British & Irish Lions: Mike Phillips picks his starting XV for this summer’s tour to South Africa

This week, it is the turn of former British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips to name his team for this summer’s tour to South Africa.

The Wales international was part of the Lions side which faced the Springboks in 2009 and he now runs the rule over the contenders to take on the World Cup holders 12 years later.

Phillips tells us who has impressed him during the Six Nations, who has work to do and who could be a bolter, along with naming who he would pick and his captain…

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Who has impressed?

For Scotland, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have stood out. I really hope Finn Russell goes because he’s done well for Racing 92 and I watched him in the European Cup final against Exeter Chiefs where he was superb, creating so much.

He’s a definite pick and he’s a point of difference. He can create for others and for himself, and he’s great to watch. He’s a bit more accurate and correct now as well; maybe before he felt he had to force it and playing for Scotland down the years there hasn’t been the talent outside him.

Now they’ve got the talent there and they’re a bit more organised. He can play within a slight structure and be himself in terms of the balance of doing the right thing at the right time.

Jonny May has been outstanding for England over recent times, he knows his way to the line and has scored some fantastic tries. For Wales, you’ve got Taulupe Faletau and Justin Tipuric and those two in the back row would walk into any team for me.

Robbie Henshaw was good on the weekend for Ireland as well, but there is still a lot to play for even after the Six Nations.

Who still has work to do?

Three weeks in rugby has changed a lot of people’s opinions and it’s crazy with dips in form and injury.

From a Welsh point of view, I thought Tomos Williams would be one of the favourites to be first choice, but he got injured and now he’s got a bit of work to do.

For England after the weekend, Maro Itoje has had questions about his discipline, but he’s an exceptional player and you’ve just got to have a quiet word in his ear. George Ford would have things to do as well because he was quite one-dimensional and obvious in what he was doing.

I’d say Zander Fagerson also has work to do because he’s not going to play the rest of the competition after that red card against Wales – although he could be a bit of a bolter too.

Who could be a bolter?

Louis Rees-Zammit is probably the best example of someone who could be a bolter. He’s exciting and he’s lit it up since he’s been playing for Wales. He’s still got a lot to learn defensively, but I think he’ll definitely get on the tour.

Whether he would be a Test starter remains to be seen, but hopefully he can play his way into that side.

Cameron Redpath was part of that great victory for Scotland at Twickenham before suffering a neck injury, and he can play fly-half or full-back as well as his main position at centre, which is a key factor to being selected.

Sometimes that can have a negative effect on you, but it can get you on the plane and he’s got every opportunity. I think the Scottish lads have got a good chance of getting big numbers on the team, so good for them.

Mike Phillips’ Lions XV

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland); 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland), 12 Manu Tuilagi (England), 11 Josh Adams (Wales); 10 Finn Russell (Scotland), 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Cian Healy (Ireland), 2 Ronan Kelleher (Ireland), 3 Kyle Sinckler (England), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, captain), 6 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 7 Justin Tipuric (Wales), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales).

At full-back I’ve gone with Stuart Hogg as he’s been outstanding. At 14, Anthony Watson has had a couple of great games so far, then I’ve got Josh Adams on the other wing, who’s a real finisher.

Garry Ringrose gets the outside centre role and at 12 I’ve put in Manu Tuilagi. Obviously, he’s injured at present, but I think it’s shown when he’s not there how good a player he is and England have really struggled without him.

I’ve picked Finn Russell at fly-half. I want to be entertained in my old age and he’s very entertaining, so I look forward to watching him play. Tomos Williams goes in at scrum-half and although he got injured, he should be back. I think Kieran Hardy has a chance of going as well.

Taulupe Faletau is my No 8. He’s had a season or two with injuries, but I played with him in his first game for Wales and he’s absolutely class. Justin Tipuric is a multi-skilled guy who gets in at No 7 and at No 6 I’ve gone for Tadhg Beirne, who is great around around the park and good over the ball.

Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje are my two second rows, and I’d probably pick Alun Wyn as my captain. He’s pretty inspiring and how he’s still going it’s phenomenal. He’s so prominent as well and he’s got massive respect from everyone, and Maro Itoje is a great athlete and he’s a pain on the field.

In the front row, I’ve gone for Kyle Sinckler at tighthead and Ronan Kelleher at hooker. He looks a machine for Ireland, although you could put Ken Owens in there as well. Cian Healy has been a Lion before and I’ll go with him at loosehead.

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