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The Breakdown | Who will Andy Farrell take on Lions tour of Australia?
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The Breakdown | Who will Andy Farrell take on Lions tour of Australia?

Just imagine, for a second, you are Andy Farrell, head coach of the 2025 British & Irish Lions. There is not limitless scope for leisurely reflection, given Ireland’s Test series in South Africa and with his son Owen about to make an emotional farewell to Saracens. But the thunderous Champions Cup final last Saturday is still fresh in the imagination and now is an obvious time to ponder the best available squad to face Australia next year.

The first priority, as ever, is to dig out the domestic fixture list for next year. The Lions’ first game is scheduled to take place on 20 June in Dublin against Argentina, before the squad departs for Western Australia. The Premiership and United Rugby Championship finals are the previous weekend, a welcome improvement from 2021 when the former clashed with the Lions’ game versus Japan at Murrayfield.

Among the most critical pieces of the whole jigsaw, however, is the date of the 2025 French Top 14 final, scheduled for 28 June. By then, the Lions will have been in Australia for almost a week. At least three of the 10 tour games will have been played by the time any Top 14 final representatives have sobered up, flown halfway around the world, done some meaningful training and are ready to play competitive rugby with some unfamiliar teammates.

If Toulouse, say, end up reaching a final against Racing 92 it puts a significant asterisk against the names of Jack Willis, Blair Kinghorn, Owen Farrell, Will Rowlands and Henry Arundell, all tour contenders. Alternatively, Farrell Sr could consider that quintet as high-end replacements, ready to travel should a vacancy materialise. But what if Hugo Keenan goes down in a heap towards the end of Leinster’s season? With Kinghorn committed elsewhere, what then?

And so on and so on. Selecting a Lions squad is as easy as nailing a multicoloured jelly to a moving wall. In some ways, deciding whether Farrell should select his own son will be the simple part – the pair have never allowed sentiment to cloud their day jobs. Rather harder will be gauging whether the growing number of narrow big-game defeats for Leinster’s top players is merely a blip or a flashing amber warning. Or how different the squad he would select today will be from the one he eventually names?

Let’s see if the Breakdown can help. There would appear to be 23 or 24 probables at this early stage, fitness permitting, with Leinster heavily represented. Caelan Doris, Joe McCarthy, Ryan Baird, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Jamison Gibson‑Park, James Lowe and Keenan are all pretty much nailed on and either Garry Ringrose or Robbie Henshaw will probably join them. Add Connacht’s Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham and the Irish contingent is bound to be healthy.

Leinster’s Hugo Keenan and Toulouse’s Blair Kinghorn in action during the Champions Cup final.View image in fullscreen

Others in this rarefied category? Maro Itoje, Ben Earl and the fast-emerging Immanuel Feyi‑Waboso from England, plus Tom Curry if he can return fit and firing from injury. Scotland, as a bare minimum, will send Finn Russell, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Zander Fagerson and Kinghorn, with Wales likely to be represented, at the very least, by Dafydd Jenkins and Jac Morgan.

At this point, though, things become trickier. Take the back row. Doris – a possible tour captain – Baird, Earl, Morgan and, potentially, Curry are great options but what about Willis, unavailable for England but colossal against Leinster? Or Courtney Lawes, who has declared he would tour with the Lions “in a heartbeat” if asked? Or England’s coming men, Chandler Cunningham‑South and Alfie Barbeary? Not forgetting Peter O’Mahony, Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier and Will Connors. Or Wales’s Tommy Reffell. Or Scotland’s Rory Darge, Andy Christie and Jack Dempsey. Only seven specialist back‑rowers will probably travel.

One or two other positions remain wide open. Hooker, for example. Dewi Lake and Jamie George will fancy it but try telling Ronan Kelleher, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Theo Dan, Rob Herring and George Turner that selection is already a done deal. Similarly, among the half‑backs, will Farrell Sr really choose Marcus or Fin Smith – or both – over his own flesh and blood? And which of Tomos Williams, Alex Mitchell, Harry Randall and Ben White best complement Gibson-Park and the eventual choices at 10?

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Outside bets? Looking at the gaps still to be filled, the two young Englishmen Tommy Freeman and the uncapped Quins loosehead Fin Baxter are worth a modest wager, in addition to Cunningham-South. Some genuinely exciting Red Rose talents are emerging and this tour may just come at the right moment for them.

But everything ultimately boils down to how long Farrell Sr can risk waiting for his best French‑based talent. On the evidence of Saturday, Willis and Kinghorn would be among the first names on anyone’s squad list. Farrell Jr, as he hopes to underline in his final days with Saracens, remains a supreme competitor, while Arundell could be prime X-factor wildcard material. As Farrell Sr strokes his chin and contemplates his 2025 options, some pivotal decisions await.

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Source: theguardian.com