Warren Gatland: Wales boss hails ‘chess grandmaster’ Johnny Sexton as he selects his British and Irish Lions 23 from the Six Nations
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has picked eight Ireland players, including captain Johnny Sexton, in his hypothetical British and Irish Lions starting XV, with none of his current players making the 23.
Gatland was the head coach of the invitational side between 2013 and 2021 and served as an assistant under Sir Ian McGeechan in 2009.
In his piece for the Telegraph, the current Wales head coach picked a hypothetical team to play a Test match next weekend.
He adds that he has “gone for some national combinations” before stating that his head coach would be Andy Farrell.
Huwipulotu in the centres
Scotland‘s Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones impressed throughout the Six Nations, and the Wales boss has opted for the pair in the starting centre roles. Gatland did mention Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, but the latter is injured, and the Scotland pairing is preferred.
Scotland’s midfield pairing is joined by teammate Duhan van der Merwe, who Gatland moved from the left wing to the right and is selected ahead of Ireland‘s Mack Hansen.
Hugo Keenan and James Lowe make up the rest of the back three, with Gatland noting that Van der Merwe “is in much better shape physically than he was when he was with the Lions a couple of years ago” and that he has “definitely improved his aerial game.”
In 2021, Sexton controversially missed out on the Lions tour to South Africa, but the Ireland pivot would captain a Gatland-coached team this weekend with Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half.
The Wales boss praised Sexton for a “tremendous” Championship adding that he “seems to be getting better with age” and that “he runs Test matches like a chess grandmaster.”
Ireland heavy pack
Six of Gatland’s eight forwards come from the Grand Slam winners, with England‘s Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje the exceptions.
Jack Conan features ahead of Peter O’Mahony at blindside flank, with Gatland preferring the all-Leinster trio.
Alongside Itoje is James Ryan, who Gatland did not pick for the tour to South Africa.
The former Lions coach explains: “We wanted to take him on the Lions tour in 21, but he was unavailable for personal reasons, and he has since grown and matured into a world-class lock with great leadership skills.”
Tadhg Furlong packs down at tighthead with Dan Sheehan in the middle of him and Genge.
Gatland mentions that Andrew Porter is unlucky to miss out to prop, but he has included the Ireland loosehead alongside Scotland front-rowers George Turner and Zander Fagerson.
There is a Scottish theme to the forward replacements, with Jonny Gray and Jamie Ritchie taking up the bench roles at lock and loose forward.
Alex Mitchell is Gatland’s “bolter selection” after his impressive showings from the bench for England. He is selected alongside Owen Farrell, who cracks the nod ahead of the injured Finn Russell and Marcus Smith, who had limited game time for Gatland’s liking.
The selection of Robbie Henshaw rounds out his team to cover the centres and full-back.
No Wales players
Wales is the only one of the Home Nations that does not have a player represented in Gatland’s 23.
After finishing fifth in the Six Nations, the New Zealander felt that the team reflected where the current teams are.
“Previously, when I have been Lions coach, I have been criticised for not picking enough Scotland players, but that was because I felt it reflected where they were as a team at the time. Which explains why if I was to pick a Lions side to play a Test match next weekend, I would not have any of my Wales players in the 23. It is simply a reflection of where we are as a team right now,” Gatland wrote.
Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions team: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Duhan van der Merwe, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jack Conan, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Andrew Porter, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Robbie Henshaw
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