The time for Warren Gatland to decide his 23 players for the first test is fast approaching. The tour really got underway on July 14 against South Africa A who were the Springboks in all but name. 

Before the South Africa A game, the Lions hadn’t really been challenged on tour. They ended up on the losing side but maybe it was just what they needed before the tests.

The physicality from the South African side was two or three steps higher than the Lions have experienced so far. 

It is now time for Warren Gatland to choose his British and Irish Lions squad for the first test

It is now time for Warren Gatland to choose his British and Irish Lions squad for the first test

The Lions faced their biggest challenge on tour in their defeat by South Africa 'A' this week

The Lions faced their biggest challenge on tour in their defeat by South Africa ‘A’ this week

I was surprised by the South African performance, their preparation for the series has been worse than the Lions. They didn’t look like a team that have hardly played since 2019.

The Lions struggled physically, but they grew into the game. When the Lions start to move the ball, they look dangerous. They have mobile forwards who are comfortable with the ball, and link well with the backs. 

Many players have put their hand up for selection. Gatland has a difficult task, some worthy players will miss out. But as we’ve found out from past tours, opportunities present themselves for others as the tests progress.

After struggling physically, the Lions grew into the game and Gatland has a tough decision

 After struggling physically, the Lions grew into the game and Gatland has a tough decision

In my back three, I’ve gone for Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Duhan Van Der Merwe. It was close between Williams and Stuart Hogg, but the Welshman is near faultless under the high ball and he attacks space. 

For me Williams is more aggressive and will get in the South Africans’ faces. On the wings Watson has looked sharp all tour, and Van Der Merwe will bring power out wide. 

Josh Adams is unlucky. He has scored a lot of tries against weak opposition. I think these three players provide a good balance.

Anthony Watson makes the back three as he is faultless under the high ball and attacks space

Anthony Watson makes the back three as he is faultless under the high ball and attacks space

In the centre, I’ve chosen Robbie Henshaw and Chris Harris. Both players bring pace and power, and are defensively sound. 

Henshaw has spent much of the tour nursing a hamstring injury. But his run out against the Stormers and his form from the Six Nations means he has to start.

My half backs are Ali Price and Dan Biggar. For me Conor Murray hasn’t done enough to start. On occasion he has looked quite laboured in his play. Price on the other hand whips the ball away from the ruck and really gets the team motoring. 

Robbie Henshaw is in the centre with Chris Harris and both players will bring pace and power

Robbie Henshaw is in the centre with Chris Harris and both players will bring pace and power

On his form currently, no other fly half on tour with the Lions comes close to Dan Biggar (left)

On his form currently, no other fly half on tour with the Lions comes close to Dan Biggar (left)

On current form, no other fly half on tour comes close to Dan Biggar. Sadly, we didn’t get a proper look at Finn Russell due to injury.

Owen Farrell can count himself lucky that Russell isn’t in the picture. Farrell hasn’t hit the heights for a couple of years, but he makes the bench because he can cover fly half and centre. 

Against the Stormers, Marcus Smith played a good game. He’s a superstar in the making but this is not his time. He may make the bench if an injury occurs.

Taulupe Faletau, Tom Curry and Hamish Watson form my back row. Faletau hasn’t done much on tour so far, but he’s world class and the bigger occasions bring out his best performances. 

Taulupe Faletau (left) hasn't done much on tour but the bigger games bring out the best in him

Taulupe Faletau (left) hasn’t done much on tour but the bigger games bring out the best in him

Curry is among the best opensides in the world, he can also cover the blindside. I’ve moved him to make room for Hamish Watson who has been outstanding too.

Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones occupy the second row. Itoje was monumental against South Africa A. He’s another player who produces his best against big opponents. 

After his remarkable recovery, I would select Jones and would make him captain. He’s an experienced leader and is respected by the players and management.

Alun Wyn Jones has recovered superbly and the veteran should be selected and made captain

Alun Wyn Jones has recovered superbly and the veteran should be selected and made captain

Wyn Jones and Tadgh Furlong have been solid in the scrum. They both carry well and Furlong has surprising speed and an outrageous sidestep. At hooker, I had Ken Owens starting with Jamie George on the bench. 

However, against the Stormers, Luke Cowan-Dickie was phenomenal. He gave a complete performance. 

He threw well into the lineout. He was highly mobile, great over the ball and tackled everything. He’s leapt ahead in my selection to start the first test.

Apart from the front row replacements, my bench selections are largely picked for their versatility. 

Luke Cowan-Dickie (right) was phenomenal against the Stormers and must also start the test

Luke Cowan-Dickie (right) was phenomenal against the Stormers and must also start the test

Courtney Lawes (centre) is unfortunate not to start but can cover blindside and the second row

Courtney Lawes (centre) is unfortunate not to start but can cover blindside and the second row

Courtney Lawes is unlucky not to start, and he can cover blindside and the second row. Jack Conan could quite easily have started at No 8; he’s had a good tour. Gareth Davies covers scrum half but can also play on the wing. 

As mentioned earlier, Owen Farrell covers fly half and centre. The most versatile player in the squad, Elliot Daly, has played well on tour after a disappointing season with England. 

He has been playing in the centre but can cover wing and full back if required. 

My Lions squad for the first test

The XV: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Duhan Van Der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Ali Price, 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Luke Cowan Dickie, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Capt), 5 Maro Itoje, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Taulupe Faletau

Replacements: Ken Owen, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Courtney Lawes, Jack Conan, Gareth Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly