British & Irish Lions: Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer pick their XV for first Test against South Africa


Jim Telfer and Sir Ian McGeechan (right) steered the Lions to a 2-1 series victory in South Africa in 1997
Jim Telfer and Sir Ian McGeechan (right) steered the Lions to a 2-1 series victory in South Africa in 1997

The debate around British and Irish Lions selection can rage with the intensity of the Test series itself.

You could put a thousand players, coaches, pundits and fans in a room and would likely struggle to find any two who could agree on a Lions XV to start the first Test against South Africa on 24 July.

However, most fans would sit up and take notice of any side put forward by Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer, the legendary Scottish coaching duo who masterminded the iconic Lions series win against the world champion Springboks in 1997.

We reunited the pair on this week’s BBC Scotland Rugby Podcast to nail down the definitive McGeechan-Telfer Lions XV.

The side they have selected features six Welshmen, four Irish, three English and two Scots.

Full-back: Stuart Hogg

Hogg gets the nod after leading Scotland to victories at Twickenham and the Stade de France in the Six Nations. Some have questioned the Exeter player’s ability under the high ball, but Telfer is a fan.

“Every time Stuart Hogg gets the ball, the temperature goes up,” he said. “You think something is going to happen.

“I don’t think Hogg is as poor under the high ball as some people are trying to make out. I like attacking players, players who do something out the ordinary.”

Wings: Anthony Watson & Liam Williams

Despite playing in a struggling England side, Watson edges out Welsh flier Louis Rees-Zammit to claim the right-wing berth, with another 2017 Lion, Williams, deployed on the left.

Centres: Robbie Henshaw & George North

The midfield provoked strong debate. Both men were in agreement that Ireland’s Henshaw should start at 12, with McGeechan’s case for Wales’ North winning the day for the 13 jersey at the expense of Henshaw’s Irish midfield partner Garry Ringrose.

“A couple of years ago I thought North had probably seen his international career end,” said McGeechan. “He had a few injuries, wasn’t playing with a lot of confidence, but he’s come back really well.

“He carries very well, he’s a natural try scorer and in his current mindset he could just take off.”

With North picking up a serious looking injury at the weekend, Ringrose would replace him in the duo’s side should he be ruled out of the tour. McGeechan also believes Scotland’s Chris Harris should be in the wider squad.

Fly-half: Finn Russell

Calcutta Cup-winning Scotland team-mates Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell both make the cut
Calcutta Cup-winning Scotland team-mates Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell both make the cut

There is no shortage of quality candidates for the 10 jersey, with Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, England’s Owen Farrell and Wales’ Dan Biggar all possessing Lions experience. But McGeechan believes Russell is ready to step up into the rarefied atmosphere of a Lions Test series and thrive.

“Finn has matured,” he said. “He sees things so quickly. He’s the most varied attacking kicker that we’ve got in the northern hemisphere. He’s brave, he makes his tackles, and if there’s any daylight at all he will find it.”

Scrum-half: Conor Murray

Russell’s lack of Lions experience is balanced with the selection of Murray at nine, a veteran of two Lions tours and 89 Test matches for Ireland.

Front row: Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong

Jones was the outstanding loosehead in the Six Nations and is rewarded with a spot in the front row alongside Welsh team-mate Owens and Ireland’s Furlong.

Locks: Maro Itoje & Alun Wyn Jones

Telfer says England lock Itoje should be one of the first names on the teamsheet when Warren Gatland and his coaches settle down for their selection meeting for the first Test.

“I think he’s an outstanding player, an outstanding bloke,” said Telfer. “Itoje has that extra bit about him.”

Alongside Itoje is Wales colossus Jones. Both Telfer and McGeechan are united in their admiration for the Welsh captain, and both believe he should lead the Lions this summer.

“He is the natural captain,” said McGeechan. “I think on and off the field he would be by some distance the natural leader that you would want there.”

Back row: Tadhg Beirne, Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau

The back row is where Gatland perhaps has the greatest embarrassment of riches. Some seriously good Test operators are going to be left watching from home.

Ireland’s Beirne gets the nod at six having delivered some towering displays in the Six Nations, with Telfer believing him to be the outstanding player of the tournament. That accolade went to Scotland’s Hamish Watson, but there’s no room for him in this side, with England’s Curry preferred instead.

“Hamish Watson is an integral part of the Scottish side and he definitely deserves to go on the tour, but I’ve chosen Curry because he’s just that bit bigger and stronger,” said Telfer. “I would sit down with Hamish Watson and tell him how good a player he is, but he’s not as good as Curry.

“You’ve got these five or six openside flankers to choose from. You’ve got Justin Tipuric, one of the best players I’ve ever seen at seven. It’s the best of the best.”

After rediscovering his best stuff in the Six Nations, Wales’ Faletau completes a powerful back-row selection.

Sir Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer's Lions XV

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