Stick to your devices. Thursday is the day we’ve all been waiting for, a day of glitz, glamor, dreams and despair that only the British and Irish lions can conjure in rugby.
Thursday’s announcement of the 36-member squad and tour captain, who have selected head coach Warren Gatland for the trip to South Africa, will be a very 2021 affair.
Because of Covid, not all of his coaching staff were able to physically attend the last painful selection meeting on Wednesday at the Lensbury Club in Teddington, South West London, with forward Robin McBryde zooming in from Ireland and just back from La Rochelle with his Leinster. team that lost in the semi-finals of the European Cup on the Atlantic coast.
Alun Wyn Jones is expected to be named captain for the Lions tour of South Africa
And when, at around 12:15 p.m., the skipper is revealed – likely the Welshman Alun Wyn Jones – he won’t be attending either, nor will he have attended a legend dinner the night before like Sam Warburton did in 2017, instead of calling in from near home ever unveiled to the world.
In fact, only a handful will be physically present at the Mermaid Theater at Blackfriars Bridge, the venue chosen for the announcement to bring together this socially detached crew; Gatland, his coaches Gregor Townsend, Steve Tandy and Neil Jenkins, a camera crew and a few communications managers.
Without the hundreds of usual media, sponsorships and supporters of yesteryear, it’s going to be a much more eerie event on the Thames – but with thousands of eyes as always.
Saracens star Maro Itoje will be among players, fans and media eagerly awaiting the news
From the studio decked out in Lions branding in the old theater, Scottish broadcaster Lee McKenzie will run the show for those tuning in.
Streamed through Lionsrugby.com, their social media channels and official app if an anxious player or fan wants, they just need 4G or Wi-Fi to access it.
When ‘Fun Bus’ Jason Leonard – the Chairman of the Lions – rolls over to his lectern at 12:30 pm to read each selected name in turn, it will be the first time a player knows they are there.
In keeping with tradition, no prior warnings will be sent to them, their coaches, clubs or agents; the tourists find out at the same time as all of us, with only seven or eight figures knowing their true identities in advance.
For some, it will wait long enough to sweat off the hand sanitizer.
Warren Gatland will be one of the few to attend the squad announcement
The form is that Leonard will start with the backs, go through alphabetically, and then list the attackers with the club, country, and position for each.
So while Josh Adams, Dan Biggar or Elliot Daly may have within seconds voided or made dreams for poor Hamish Watson and the Vunipola brothers, the tension can be excruciating.
That is, if they are watching at all. Longlisted players who have received letters from the Lions in the past two weeks asking if they want to tour if selected will have to decide how to pick up the news.
Clubs like Exeter Chiefs, who have seven realistic in one shot, and Sale Sharks, with Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi on hook, have days off so they can be home hopeful, either nervously watch the live stream or avoid it altogether.
In Wales, the Scarlets, who should have five players, and at Saracens – with Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Billy and Mako Vunipola all pending – Thursday’s practice will end before noon, so the team up or shoot home to be alone with their buzzing phones.
Lions chairman Jason Leonard will announce the names of the 36-man squad on Thursday
LIONS STAT: 9
Lions Tests played by Alun Wyn Jones.
Playing in all three this summer, he will become the first player in the professional era to win double digits from Lions caps, taking third place in the all-time list jointly with Mike Gibson and Graham Price, behind Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie John McBride (17).
About 60 players had their photos taken in a Lions shirt for the day at the Six Nations or at their clubs – that many will have to be removed soon – and each will appear on the screen as they join the great rugby roll call.
A couple will be asked to dial in on the broadcast for immediate responses after Gatland, his captain and Lions legends Sam Warburton, Gavin Hastings, Tommy Bowe, Jason Robinson and South Africa’s Bryan Habana have their say.
Once known, the fate of 2021 Lions will be analyzed, explored and discussed across four countries and two hemispheres. “How about X!” could be the Twitter trend of the day.
And for the selected players, concerns about the squad will be replaced by the hope their bodies hold on to make it to the jumbo jet set for Johannesburg in June.
But when their names leave their lips around lunchtime on Thursday, they’ll all be lions – at least for now.