sport news Here's who our former Lions put on the plane to South Africa as some big-name ...

On Thursday lunchtime, Warren Gatland will take centre stage in an old east London theatre to name his 36-man Lions squad. It is rugby's most anticipated announcement of the year. Big names will miss out and, knowing Gatland, there could be one or two surprises.

The coaching panel have spent recent weeks casting their eye over matches across Europe. Some players have played themselves in. Others have played themselves out.

The Lions captain's pick is one of the biggest headaches facing head coach Warren Gatland

The Lions captain's pick is one of the biggest headaches facing head coach Warren Gatland 

Covid bubbles mean Gatland will take a smaller squad to South Africa than in previous years, leaving him with a balancing act across positions.

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Rugby Correspondent Nik Simon spoke to a team of Lions legends, who produced a squad using their specialist insight for each position.

Props

Adam Jones (Wal)

Lions 2009, 2013

Selected: Rory Sutherland, Mako Vunipola, Wyn Jones, Tadhg Furlong, Kyle Sinckler, Tomas Francis

The Springbok scrum has big men and aggression is their big thing, so you're taking a risk if you try to outmuscle them. You need to be technically superior.

Tadhg Furlong is one of the two nailed-on props for the Lions tour along with Kyle Sinckler

Tadhg Furlong is one of the two nailed-on props for the Lions tour along with Kyle Sinckler

If your tighthead operates incredibly low to the ground and adopts a strong posture then you stand a chance. Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler are nailed on. For me, Tomas Francis edges out Andrew Porter and Zander Fagerson for the third spot.

Loosehead is more open. Rory Sutherland has been in good form and Mako Vunipola has so much experience, so they are in. Joe Marler is the best scrummager, but he has not been involved with international rugby this year, so the third spot is likely to be a shootout between Wyn Jones, Ellis Genge and Cian Healy. I suspect the Welsh link means Jones will get the spot.

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Hookers

Rory Best (Ire) Lions 2013, 2017

Selected: Ken Owens, Jamie George, Ronan Kelleher

The key to winning lineout ball against the Boks is being smart and fast. You can't go toe to toe with them because they're big athletes. You have to make them second guess. On form, Ken Owens is the first pick. He's experienced, dynamic and a big reason behind Wales' Six Nations success.

Ken Owens played an instrumental role in Wales' second Six Nations title in three years

Ken Owens played an instrumental role in Wales' second Six Nations title in three years

By the time we get to the Tests, I think Jamie George will be the starter. England stalled during the Six Nations but George has credit in the bank and he is the best lineout thrower in the world.

For a long time, Luke Cowan-Dickie was my third hooker but I had doubts after Ireland beat England. Against the Springboks, you want big physical ball carriers and Ronan Kelleher fits that mould. If he has a big game for Leinster today, I think he could snatch it.

Locks

Ben Kay (Eng) Lions 2005

Selected: Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, James Ryan, Iain Henderson

Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje are the first picks, with James Ryan not far behind. They are all big-game animals. Taking a smaller squad, Warren will want a few guys who can play lock and back row. Itoje ticks that box, alongside Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne. They're guys who add real ballast.

The lack of an authoritative lineout-caller like George Kruis is a slight cause for concern

The lack of an authoritative lineout-caller like George Kruis is a slight cause for concern

You need guys who will not only make their tackles, but put in dominant shots to upset the South African physicality. Courtney Lawes would have been ideal if he were fit. The only concern is there is no out-and-out brilliant lineout caller like George Kruis. The majority of tries start from a lineout so you need to make sure you're covered on that front.

Back row

James Haskell (Eng) Lions 2017

Selected: Tom Curry, Hamish Watson, Justin Tipuric, Tadhg Beirne, Sam Underhill, Taulupe Faletau, Billy Vunipola

There are so many options, so quality players such as Caelen Doris and CJ Stander could miss out. It comes down to the balance of ball carriers, lineout options and breakdown threats.

My starting back-row would be Tom Curry, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. Curry is a powerful all-rounder, Tipuric has the best footballing skills of any flanker in the world and Faletau is outstanding, with footwork as well as the gritty stuff. I was completely in awe of him on the 2017 tour.

You need guys who can interfere with the ruck, to stop magicians like Cheslin Kolbe getting quick ball.

James Haskell rates Justin Tipuric as the best footballing flanker in world rugby at the moment

James Haskell rates Justin Tipuric as the best footballing flanker in world rugby at the moment

Hamish Watson has been pretty special for a while. People question his size but technique wins every time.

Tadhg Beirne offers versatility as a lock or flanker and those guys are worth their weight in

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