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Shane Williams names the Lions backline that will beat South Africa this summer

Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams has identified the backline that he believes will help the Lions beat the Springboks this summer.

Williams, a three-time tourist who featured in the Test series the last time the Lions were in South Africa in 2009, fancies the Lions’ chances and has named a backline that features two fellow Welshmen.

Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad will assemble in Jersey next week and the former Wales boss will already have some idea of what his Test team is going to look like.

Though he stressed how difficult it is to pick a team from a ‘fantastic squad of players’, Williams was in no doubt over who should start at full-back.

“The easiest one for me is that Stuart Hogg has to be at 15,” said Williams, who is an ambassador for The Hundred.

“He’s an integral part of what the Lions are all about and is the form full-back in world rugby.”

His old position of wing, though, caused Williams a real headache.

Gatland has a plethora of razor sharp options at his disposal, with Anthony Watson and Liam Williams having already tasted rugby at this level four years ago.

However, first-time tourists Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe have all impressed in the last six months or so.

It’s the closest of calls, but ex-winger Williams went with experience.

“The difficult bit is the wingers. I’m a big fan of Watson – he’s been there and done it before. As has Liam Williams,” said Shane, who played for Wales 87 times over an 11-year Test career.

“If they were playing tomorrow and you wanted a proven Test team, Anthony Watson and Liam Williams would be playing.

“That means you leave Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit out. That’s a very difficult choice for me because I’ve been writing up those boys for the last two years.

He added: “I could quite easily see Rees-Zammit coming in and playing Test rugby but I think he’ll be blooded quite a bit in the midweek matches, as I was in ‘09, just to see if he’s ready.

“This will be the toughest rugby of his life so far. I’d love to see him come through and have an opportunity.

“Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe could quite easily slot in there.”

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Moving into the midfield, the call was slightly easier given the form of Irish centre Robbie Henshaw in recent months.

Alongside him, Williams plumped for England captain Owen Farrell, who struggled for form in the Six Nations but is proven at the highest level, playing a key role in the Lions’ drawn series with the All Blacks four years ago.

“Henshaw has deserved his place in the centre at the moment but we may see players like Bundee Aki coming through,” pointed out Williams.

“He has plenty of experience, is playing with a lot of form and he loves an outside break.

“Also, when you have wingers with all the pace the Lions have on your outside, it makes him more dangerous because defences pay more attention to that.

“It would be a no-nonsense 12 and 13.

“South Africa won the World Cup by doing the basics right, being aggressive, winning the set pieces. Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel were just tough, hard and ran straight.

“It can win you a Lions tour as well and I think we’ve got that.”

On Farrell, Williams added: “Even though Farrell hasn’t been playing particularly well for England, he is still a big occasion player.

“With him at 12 alongside Dan Biggar, that could do some real damage.

“You’d have two 10s and I like teams who play with two fly-halves. You see it in Super Rugby Aotearoa and it gives teams options on both sides.”

Williams, then, went for his old team-mate Biggar to start at fly-half, having been pivotal in Wales’ Six Nations success and taken his game to new heights since joining Northampton Saints.

The Welshman is now arguably playing the best rugby of his career and is the favourite to start at No.10. Williams would pair him up with Irishman Conor Murray.



Dan Biggar on the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand

“I think Dan Biggar starts at 10,” insists Williams.

“Along with Farrell, defensively, Dan is the best fly-half in the world. He’s got a fantastic kicking game – he can kick against where the ball is coming from, he can kick into open space, he’ll put a bomb up and catch it himself.

“That, in itself, is one of the best skills you can have in rugby because you make 40 yards just from one effort.

“Northampton has brought a bit more out of Dan. He takes the ball flat to the line more than he used to. He used to be a very deep 10 but he now has a more attacking game about him, he’s got a great offloading game too.

“Generally, all round, he’s one of the best 10s in world rugby. He was a great player when I played alongside him but I look at him now and think I’d have really loved playing with Dan now because he’s adapted his game.”

On the scrum-half position, Williams said: “It’s probably someone like a Conor Murray, who has got that experience having played in a number of Lions tests.

“He won’t have his old faithful in Johnny Sexton alongside him but Biggar is a carbon copy of Sexton. I’m sure they’ll work perfectly well together.”

Going up against the world champions is a daunting task for any side, let alone one that is thrown together a matter of weeks before the Test series takes place.

But the Lions are well-versed in it by now, having faced the defending kings of the world in two of the last three trips.

That being said, Williams – who also believes tour captain Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric should start in the Tests – has backed Gatland’s side to come out on top.

Do you agree with Shane’s backline? Have your say in the comments below?

Calling all British and Irish Lions fans, we want your views.

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“It will be a tough tour to South Africa, to face the world champions. It was the most physical tour I’d ever been on,” he recalls.

“But we should win this series. This is a team that can go to South Africa and beat the world champions.

“Northern hemisphere rugby is very strong at the moment.

“England have quality players, Wales winning the Six Nations, Irish provinces doing well.

“We’ve just got quality players. Hogg becoming captain of Scotland has just elevated him to become a better player again.

“Alun Wyn is playing out of his skin at the ripe old age of 64!

“You’ve got players like Tadhg Beirne playing with confidence.

“It’s such a confident team. The ability and physicality has never been questioned but there are a lot of good players playing with confidence at the moment.

“You have players in the English Premiership playing well for their clubs.

“The confidence Sam Simmonds must take on this tour will be fantastic.

“It’ll be tough, don’t get me wrong, South Africa are world champions and a great side. Cheslin Kolbe, de Allende, Pieter-Steph du Toit – these guys are world class.

“But what a team to be playing against.”

The Lions tour will form part of a feast of sport this summer, which features Wales international rugby matches, the Euros and cricket’s new competition – The Hundred.

Williams is looking forward to taking it all in.



Shane Williams of the British & Irish Lions beats Jaque Fourie of South Africa on his way to scoring his second try during the third Test in 2009

“I’m a huge advocate for all sports and any child wanting to get involved,” he said.

“After the 18 months of hell that we’ve had, it’s nice that we can start getting sports back on the map.

“You’ve got The Hundred coming up, the Olympics, the Lions, the Euros and it’s exactly what we need after the time we had.

“We’ve been moaning that we haven’t had enough sport on and now you can take your pick.”

*Shane Williams is an ambassador for Welsh Fire and The Hundred – a new cricket competition coming to Cardiff this summer. For more information go to www.thehundred.com *

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