Louis Rees-Zammit, Stuart Hogg and Maro Itoje win big, as some England stars feel the pressure.
- Vodafone exclusively reveals British & Irish Lions fans’ picks for the summer, with Louis Rees-Zammit flying into the starting XV and Lions stalwart Alun Wyn Jones named captain.
- England star Owen Farrell reduced to ‘finishers’ role, with fans preferring Finn Russell at 10.
- Stuart Hogg and Maro Itoje are Lions’ fans most picked players, with fans from every home nation picking the two stars in their starting XV.
- Billy Vunipola misses out on the squad entirely, Tadgh Beirne goes from zero to hero, and home nations fans keep their fingers crossed for Manu Tuilagi’s return from injury.
- More than 13,000 rugby fans made their selections via the Official Lions App, powered by Vodafone.
- All stats were recorded before Scotland’s game against France on Friday 26 March.
As the final round of international fixtures comes to a close, all eyes now turn to who British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland will select for his squad to face South Africa. Lead Partner Vodafone can exclusively reveal who the fans have put their faith in to do justice to the famous red jersey on this summer’s tour.
More than 13,000 rugby fans from across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made their voices heard using the XV Selector feature on the Official Lions App, which was launched in October in partnership with Vodafone. After an eventful tournament there are shock omissions from the squad for England’s Billy Vunipola, George Ford and Elliot Daly, and the startling rise of young winger Louis Rees-Zammit, who books a place not just on the plane but in the starting XV, with a massive 56% of fans picking him on the wing.
Vodafone has analysed all the data collected so far, and has used the votes to compile a full Lions squad, an overall 23 for the first test, and a 23 as voted for by each nation’s fans. Highlights fom the fans’ selections include:
- Alun Wyn Jones selected as captain with 40% of the vote, over Maro Itoje (22%), Stuart Hogg (20%) and Owen Farrell (10%).
- Owen Farrell (45%) misses out on the starting XV, with Finn Russell (69%) the fans’ pick at fly half and Robbie Henshaw preferred at number 12.
- Louis Rees-Zammit (56%) is the favourite to start on the wing, with Anthony Watson (40%) currently edging out Jonny May (37%) on the other flank.
- Billy Vunipola misses out on the squad entirely, despite being first choice to start at number 8 before the tournament (44% down to 14%).
- Tadgh Beirne books a place on the plane with 20% of the vote, despite not a single fan picking him for the squad pre-tournament.
- Stuart Hogg (81%) was the most picked player by Lions fans, just ahead of Maro Itoje (77%), with the two stars selected in the starting XV by fans of all home nations.
- English trio Manu Tuilagi, Sam Simmonds and Sam Underhill haven’t lost out with the fans despite not making Eddie Jones’ squad – all three have received enough votes so far to make the plane, and fans are hoping Tuilagi’s achilles heals in time.
Alongside the squad selector, the Official Lions app also includes a number of other unique fan engagement features, powered by Vodafone.
This includes the ability for fans to create their very own ‘Digital Lion’, a cutting-edge, fully animated virtual avatar that will allow them to get involved with the 2021 Tour like never before, including through customisable WhatsApp stickers and an interactive mobile game.
More than 100 years of History
The very first Lions tour, in 1888, visited Australia and New Zealand. It was then known as the Shaw and Shrewsbury Team (pictured above), after two former Ashes cricket captains who organised it.
The team took 42 days to arrive by steam ship and the tour lasted seven months. As well as playing 35 rugby matches against local sides, they played 19 games of Australian rules football, one cricket match, and even took part in a kangaroo hunt.
More touring sides from Britain and Ireland visited today’s South Africa in 1891, 1896, and 1903. South Africa’s provinces didn’t come together as a country until 1910.
There was another rugby visit in the year the Union of South Africa came into existence. And this was also the first time the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh rugby unions officially formed a committee to select a touring side.
Before that, organising the tours had been pretty informal.
Where did the Lions name come from?
During the 1924 South Africa tour, the players arrived wearing ties with a lion motif, plucked from the UK royal coat of arms where it represents Scotland.
Journalists started calling the players “the Lions” after their ties. The name stuck.
Before that, they’d normally been called the “British Isles” team.
Responding to the fans’ picks, Lions legend and iconic England centre and Vodafone ambassador Jeremy Guscott said:
“The fans have built a strong team, no doubt about it, and one I’m confident would have a great chance at going toe-to-toe with South Africa. Louis Rees-Zammit has really impressed this season and deserves a seat on the plane, if not the starting test team.
“I personally would have Maro Itoje playing second row and Tadhg Beirne or Taulupe Faletau as our blindside flanker, but agree with the fans that Anthony Watson would deliver a good performance on the right wing.”
England and Saracens legend and Vodafone ambassador Maggie Alphonsi approves of the selections, saying: “I can’t wait to see how the fans’ favourites match up to Gatland’s selected team, but from where I’m standing I think the fans’ squad would be more than capable of coming home with a victory.
“The battle for the captaincy is really tough – there are plenty of contenders, but Alun Wyn Jones would be a sensible alternative. The Lions captain will need to be respected by players, coaches and the referees and be capable of making decisions under pressure. Jones is a true leader, the only challenge may be the second row position is likely to be heavily contested.”
Vodafone UK’s Consumer Director Max Taylor says: “After some fascinating games, we now know which players the fans most want to be a part of the unique Lions touring party. We’re looking forward to a fantastic summer of rugby where the best of the best from all our home nations will unite – and there really is nothing in sport that unites us quite like the Lions.”
The Starting XV (and the bench)
- Mako Vunipola (29%)
- Jamie George (39%)
- Tadgh Furlong (47%)
- Maro Itoje (77%)
- Alun Wyn Jones (c) (50%)
- Tom Curry (50%)
- Hamish Watson (42%)
- Taulupe Faletau (46%)
- Conor Murray (31%)
- Finn Russell (69%)
- Louis Rees-Zammit (56%)
- Robbie Henshaw (38%)
- Jonathan Davies (35%)
- Anthony Watson (40%)
- Stuart Hogg (81%)
- Ken Owens (34%)
- Kyle Sinckler (39%)
- Cian Healy (16%)
- James Ryan (30%)
- CJ Stander (43%)
- Ali Price (22%)
- Owen Farrell (45%)
- Jonny May (37%)
Who’s Made the Plane
Jamie George (39%), Luke Cowan-Dickie (27%), Ken Owens (34%), Rory Sutherland (15%), Mako Vunipola (29%), Cian Healy (16%),Tadhg Furlong (47%), Kyle Sinckler (38%), Andrew Porter (12%), Maro Itoje (77%), James Ryan (49%), Alun Wyn Jones (50%), Jonny Gray (29%), Tadgh Beirne (21%), CJ Stander (43%), Tom Curry (50%), Sam Underhill (23%), Justin Tipuric (41%), Taulupe Faletau (46%), Josh Navidi (11%), Sam Simmonds (16%), Hamish Watson (42%)
Conor Murray (31%), Ali Price (22%), Gareth Davies (16%), Owen Farrell (45%), Finn Russell (69%), Jonathan Sexton (10%), Manu Tuilagi (26%), Jonathan Davies (35%), Garry Ringrose (33%), Henry Slade (22%), Robbie Henshaw (38%), Jonny May (37%), Louis Rees-Zammit (56%), Duhan van der Merwe (30%), Stuart Hogg (81%), Liam Williams (24%), Anthony Watson (40%)
Disagree with your fellow fans? Choose your own squad on the Official Lions App and get closer to the action than ever before by creating your own Vodafone Digital Lion.
Lead image: 27.02.21 – Wales v England – Guinness 6 Nations – Alun Wyn Jones of Wales is tackled by Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola of England. (WRU / Graeme Gillespie)
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