When it comes to both the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks, Graham Henry is better qualified than most to pass judgment.
Having coached the 2001 Lions team to a hard-fought 2-1 series defeat in Australia, the former Wales coach would then go on to coach his native New Zealand from 2004 to 2011 (and masterminded that infamous 3-0 whitewash against the Lions in 2005).
With just days to go until Warren Gatland names his XV for the first Test in Auckland this Saturday, a number of positions are still being hotly debated. For example, which of Johnny Sexton or Owen Farrell will start at fly-half? Will captain Sam Warburton get the nod to start or has Peter O’Mahony done enough to convince the coach to select him?
Henry gives his thoughts on that and more in a video for the Telegraph:
Sir Ian McGeechan, coach on four tours and assistant on another, gave his verdict on the squad at the weekend, and Henry echoes his fellow ex-Lions coach by selecting Leigh Halfpenny at full-back. Anthony Watson is also picked as one of the wingers, but interestingly the latter opts for Liam Williams (instead of compatriot George North) on the other wing.
Henry sidesteps the Farrell/Sexton debate nicely by selecting the Englishman at inside centre (with Ben Te’o as cover if he is not fit) and echoes McGeechan by picking Welshman Jonathan Davies as the outside centre.
With Farrell in at number 12, Johnny Sexton is picked at fly-half with compatriot Conor Murray (whom he calls “probably the best number nine in the world”) in at scrum-half.
As for Sam Warburton, Henry opts to leave the former Welsh captain out. He instead sees the merit in sticking with Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien as the two flankers, with Taulupe Faletau in at number eight.
In the second row, a pretty big call is made with Alun Wyn Jones picked next to George Kruis, with no place for the widely-praised Maro Itoje. The rationale behind this is down the 71-year-old’s opinion that “it’s important to have some experience there.”He also later states his belief that Jones should captain this side.
Finally, in the front row, the same trio that started against the Maori on Saturday is Henry’s preferred combination, namely Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong as props and Jamie George as hooker.
This being a squad game, however, Henry has also given his thoughts on who should be among the replacements, and so has opted for Jonathan Joseph, George North, Rhys Webb, Sam Warburton, Maro Itoje, Dan Cole, Jack McGrath and Rory Best as the players he believes can make an impact if needed from the bench.
Sir Graham Henry’s Lions XV to Face the All Blacks
Backs: 9. Conor Murray, 10. Johnny Sexton, 11. Liam Williams, 12. Owen Farrell, 13. Jonathan Davies, 14. Anthony Watson, 15. Leigh Halfpenny
Forwards: 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Alun Wyn Jones (c), 5. George Kruis, 6. Peter O’Mahony, 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Taulupe Faletau