Lions squad announcements naturally leave many feeling disappointed, while pondering holidays around New Zealand…
The reality however is that in the age of the HIA – which Lions tours have not experienced in the past – there may be more injury call-ups than ever before.
Nine players were additions to the tour in 2013, including names some may have forgotten including Ryan Grant, Brad Barritt and a 36-year-old Shane Williams playing in Japan.
With that in mind, here is a XV of the best players keeping an eye on their phones throughout June…
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins/England)
We previously highlighted the merits of taking Joey Carbery as a full-back option who could cover ten, but Stuart Hogg is capable of fulfilling that role again as he did in 2013. Brown has been secure for England throughout their last two Six Nations title runs, although perhaps that does him a disservice, given at times he has been their best player in matches.
14 Simon Zebo (Munster/Ireland)
Called up by the Lions four years ago, it would not come as a shock to see Zebo pop up in New Zealand at some point over the tour. Playing some great rugby for Munster whether at full-back or on the wing, and has also shone when called up on by Ireland last November and in the Six Nations.
13 Garry Ringrose (Leinster/Ireland)
Too soon it seems for the Leinsterman who looked to have done enough to win a tour spot with his performance against Wasps in the Champions Cup quarter-final. Ringrose sounds like one of the names who was cut at the final selection meeting on Tuesday, leaving him right on the fringes. Big talent whose time will come.
12 Scott Williams (Scarlets/Wales)
Much like Alex Dunbar, the Glasgow and Scotland centre, Williams was very unfortunate to miss out on making the cut. Going for the experience of Jonathan Davies in one thing, but Williams comfortably outshone his Scarlets colleague throughout the Six Nations. In fact, this season he has been the form centre in Wales.
11 Sean Maitland (Saracens/Scotland)
Maitland has plenty of detractors but he is a respected finisher, a Lions Test player in 2013 and also familiar to New Zealand having spent seasons in Super Rugby with the Crusaders. His selection would have made plenty of sense, and he can count himself unlucky.
10 Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland)
X-factor? Russell has plenty of it, as we saw during the Six Nations and so far for Glasgow this season. So why isn’t he on the plane? When measuring up his defensive capabilites against Sexton, Farrell and Biggar, that appears to be the drop-off point. The big defeat to England at Twickenham didn’t help either.
9 Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester/Scotland)
A viable candidate to lead the midweek Lions side given his extensive captaincy background, not to mention a top goalkicker, Laidlaw always faced an uphill battle to tour after his ankle injury during the Six Nations. Would not let anybody down if one of the Lions’ top three nines need to be replaced.
8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
Bursting at the seams with experience and still capable of delivering impressive performances at 33, Heaslip was a key figure on past tours in 2009 and 2013. No great surprise to see him behind the combination of Vunipola and Faletau, but equally would be a very solid replacement.
7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh/Scotland)
A breakout star of the Six Nations whose speed around the park and work at the breakdown we felt was enough for Gatland to warrant giving the 25-year-old some attention. It hasn’t happened, but Watson must be close to the top of the reserves list, along with the next player below.
6 Chris Robshaw (Harlequins/England)
Pre-injury Robshaw was a certain tourist, which is a far cry from four years previously when in the middle of this time as England captain and playing as an openside he was an easy omission from the squad who triumphed in Australia. Reborn after the Rugby World Cup disaster and an immense competitor, just hasn’t had enough time to change Gatland’s mind.
5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland)
Had you said back in January that Gray would miss out, we would have laughed you out the door. Lock is comfortably where the Lions have the most depth in 2017 and unfortunately for Gray, still just 23, that means this trip is simply not meant to be. Fast forward and as likely Scotland captain, he will be right in the hunt to lead the whole 2021 tour.
4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps/England)
Hard to fathom that there is no room for the best lock in this year’s Six Nations, with the Wasps colossus a regular Man-of-the-Match nominee whose work-rate defied belief throughout England’s run to a second straight title. We fully expect to see him out in New Zealand at some point.
3 Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland)
News of WP Nel’s injury a couple of weeks out from the start of the Six Nations was rightly treated as a disaster, but Fagerson stepped up well enough to be considered to tour New Zealand. Then again Fagerson is only 21, and the 2021 tour to South Africa seems like his moment.
2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton/England)
Barring an injury to the top three hookers selected, it would seem Hartley’s Lions hopes are over at 31. Even with having led England to an unbeaten year and consecutive Six Nations titles, opting to take his England understudy Jamie George to New Zealand is a big statement from Gatland. He will now lead England instead in Argentina.
1 Cian Healy (Leinster/Ireland)
Seemed to be getting back to some of his best form with Leinster in recent weeks but there is no doubting that Jack McGrath is the leading loosehead for both province and country, which will have affected Healy’s prospects. Phenomenal before the 2013 tour only to miss out through injury, luck has not been on his side.