No Billy Vunipola and no CJ Stander. But a thumbs up to Sam Simmonds and Hamish Watson. Mark Keohane believes that British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is bringing hobbits to the land of giants when it comes to combating South Africa’s loose-forward power.
Only Warren Gatland will know and only time will tell. But how did he leave England’s Vunipola at home and not even consider Ireland’s South African-born talisman of 50 Test CJ Stander. How?
For those who say don’t question Gatland, I actually do? For all that Gatland did at Wales, which, on the biggest scale, was take them to two World Cup semi-finals, he was a disaster in his first year back at the Chiefs in New Zealand.
Gatland, the architect of Welsh rugby’s sustained presence as a top five team, was a penalty kick away from a disastrous 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand. Defeat in the third and final Test would have portrayed a different script to a five tour wins in 10. It still ended five tour wins in 10, but in the only three that mattered, it read, one defeat, one victory and a draw against the All Blacks in the three-Test series.
England coach Eddie Jones is one of the most astute coaches in the game. He made England a power after their pathetic home World Cup in 2015, when they didn’t make it to the final eight. If he doesn’t rate Sam Simmonds, there is a reason. If he has always picked Vunipola, there is a reason.
Ditto, Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell with Ireland and Stander. They swear by Munster and Ireland’s adopted South African son.
For goodness sake, eight Scots!
And only eight Irish players?
Take a listen or have a watch to what SA Rugby Magazine’s Zelim Nel and I have to say about the Lions squad.