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Martin Johnson backs England duo Maro Itoje and George Kruis for Lions role

Martin Johnson believes England locks Maro Itoje and George Kruis can both start for the British and Irish Lions in Australia next summer.

England's World Cup-winning captain led the Lions to a series win in South Africa in 1997, and has hailed Grand Slam duo Itoje and Kruis' fast-developing partnership in the second row.

Saracens' 21-year-old lock Itoje started the tournament unable to force his way into England's match squad but ended the Six Nations a pivotal cog in England's first Grand Slam since 2003.

And now Johnson believes Itoje and Saracens team-mate Kruis can forge a formidable pairing for both England and the Lions.

"Paul O'Connell has gone but Alun Wyn Jones is still there, while Ireland are excited about Iain Henderson and Scotland's Richie Gray is working on his fundamentals," Johnson told lionsrugby.com.

"I think Eddie Jones has handled Maro's rise very well, first using him from the bench and then getting him into the starting line-up.

"The guy is only 21 and is already being heralded as a saviour of the game.

"Let's let the kid play. I could see from watching him at club level that he was a fine athlete - at a level which we might not have seen in the second row before.

"But I was worried he was more of an athlete than a rugby player. Does he have that natural instinct for rugby? Quite clearly we can say now that he does.

"Hopefully he can be managed properly by club and country and England can have him not just for 2019 World Cup, but through 2023 to 2027.

"Having said all that about Maro, George Kruis has just quietly gone about his business and got better and better with every game.

"They make a fantastic pairing - their lineout under the guidance of Steve Borthwick was very impressive and they are going to take some shifting between now and the Lions tour."

Johnson was asked to select his Lions XV off the back of the Six Nations, and duly picked eight England players, three Scotsmen, and two from the ranks of both Wales and Ireland.

The former Leicester lock would give Chris Robshaw the nod at blinside flanker, after his switch across from seven following England's disastrous World Cup campaign.

Scotland's Stuart Hogg is included at full-back, with Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton at 10 and Dylan Hartley starting at hooker.

Hartley missed the 2013 Lions tour after being sent off in the Premiership final for calling referee Wayne Barnes a "cheat", before missing the 2015 World Cup due to another ban.

Johnson insists Hartley's resurgent form in captaining England under Eddie Jones puts all those disciplinary problems to bed however.

"He has just captained a Grand Slam-winning side so how can you not have him?" said Johnson, a Standard Life Investments ambassador.

"He has had his issues in the past but he has led England to the title and you can't argue with that.

"Jonathan Sexton has grown into the championship and I think you have to say he is the form fly-half in the northern hemisphere still.

"Owen Farrell has been superb and is the sort of player I would want to play with as he kicks his goals and can handle the big occasion. But Jamie Roberts brings a level of physicality that you need in your midfield. So while it is tough on Farrell - who has just won a Grand Slam - it's hard to look past Roberts at 12."

Martin Johnson's British and Irish Lions XV: S Hogg (Scotland), A Watson, J Joseph (both England), J Roberts, G North (both Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), B Youngs (England), J McGrath (Ireland), D Hartley (England), WP Nel (Scotland), M Itoje, G Kruis, C Robshaw (all England), J Hardie (Scotland), B Vunipola (England).

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