British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Centres

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will name his squad to face South Africa on Thursday, May 6. Below we look at some of the midfield options across inside-centre and outside-centre from the four nations. Watch every match on the tour exclusively live on Sky Sports

Last Updated: 02/05/21 10:50am

Jonathan Davies, Robbie Henshaw and Chris Harris are in the frame. Below, we look at the centre options for the Lions…

We look through the contenders for the 2021 British and Irish Lions centre positions, and who Warren Gatland might be looking at in terms of inside-centre and outside-centre ahead of his squad announcement…

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster and Ireland; Test caps: 52; British and Irish Lions tours: 2017)

Undoubtedly one of the form players in the northern hemisphere over the last year, Henshaw is playing the rugby of his career at present.

A Lions tourist to New Zealand in 2017, Henshaw departed early due to a shoulder injury then and in any case had seemed to drift out of the Test reckoning owing to Gatland’s preferred ploy of starting Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell together as a dual-playmaking 10 and 12.

During the 2021 Six Nations, Henshaw demonstrated his ability to perform at 12 and 13, with his physicality, defence, ball-carrying, aerial work and running game all exceptional. The 27-year-old is one of the leading names for a Test place at the moment.

Jonathan Davies (Scarlets and Wales; Test caps: 94; British and Irish Lions tours: 2013, 2017)

Instrumental in 2013 as the Lions secured a series win over Australia, and voted player of the series in 2017, Wales centre Davies has huge Lions pedigree.

Indeed, on both of the previous tours, he has started all three Tests as a reliable and skilful performer for Gatland.

Injuries have taken their toll on the 33-year-old over the last couple of years, however, and his influence and impact on Test matches is not what it was. It’s in the balance as to whether he makes the cut, though quite perversely, teammate George North’s serious knee injury has probably helped his chances.

Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks and England; Test caps: 44; British and Irish Lions tours: 2013)

A Lions tourist at 22 to Australia in 2013, Tuilagi was fresh from shocking the All Blacks for England then, but serious injuries have ravished the hard-carrying centre’s career at several points since.

Hamstring, chest, knee (both) and hip injuries meant that Tuilagi failed to start a 2014 Six Nations Test, did not play for the whole of 2015 – missing the Rugby World Cup – and failed to start any Test matches in 2016, 2017 or 2018 either, picking up two caps as a replacement in that time.

In 2019, Tuilagi made a sensational return as England impressed during the Six Nations by beating defending champions Ireland in Dublin, before making it to the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan – a run during which Tuilagi was critical.

Since Covid-19 hit, however, Tuilagi has not played a Test match after rupturing his Achilles playing for Sale. Still just 29, the midfielder is not due to play again until May, and is likely to miss out on Lions selection as a result.

Garry Ringrose (Leinster and Ireland; Test caps: 35)

A player capable of so much, Ringrose just missed out on Lions selection in 2017 and in several seasons since has looked a certainty.

His form in 2021 has not been great, however, filled with mistakes and lapses in concentration. Thus, his place in the squad is no longer as likely as it once seemed. A lovely runner, full of guile and elusiveness, Ringrose is a clever and creative player too.

Had North not injured his ACL, perhaps Ringrose would have missed out, but he may now squeeze in.

Chris Harris (Gloucester and Scotland; Test caps: 32)

An outside bet for sure, but Harris has performed well for Scotland particularly in the last year and among the reactions to North’s extremely unfortunate injury, Harris’ name has appeared far more than once.

The 30-year-old Gloucester centre’s displays, and specifically his defensive credentials, in Scotland’s Test victories against England at Twickenham and France in Paris were outstanding.

Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs and England; Test caps: 38)

Like Harris, Slade is perhaps an outside bet to make the tour, but his quality is such that the Exeter Chiefs man must be regarded as one of the most underrated players around.

Since forcing his way into Eddie Jones’ England plans – something a host of Exeter teammates have failed to manage for whatever reason – Slade played a part in England’s run to the World Cup final and has started nine of their last 10 Tests at 13.

The 28-year-old’s gorgeous left boot, imposing physical frame and talent with ball in hand mark him out as a superb prospect for any side.

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