By Bea Asprey
ONE MAN’S loss is another man’s gain. While 37 Lions have booked their seats on the plane to Australia, a few more are left licking their wounds. The cruel thing about sport is that the casualties from Warren Gatland’s squad would make a formidable team. Here’s our pick of the bunch…
There weren’t too many surprises here, but the likes of Lee Byrne, a 2009 tourist, Mike Brown and Alex Goode were on the fringes. Goode is held in high regard, and his ability to read the game, as well as play fly-half, could’ve been a welcome addition against the threatening Wallaby backs.
It’s been a while since Chris Ashton hit the highs of that try against Australia, and few could argue against the lethal combination of Wales pair George North and Alex Cuthbert. But should Simon Zebo’s magic footwork have earned him a shot at the Wallabies? The other name on everyone’s lips is Wasps’ Christian Wade, who sliced through Leinster’s defence like a hot knife through butter in their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final. Stuart Lancaster will surely snap him up for England’s tour to Argentina.
A late addition to the rumour mill was Billy Twelvetrees, who impressed on his England debut against Scotland during this year’s Six Nations. While Twelvetrees’s creativity put him in the frame, his international centre partner Brad Barritt and Scotland’s Matt Scott ticked the defence boxes. Given Perpignan fly-half James Hook‘s versatility – the Welshman can play ten, 12, 13 and 15 – he is very unlucky to miss out too.
The big one. There was shock and disbelief from Jonny Wilkinson’s team-mates past and present, and the media world at his omission from the squad, only for Gatland to explain that it was the man himself who had turned down the chance to tour due to worries about his physical condition and his Toulon commitments.
In the next berth, Conor Murray narrowly beat the speedy Danny Care in the race to the airport.
Again, controversial. Matt Stevens’s experience and ability to play on both sides of the scrum pushed his name to the forefront, but Scotland fans will be angry that England new boy Mako Vunipola pipped Ryan Grant to the post. A relative newcomer to the Test scene, having made his Scotland debut last year, Grant will be disappointed that his dynamics around the park haven’t made bigger waves in Gatland’s eyes. On the other side of the scrum, 2009 tourist Euan Murray misses out as does technician Mike Ross.
Rory Best is one of the more high-profile casualties of this squad, and has gone from potential Lions Test hooker to losing his plane ticket to Dylan Hartley. The Ulsterman has led Ireland and would’ve brought experience to the party, but Gatland hasn’t forgotten the way Hartley fronted up in Cardiff in the first game of the 2011 Six Nations.
Joe Launchbury has burst onto the England scene, and that’s where he’ll stay this summer. Did the drubbing in Wales harm his Lions chances? And what about Donnacha Ryan? Solid in the lineout, he’s run the show in Paul O’Connell’s absence. Scots Jim Hamilton and Nathan Hines also miss out, with Hamilton recently suffering an ankle injury. While Hines is still a force in Clermont, at 36 years old it’s time for youngsters to take their places.
The most competitive position, but this will be scant consolation for Chris Robshaw. He’s led club and country by example, winning plaudits from team-mates, fans and coaches, yet a Lions appearance is not to be this time. Similarly Kelly Brown and Ryan Jones captained Scotland and Wales respectively during the Six Nations. Elsewhere, the efforts of Peter O’Mahony and Tom Wood could have warranted their inclusion, while Steffon Armitage is shackled by his commitments to Toulon.
Johnnie Beattie has rediscovered his form in Montpellier this season, and his omission will further anger Scotland fans. England’s Ben Morgan missed the majority of the Six Nations through injury, but his carrying skills could have come in handy Down Under.
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