British & Irish Lions 2025 - who starts the first test in Australia?
While a Lions tour does not these days signal the end of a playing cycle in the same way as a World Cup, there can be little doubt that some 2017 New Zealand survivors are unlikely to don the famous red jersey for a third time in Australia in four years’ time.
Looking into a crystal ball at such distance is a difficult task – not least because we are some way from knowing the identity of the man who will make those selection calls.
But with this summer’s younger tourists likely to be in their prime in 2025, we have taken a look at who survives and who might join them in the first test line-up.
At 31 the Bath speedster will be the second oldest man in our back division, but the England star’s fast feet, secure hands and ability to play at full back or wing gets him the nod to make a third Lions tour.
At 24 he will be in his prime when the Lions visit Australia where he is sure to relish the firm grounds.
Duhan van der Merwe
Scotland’s recently qualified winger started all three of the 2021 test matches in the land of his birth.
Fears he may be exposed by the Springboks kicking game proved largely unfounded and his bulk, power and pace proved a useful ball-carrying asset.
Van der Merwe will be 30 when the Lions leave for Australia – and by then is likely to be one of Scotland’s most capped players.
His positional versatility makes him the ideal replacement for Elliot Daly in the no.23 shirt.
Life after Gats may soon be a Lions possibility – here's a look at who might fill a very big pair of Kiwi shoes…https://t.co/cxtU5vBOQU
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 9, 2021
The former Saracens back, who will be 30 in 2025, proved an instant hit following his move across the Severn Bridge and with George North and Jonathan Davies getting no younger he seems likely to enjoy plenty of game time in Wayne Pivac’s midfield.
The by then 32-year-old Leinster and Ireland midfielder was one of the biggest successes of the 2021 South Africa tour, and providing he stays fit he is taken to bring power and experience to the Australian trip.
It is impossible to look beyond the glowing recommendation the Lions coaches provided of the Harlequins no.10 at the end of the 2021 tour.
Smith’s stellar Premiership winning season with his club earned him a first England cap only a few weeks before he was parachuted into the Lions party as injury cover.
Of course, he first ideally has to convince England boss Eddie Jones to select him ahead of Owen Farrell and George Ford – although depending on the identity of Gatland’s successor this may not be considered an issue.
Should the 2025 Lions opt for a less ‘route one’ approach the option of pairing Wales no.10 Sheedy with Smith as a second play-maker is an interesting one.
The Bristol fly half will be 29 when the Australia tour departs and could well have enjoyed two seasons as his country’s starting pivot should Dan Biggar’s career not extend beyond the 2023 World Cup. He therefore wears the no.22 shirt.
REF WATCH: "Three refereeing decisions ended up being of crucial significance in the outcome of the match – and therefore the series."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 8, 2021
Bristol’s impressive run to topping the Gallagher Premiership’s regular season table saw some sparkling displays from their pacy no.9.
This earned him occasional third scrum half selections in England’s squad and a place on their summer tour.
Randall will be 27 in 2025 and by then should have four seasons vying with Dan Robson as the successor to Ben Youngs.
Scarlets no.9 Hardy made a big impression on his club’s domestic campaigns following his return to Wales from Jersey.
Since then he has won four caps for his country and in a position where the Lions are not over blessed with options he has the potential to develop into the back-up scrum half role as a 29-year-old in 2025.
There is no substitute for experience in the front row and the by then 32-year-old Rory Sutherland should be close to the 75-cap mark by the time the Australia tour arrives.
Part of a unit which has made Scotland’s scrum a powerful weapon for the first time in decades the Edinburgh prop earned two Lions caps this summer.
The Cardiff Blues loose head switched back to the club from Saracens after being part of his country’s 2019 World Cup campaign.
Carre is now working under the tutelage of former Lions prop Dai Young – a coach renowned for his ability to improve front rowers.
Another survivor of the 2021 tour, the Exeter hooker appeared in all three tests in South Africa, twice starting ahead of the proven quality of Jamie George and Ken Owens.
His phenomenal ball carrying and tackle stats make him a standout performer, and by 2025 the 32-year-old is taken to have also further improved his lineout throwing.
Ireland no.2 Kelleher joined the 2021 British & Irish Lions pre-tour training camp in Jersey as informal cover for George Cowan-Dickie and was then added to the touring party a few weeks later.
With only two seasons of Leinster first team rugby behind him, Kelleher’s rise was nothing short of meteoric and aged 27 in 2025 he should push the Exeter man hard for the starting berth.
Probably the best front rower in the British Isles and Ireland since 2017, Furlong will be in the autumn of his career as a 32-year-old when the Lions visit Australia.
Assuming he stays fit, anyone good enough to wrestle the starting shirt from the Leinsterman will be quite a performer.
The uncapped 2021 Lion will at 29 be in his prime when the Lions embark on their next tour.
Making his third Lions tour having started every test match in New Zealand and South Africa the Saracens lock could well have enjoyed a couple of seasons as England captain by the time he boards the plane to Australia.
At the age of 30 and respected across the globe he is every inch the ideal successor to Willie John McBride, Martin Johnson and Alun Wyn Jones as the tour’s Lions skipper.
The Leinster lock was pencilled into many 2021 Lions tour parties before he got injured then struggled to recover his form in the 18 months ahead of the tour.
Time is on his side however, and at 29 he can prove the ideal foil to Itoje in the Lions engine room.
The Ospreys lock impressed many observers on the 2021 tour but faced an uphill battle to gain selection ahead of Itoje and Jones.
A key part of Wales’ line-up, Beard claims the bench spot in this 2021 selection.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 8, 2021
The dynamic Leinster back-rower is tall enough to offer a lineout option but mobile enough to cope with the more open game plan this selection will adopt on the fast Australian surfaces.
A newcomer to international rugby in 2020, Doris lost out on Lions selection to physically bigger players including test starter Courtney Lawes.
The Sale flanker has already won 33 international caps after making his debut at the age of only 19.
The outstanding no.8 has recently decamped from Bath to Montpellier at least in part because of the lack of opportunity given to him by Eddie Jones.
We envisage this situation changing after France 2023 at which point Mercer could become an England regular under a new head coach.
Exeter’s record-breaking back-rower is another who has missed the England coach’s list of preferred options, but his pace in open field and eye for the try-line makes him an ideal impact replacement to use against tiring defenders.
Simmonds won one cap on the 2021 Lions tour.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now