Warren Gatland has named his 37-man British and Irish Lions squad to take on world champions South Africa this year, and there are some surprise omissions.
In what is a smaller squad than usual and after a Guinness Six Nations where teams exceeded, and indeed fell short of, what was expected of them, some big names were always going to miss out. Here are 15 names:
Vying to become Ireland’s most capped Lion in the professional era, injuries may have taken their toll on the 35-year-old Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who missed Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle with a head injury. On top of that, he was competing against a wealth of high class fly-halves.
The player of the tour in 2017 and a starting centre in the Lions’ past six Test matches, Wales centre Jonathan Davies misses out after struggling to find top form since a devastating knee injury in 2019. He has played seven Tests since his return from injury, but obviously has not reached the level Gatland requires.
Ireland and Leinster’s James Ryan made his Test debut against the USA during the 2017 tour, and since then the 24-year-old lock has won titles for both club and country. He was untouchable for two years between 2018 and 2019, but suffered a slight dip in form in a crucial year.
After featuring in all three Tests against the All Blacks from the bench in 2017, Kyle Sinckler has featured heavily under Eddie Jones since then. However, the Bristol Bears tighthead is one of many casualties from England’s poor Six Nations.
Ireland’s Garry Ringrose was relatively new to Test rugby in 2017, having made his debut in November 2016, and therefore missed out on the Lions. This year he has just been pipped by the likes of Chris Harris, who had an exemplary Six Nations.
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After a shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the 2017 Lions tour, Billy Vunipola misses out this year after struggling to put in the performances he is capable of over the Six Nations. Saracens’ season in the Greene King IPA Championship has affected many players, but none more so than the England No8.
In what was likely to be his last chance to earn a Lions Test cap after an ankle injury midway through the 2013 tour sabotaged his chances, the 33-year-old Ireland prop Cian Healy has been pipped in his pursuit of that cap by some looseheads who have surged into consideration over the last 18 months.
Since narrowly missing out on the 2017 tour, Jonny May has had an exceptional four years, scoring 25 tries in that time and becoming England’s second-highest try scorer. He was a safe bet for the Lions across that period but this recent Six Nations saw the emergence of some new wingers on the Test scene such as Louis Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe, which pushed the 31-year-old out.
As good as Jonny Gray was for Scotland during the Six Nations, the reality is the second-row position currently has some players that are likely to go down as all time greats. The Scottish tackling machine is playing in a generation where some very good locks will miss out on the Lions.
A tourist in 2013, Manu Tuilagi was always in a race to make the Lions this year due to a ruptured Achilles in September. Though he is expected to be fit for the summer, he has still not played since first picking up the injury.
A toe ligament injury has meant 2017 tourist Jack Nowell has been limited to a handful of minutes this year for Exeter, which left him too little time to make a statement to the selectors.
A stellar 2019 and 2020 with England meant Sam Underhill was in a good position to earn a Lions berth at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately a hip injury came at the worst possible time and ruled him out of the Six Nations this year.
Another player who would have suffered from England’s Six Nations, Henry Slade’s 2020 was perfect for Exeter Chiefs and at international level, but 2021 has proven to be more tricky. This was not only at Test level, as Exeter crashing out of the Champions Cup may have been decisive too.
Despite missing this year’s Six Nations for personal reasons, Joe Marler’s performances for Harlequins this season put him in the Lions conversation. But the 2017 tourist revealed he did not even receive an email saying he was in consideration.
A favourite of Gatland’s during his tenure in charge of Wales, Josh Navidi must have come close to making this squad but was shaded by some flankers who had exceptional Six Nations campaigns.
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