Former British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has selected his greatest Lions team from the players he worked with during his four tours with the invitational side.
Gatland first toured with the Lions in 2009, working under then-head coach Sir Ian McGeechan before leading the side in Australia in 2013, New Zealand in 2017 and South Africa in 2021.
The New Zealander has confirmed that he will not put his name forward to coach the side for the 2025 tour to Australia and has backed Ireland boss Andy Farrell as his replacement.
Following that decision, Gatland had decided to pick his Dream Team from the players he worked with throughout his time with the Lions, noting that he had made his selection based on when the players were at their best for the Lions, with their Test careers before and after that not factored in.
“From 2009 to 2021 the game changed, laws changed too so that was taken into account in my decisions. So too were individual playing records for the Lions, as well as positional combinations. My selections for the bench are not simply the next best eight players either but designed to complement the starting XV,” Gatland wrote in his latest column for the Telegraph.
Gatland has not selected any Scotland players in his XV or on the bench, while his starting lineup is dominated by Welsh players, with nine in total selected. They are joined by three players from England and Ireland, respectively. On the bench, four Ireland players feature, with three Englishmen and one Welshman.
The former Lions boss has picked Leigh Halfpenny at fullback, who he hailed as “one of the best fullbacks in the world” at his best and added that his goal kicking in 2013 set him apart from the rest.
Halfpenny is joined by Irishman Tommy Bowe on the right wing and Wales’ George North on the left.
Gatland has once again snubbed former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll, opting for the Welsh centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, the pairing that started the crucial third Test against Australia in 2013.
Explaining the decision to pick Davies over O’Driscoll, Gatland said that it was his most difficult selection for many reasons.
“If you were to pick a Lions team that included the tours when he [O’Driscoll] was at his best, 2001 and 2005, then he would come into that calculation because he was an unbelievable player. But when I was head coach in 2013, his best days were behind him, whereas Jonathan Davies was in his prime. He played in the series-winning Test in 2013 and went on to become player of the series on the 2017 tour against the world champions New Zealand,” Gatland wrote.
While O’Driscoll does feature on Gatland’s bench, his former teammate Johnny Sexton is picked at fly-half, despite not being selected for the 2021 tour, a call he admits he still wonders if he got right. Wales’ Mike Phillips joins Sexton in the half-back pairing.
Into the pack, and Taulupe Faletau edges Jamie Heaslip for the number eight jersey, the latter selected on the bench. Faletau is joined by Sam Warburton, who Gatland also picked as his captain for the Dream Team, adding that “he is still probably the best I have worked with in terms of ability at the breakdown and over the ball, and you need that with the Lions.”
While Gatland wonders what Stephen Ferris could have done for the Lions and is a big fan of Courtney Lawes, England’s Tom Croft completes his loose trio. Alun Wyn Jones was one of Gatland’s “easiest selections” and is joined in the second row by Ireland’s Paul O’Connell.
Up front England’s Mako Vunipola (loosehead) and Jamie George (hooker) are joined by Wales’ tighthead prop Adam Jones, who edges Tadhg Furlong.
On the bench, prop Gethin Jenkins is the 10th and final Welshman in the squad and is joined by England’s Tom Youngs as front-row cover along with Furlong. Maro Itoje is picked as the replacement lock, with Heaslip covering the back-rower.
Connor Murray is the backup nine, with England’s Owen Farrell and Ireland’s O’Driscoll the other replacement backs.
Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions Dream Team
Gatland’s Dream Team: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll