British and Irish Lions: Warren Gatland to name squad for tour of South Africa to take on world champion Springboks
Follow Thursday's British and Irish Lions squad announcement live on Sky Sports Mix from 11:45am or via our live blog; from 6pm tune in for the Lions Announcement Special, where Alex Payne will be joined by Warren Gatland and the Lions captain as well as Bryan Habana and Will Greenwood
Last Updated: 06/05/21 10:52am
This week Warren Gatland will announce his British and Irish Lions squad to take on the Springboks in the summer's eight-match tour of South Africa.
There had been plenty of speculation about whether the tour would go ahead, and though we won't see capacity crowds, we will still get to watch the best of Britain and Ireland take on the World Cup-winning Springboks in July and August, live on Sky Sports.
Will Alun Wyn Jones lead the Lions on his fourth tour? Will there be any bolters? Which fly-half will miss out on selection? Here's all you need to know ahead of Thursday's big announcement...
When is the squad announced?
Gatland and his coaching staff will unveil the 36-man touring squad on Thursday, as well as reveal who will captain the invitational side as they aim to avenge the 2-1 series defeat of 2009.
The announcement will be shown live on Sky Sports Mix and on Sky Sports' YouTube channel from 11.45am, but you can also keep up to date with all the news by following our live blog throughout the morning.
Lions Announcement Special
There will be plenty of reaction in our live blog and on Sky Sports News throughout the day on Thursday, and at 6pm there will be a Lions Announcement Special on Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports Arena - as well as our dedicated YouTube channel - where the newly appointed Lions captain will join coach Gatland in giving their thoughts on the upcoming tour.
Host Alex Payne will also be speaking to three-time Lions tourist Will Greenwood as well as South Africa legend Bryan Habana, who was part of the team that beat the Lions in 2009.
Which players are in contention for selection?
In the tight five there is plenty of debate around whether Alun Wyn Jones should be there. Some point to his leadership credentials after he captained Wales to the World Cup semi-final in 2019 and the Six Nations title this year, while others say there are second rowers who are currently in better form.
It's unclear whether Gatland will look to utilise Maro Itoje or an in-form Tadhg Beirne in the number six jersey to bolster his lineout options, or employ two fetchers at flank to help boss the breakdown against a hefty Springbok back-row that is likely to feature Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen.
When it comes to tours of South Africa there is always talk about the forward battle, and last month Hamish Watson was the focus of heated social media exchanges over the suggestion that he is too small to make an impact against the South African forwards. As player of the tournament in this year's Six Nations, he would no doubt be right at home in a red jersey over the summer.
At half-back there are questions around the form of Owen Farrell, though the Saracens man is unlikely to miss out due to his experience in winning trophies for club and country. Gatland has the option to pick the England skipper as one of his fly-half options for the tour or as an inside centre.
How the head coach chooses to employ Farrell will also determine whether we are likely to see Finn Russell being picked. The Racing 92 playmaker has been in sensational form, and having patched things up with Gregor Townsend he appears set to spearhead an increasingly threatening Scotland backline for the foreseeable future. Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton will both be hoping to be on the plane to Johannesburg in June, but at least one of the three is likely to miss out.
Out wide there are plenty of selection headaches for Gatland, particularly on the wing. The stars of the last 12 months have been Louis Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe, while the likes of Anthony Watson and Liam Williams were part of the drawn series against the All Blacks in 2017 and offer plenty of Lions experience.
Who is likely to be captain?
Wales skipper Jones is widely seen as the most likely to lead the Lions, given his existing relationship with Gatland from their time together at Wales.
There is the perception from some corners that someone up front should captain the Lions in South Africa given the physical nature of the battle against the Springbok forwards, but full-back Stuart Hogg has led a resurgent Scotland side in recent times and is a strong contender to lead the team out for the Test matches.
Itoje and Farrell have both been tipped to do the job. Their chances may have been hurt by England's lacklustre Six Nations campaign earlier this year, but both have leadership qualities that could yet see them named by Gatland as the tour skipper.
Who are the Lions playing?
The Lions will take on Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 before heading to South Africa where they will open their tour against the Stormers in Cape Town on July 3.
On July 7 they head to Port Elizabeth take on a South Africa Invitational side, after which they land in Durban to play Kolisi's new team, the Sharks, on July 10.
South Africa A will then host the Lions in Mbombela on July 14, and three days later Gatland's side will play their final warm-up match against South Africa's strongest provincial side, the Bulls.
The first Test against the Springboks takes place in Johannesburg on July 24, the second in Cape Town on July 31, and on August 7 the two teams head back to Johannesburg for a potential decider. All the matches will be live on Sky Sports.