Well the wait is finally over – we have our Lions squad for 2017. A few surprises but certainly not the controversy that was being suggested the day before the announcement.
Here are some initial thoughts on the squad.
Don’t believe the hype
A salient lesson in not believing everything you read in the papers. No, Jamie Roberts will not be touring this year and Jonathan Joseph will. That would have been a farcical selection, and thankfully it turned out to be complete BS. Although there are still a couple of big lump 12s in Ben Te’o and Robbie Henshaw, picking Roberts would have been as good as shouting from the rooftops that Warrenball was on its way to New Zealand. Instead, I remain hopeful for a slightly more nuanced gameplan.
It’s a Lions squad, so there were always going to be some supremely hard decisions and a few deserving players left behind. Despite being the heart of the Scottish team, the two Gray brothers suffered from being in the most competitive position, whilst Chris Robshaw is perhaps the most heartbreaking omission. A player who has turned his form around after the World Cup and forced himself into Eddie Jones’ plans – in my opinion, he was England’s best player from 2016 – he has been cruelly robbed by injury. Surely if he had avoided injury and his form had continued he would be there. But there will always be hypothetical ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’ This was likely Robshaw’s last chance at a Lions tour, however.
Perhaps the player that can feel most aggrieved though is Joe Launchbury – two man-of-the-match awards in this Six Nations and probably one of the top three players with CJ Stander and Stuart Hogg. Sorry Warren, but I don’t understand this one.
All gobsmacked here that Joe Launchbury wont be with @lionsofficial. 2 motm's in a 6 Nations winning campaign & player of the comp nominee
— Wasps (@WaspsRugby) April 19, 2017
Wasps speaking for the majority methinks.
No bolters but a few surprises
No curveball name creeping out of the leftfield , but the likes of Ross Moriarty, Kyle Sinckler, Dan Biggar, Jared Payne, Jack Nowell, Ben Te’o, and Leigh Halfpenny all raised a few eyebrows. Te’o and Sinckler benefit from Gatland’s love of power (and are fine players), while Nowell and Payne were both in brilliant form before suffering with injury – we know how good they can be though. Maybe Halfpenny’s place was booked back in 2013 after his man-of-the-series award, but I am struggling to see anything in the past two years which earned him his place. I hope he proves me wrong.
Dan Biggar? Maybe Gatland is making it up to him after being the only player from Wales starting XV that thrashed England in 2013 to be excluded from the tour.
Not enough Scots
I am trying to be purely objective here, but there are not enough Scots in the tour party. For a team to have played with such flare and beaten Ireland and Wales then to only have two players called up is a bit of a slap in the face. I can’t help thinking that capitulation against England meant a few pencilled names were rubbed out. One game it seems can make a huge difference…
England v Ireland
On which note, the deciding match of the Six Nations – just as it did before the last tour when Wales hammered England despite their earlier poor form – has gone a long way to influencing selection. Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson make the cut on the basis of their fantastic performances in that game, while it could have been that match that did it for Launchbury. Bit of a déjà vu for him – he apparently suffered in the selectors eyes for a slightly naive performance against Wales in 2013.
Don’t book your holiday just yet
But for all the contention around selection decisions, it’s probably best that a few of the near misses don’t book their fishing trips just yet. There are still a couple of rounds of the Champions Cup left to play, alongside the business end of the Pro12 and Premiership. It’s likely that the squad will look a little different when it turns up at the airport compared to the original announcement.
What did you think of the squad now that you’ve had time to mull it over?
By Henry Ker