FILE - England’s Billy Vunipola was one of the surprise omissions when Warren Gatland named his British and Irish Lions squad for their tour of South Africa on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
FILE - England’s Billy Vunipola was one of the surprise omissions when Warren Gatland named his British and Irish Lions squad for their tour of South Africa on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

The big picks, surprise omissions in Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published May 6, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Coach Warren Gatland admitted that there were some “rigorous debates” around some of the selections in the 37-man British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa.

While almost any coach would choose a different squad, some big names missed out on the trip to Mzansi.

ALSO READ: British Lions have their own ’Van der Merwe’ after Duhan picked for Springboks series

Here are five players who were surprise inclusions, and five others who were left out …

Five surprise omissions

Billy Vunipola: The England No 8 has not been at his best lately, and even went as far as saying that his form was “rubbish” at the start of the Six Nations.

But the Saracens man is built to take on the Springboks – he stands 1.88m tall and weighs close to 130kg. He is a monster that could have challenged Duane Vermeulen.

ALSO READ: England's Billy Vunipola in hunt for Lions Tour spot

England's Billy Vunipola in action against the Springboks. Photo: englandrugby.com

Johnny Sexton: The veteran Irish flyhalf is not the same player that master-minded wins over the Springboks and All Blacks during the golden period under Joe Schmidt.

But he is a wise old head at 35, and could have given the Lions that calmness that the other flyhalves such as Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell may lack in pressure situations.

Kyle Sinckler: The England tighthead – who went off with concussion in the second minute of the 2019 World Cup final against the Boks – would have been determined to make up for that experience in South Africa. Instead, Gatland went with Scotland No 3 Zander Ferguson…

ALSO READ: Wales stalwart Alun Wyn Jones to captain British and Irish Lions on tour to SA

Jonathan Davies: What makes his omission even more puzzling is that he was a key part of Gatland’s Wales team for many years. Davies was one of the leading outside centres in world rugby during that time, and still displayed good enough form in the Six Nations to warrant Lions selection.

CJ Stander: While it was always going to be a long-shot for the former SA Under-20 captain – after announcing his retirement from rugby at the end of the season – Stander would’ve played out of his skin against his former countrymen.

Five big picks

Sam Simmonds: The Exeter loose forward has lost out to Billy Vunipola in the England team in recent seasons, yet made the Lions cut ahead of the Saracens star on the back of his club form. So, now Simmonds will have to repay the faith from Gatland…

Chris Harris: There is no doubt that the influence of Scotland coach Gregor Townsend as a Lions assistant helped Harris’ case. Otherwise, how do you explain his inclusion ahead of the likes of Jonathan Davies, Manu Tuilagi and Garry Ringrose as a centre?

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Bundee Aki: The former New Zealand Chiefs midfielder is a hard worker who is a rock on defence, and that is perhaps where Gatland sees him as being quite effective against the dynamic Bok centres Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.

Jonny Hill: The fact that two other quality locks in James Ryan of Ireland and Jonny Gray of Scotland have been left out, means that the pressure will be immense on Jonny Hill, who is not even a first-choice England lock.

Hamish Watson: The Scotland openside flank is a typical ‘Energiser bunny’ fetcher who never stops. That is all well and true on the wet and slower European conditions, but can he mix it with the best Boks on a fast pitch in warm weather? I’m not so sure…

ALSO READ: Imagine a black man leading the British Lions out against the Springboks ...

British & Irish Lions Squad

Backs (16): Josh Adams (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Chris Harris (Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales).

Forwards (21): Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Jack Conan (Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Tom Curry (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Jonny Hill (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, captain), Wyn Jones (Wales), Courtney Lawes (England), Ken Owens (Wales), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland).

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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