Speculation is rife as to which stars from the Lions tour of South Africa will be retained for the 2025 series in Australia, but a raft of prospects yet to break out might emerge in the meantime
Warren Gatland suffered his first series defeat against the Springboks in what was his third straight tour as head coach, though there are doubts as to whether he’ll return to lead the team in Australia.
Andy Farrell and Gregor Townsend have opened as the betting favourites to assume the mantle if Gatland is replaced in four years, and the selection will alter depending on whom is at the helm.
The likes of Maro Itoje, Louis Rees-Zammit and Marcus Smith each look nailed on to keep their places on the next Lions tour, but what of those prospects who have yet to truly break out at the top level?
Mirror Sport considers some of those dark horses not being talked who may yet build momentum to make a run at rugby’s most famous touring team in 2025…
Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
Put simply, there are few scrum-halves in the land at present posing the same promise and potential as Jamie Dobie, who is forming a habit of breaking records early in his career.
Man of the match in his first start for the club, Dobie was the first player to sign a contract with Glasgow Warriors straight out of school, as well as the first player born in the 2000s to represent them.
The 20-year-old is also stealing the spotlight at a time when this year’s Lions trio of Conor Murray (32), Gareth Davies (30) and Ali Price (28) could be starting to phase out of touring contention.
Alfie Barbeary (Wasps, England)
Most forwards are considered versatile if they can cover two positions, but Wasps prospect Alfie Barbeary looks a rare gem for the fact he’s able to play in four without sacrificing quality.
Having become only the second player to score a hat-trick in his first Premiership start playing as a blindside flanker, fans were then shocked to learn his primary position is hooker.
The Banbury graduate—who grew up as a centre—spent time in Eddie Jones ’ England camp for last year’s Autumn Nations Cup, and it’s unlikely to be long before he earns his official debut for the Red Rose.
Morgan Jones (Scarlets, Wales)
Still just 22 and having only signed his first pro contract last August, the 6’5” lock has shown some huge promise thus far and should play a big role plugging the Jake Ball-shaped hole at Parc y Scarlets.
Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints, England)
Considered unfortunate by many not to be involved in this summer’s Tests against the United States and Canada, a breakout season for Ollie Sleightholme would prove to Eddie Jones what he was missing.
The son of former Northampton Saint and 12-cap England international Jon, Sleightholme Jr. is already showing signs he’s capable of eclipsing his old man’s accomplishments.
Seven tries during the 2021/22 Premiership season put the 21-year-old among some elite company, with only eight players managing to cross the whitewash on more occasions.
Jos h Bayliss (Bath, Scotland)
The 23-year-old talent was added to Scotland’s squad for this year’s Six Nations without a debut, which likely would have come this summer had games against England ‘A’, Georgia and Romania not been cancelled.
One of Bath’s stand-out players during the 2020/21 season, the near-17-stone flanker looks a significant coup for Townsend and may well reunite with his Scottish chief as a Lion come 2025.
Tom O’Toole (Ulster, Ireland)
Ireland props Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter may well keep their spots in the Lions squad for the visit to Australia, but Tom O’Toole could raise his hand as another bolter from Farrell’s ranks.
Ulster are enjoying unprecedented representation in the national team, and 22-year-old O’Toole has proved to be an incredibly mobile asset at tighthead—one who loves a tackle, to boot.
Dane Blacker (Scarlets, Wales)
One of the older candidates on our list to make a Lions squad in four years’ time, Dane Blacker may already consider himself something of a veteran having represented three of Wales’ four regions.
The former Cardiff Blue was briefly loaned to Newport Dragons before moving to Llanelli in 2019, and it’s there that the former Wales sevens star has started to raise his hand as a potential international star.
With 10 tries in 27 appearances for Scarlets, the scrum-half certainly knows where the line is, though beating the likes of Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy for Wales honours will be his biggest task yet.
Gavin Coombes (Munster, Ireland)
Back row is one area of the Lions team that proved particularly competitive on the most recent tour, but Munster ’s Gavin Coombes will be looking to throw his hat in that ring for the trip Down Under.
The Cork man is coming off the back of a breakout season in which he scored seven tries, and he fits Gatland’s preference for versatility in that he can cover the back row, as well as playing lock.
An honourable mention to Leinster flanker Scott Penny, who scored one more try than Coombes during the last Pro 14 campaign and will hope to leapfrog his compatriot in the Ireland pecking order soon.