TAULUPE Faletau is in pole position to win the fierce battle for the British & Irish Lions' No 8 jersey in South Africa, believes a legendary back rower.

Three-time Lion and 2003 World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio says that Warren Gatland has to keep the former Dragons forward, now with Bath, fit if the tourists have any chance of toppling the world champions in their own back yard.

Pontypool's Faletau is tussling with Ireland's Jack Conan, who starts on against the Stormers today, and Exeter's Sam Simmonds, who is on the bench after backing up the Welshman against South Africa A in midweek, for the starting spot in the first Test next Saturday.

Dallaglio played all three Tests in the back row against the Springboks during the victorious 1997 tour and reckons Faletau, who did the same in New Zealand four years ago, should be pencilled in as Gatland's first choice.

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The 48-year-old said: "The first opportunity goes to Toby Faletau and for all his experience of playing in a Lions jersey in the Test series in New Zealand, he's probably in pole position.

"He's had a wonderful Six Nations – but I wouldn't say there's a pecking order.

"I think there's a balance to be struck between experienced players who have been on tours and won Test matches for the lions and a lot of debutants.

"A lot of the squad are first time Lions, there's a nice healthy balance of players and I think Warren Gatland is trying to do everything he can to give everyone an opportunity to at least have one start in the first three matches.

"Obviously Toby's opportunity came in that game having played a little bit previously as well. He's a terrific player and he's going to be quite key to the Lions whatever position he plays.

"We just need to keep him fit – when I watched him this season for Bath and Wales, he's been absolutely outstanding."

Faletau helped Wales to the Six Nations title this year as he booked his place on the Lions plane for the third consecutive Tour.

The 30-year-old played all three Tests as the Lions clinched a 1-1 draw in New Zealand in 2017 and looks well-placed to make the starting XV once more in Cape Town.

Faletau played the first 47 minutes as Gatland's tourists went down to a strong South Africa A on Wednesday night but knows he's got Simmonds and Conan hot on his heels.

Simmonds racked up a record-breaking 21 tries for Exeter Chiefs this season and Dallaglio admits he could have a chance of pinching the start from Faletau this summer.

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Dallaglio, who is helping to connect rugby fans across the country with the British & Irish Lions through Land Rover's nationwide rugby themed treasure hunt, added: "Right behind he's got Sam Simmonds, who's had a pretty prolific season himself, and a record breaking season.

"It's going to be fascinating to see how he's able to up his game and play in a Lions way. Obviously at Exeter he's prolific, but at Exeter they do build the game around him, whereas the Lions won't necessarily do that to the same extent.

"I'm really excited to see Sam Simmonds play, I'm excited to see Faletau and all of the back row forwards. There are some great combinations there, but the No.8 jersey is very keenly contested.

"Faletau could start at No 8 but as we've seen previously, Gatland has got the ability and judgement to move him to a blindside and accommodate one of the other players if they push on through."

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