Thu 6 May 2021 | 08:54

The big 'winners and losers' in Lions squad

The big 'winners and losers' in Lions squad
Thu 6 May 2021 | 08:54
The big 'winners and losers' in Lions squad
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REACTION: Veteran Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones is the BIG winner in the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad, heading for South Africa in July.

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The 35-year-old Jones was named captain of the touring squad on Thursday.

However, there are a number of other ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the 37-man squad.

Coach Warren Gatland is adamant they have the right combinations.

“We believe we’ve picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa,” Gatland said, after naming his squad.

“In many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in.

“We’ve left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad.”

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Turning to Rassie Erasmus’s world champions, Gatland said: “They’re going to be incredibly tough. We know how physical they can be.

“Hopefully [we can] get that balance right between the tough work but also playing some great rugby.”

Ireland captain Sexton was one of several high-profile omissions – together with James Ryan, Billy Vunipola, Josh Navidi and Jonathan Davies, Jonny May and Kyle Sinckler.

Experienced flyhalf Sexton, who turns 36 in July, has suffered concussion problems since the Six Nations and his exclusion leaves England’s Owen Farrell, Wales’ Dan Biggar and Scotland’s Finn Russell to scrap over the No.10 shirt.

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European player of the year Sam Simmonds was named among the back row forwards, despite last playing for England in 2018.

But there was no place for fellow England No.8 Vunipola, a regular starter under Eddie Jones, after a dip in form.

Flank Hamish Watson, who was named Player of the Championship after the recent Six Nations, is one of eight Scotland players in the squad which also features eight from Ireland, 10 from Wales and 11 from England.

In midfield, England’s Manu Tuilagi, who has only just returned to training after a long spell out injured missed out, with Scotland’s Chris Harris and Ireland’s Bundee Aki called up.

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LOSERS

Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

Ireland’s 35-year-old captain and flyhalf has played 99 times for his country, amassing more than 900 points, and in six Lions Tests across the 2013 and 2017 tours. But Sexton, who is currently sidelined after failing a head injury assessment during Leinster’s European Cup quarterfinal victory over Exeter almost four weeks ago, misses out on this occasion, with Gatland opting for fly-half options such as Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell. It is a big call by the coach to leave at home a player of such experience.

Jonathan Davies (Wales)

Scarlets centre Davies was named the Lions’ player of the series in New Zealand on the 2017 tour, and few could argue with that accolade, such was his contribution across the series. Many thought he would make the selection cut this time around, despite being sidelined for a long period after the 2019 World Cup because of injury, but Gatland has decided otherwise. Davies failed to recapture any obvious consistent form during his recent runs for Wales and the Scarlets, but the experience of 88 Wales caps and six Lions Tests might still have got him over the line.

Kyle Sinckler (England)

The Bristol and England tighthead prop was viewed in most quarters as not only a guaranteed squad selection, but also likely to make the match-day Lions Test 23, probably as back-up to Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong, but Sinckler has not made the cut. He played in all three Tests on the 2017 New Zealand tour and, with 44 England caps, he offered considerable experience and consistency of performance. He is arguably the biggest surprise omission, and one that will spark considerable debate among Lions, England and Bristol fans.

WINNERS

Bundee Aki (Ireland)

New Zealand-born centre Aki, who qualifies for Ireland on residency, was among the surprise selections in Gatland’s squad. He was not expected by many to challenge for a midfield berth, given the congested selection picture, but he has come through on the rails. The Connacht player offers a considerable physical presence and a direct running ability that the Lions will require when they take on not only the Springboks, but their other tour opponents. Expect him to make the most of his opportunity.

Elliot Daly (England)

Saracens back Daly toured with the 2017 Lions to New Zealand, playing his part in a memorable drawn Test series. He was barely mentioned in the build-up to squad selection this time around, though, given his general lack of form for England in the recent Six Nations. But Gatland knows what he can do, with Daly also offering considerable versatility given his ability to also perform at full-back and on the wing, while he also possesses a strong kicking game, which will be an essential ingredient on tour.

Sam Simmonds (England)

Exeter No.8 Simmonds has taken the Premiership by storm this season, but he continues to be overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones. Simmonds won the last of his seven caps in March 2018, yet his sustained excellence saw him named 2020 European player of the year after Exeter won the Heineken Champions Cup, and his 14 league tries this term mean he is just three short of equalling the Premiership record held by Dominic Chapman and Christian Wade. An explosive player with an all-court game.

Sources: AFP & PA

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