
Height: 6’6
Weight: 116kgs (18st 3lbs)
Ireland caps: 63
Lions Tests: 0

Iain Henderson - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Iain Henderson - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

A player whose game intelligence is one of his most striking qualities, his ability to get defenders to sit down as he steps through or away from attempted tackles and has an uncanny knack of staying on his feet through contact. He is a decent lineout operator and the fact that he can play blindside flanker too makes him a strong contender for a Test 23.

Jack Conan (Leinster)

Age: 28
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 114kgs (17st 11lbs)
Ireland caps: 28
Lions Tests: 0

Jack Conan - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho
Jack Conan - British and Irish Lions squad pictures for 2021 tour to South Africa. Photograph: Inpho

Another slightly left field selection but there is no doubting his talent or that if he continues to display the form that he’s shown this season he will ask some questions. He starts the Tour behind Taulupe Faletau, the Welsh number eight back to his best. Conan was one of the few Leinster players not to wilt in the collisions in the La Rochelle game and will need that physical resilience in South Africa to complement his other qualities.

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