Every Lions tour has high profile omissions. In 2009 Ryan Jones was omitted from the touring squad less than six months after receiving a World Player of the Year nomination. In 2013 Chris Robshaw was overlooked by Warren Gatland who preferred the openside trio of Sean O’Brien, Justin Tipuric and tour captain Sam Warburton instead of the England captain.
Every tour has established players that are overlooked and 2017 will be no exception. Here’s five players that could be omitted for the New Zealand tour this summer.
1. Mike Brown
Brown has been a stellar fullback for England for the last four years but was overlooked by Gatland on the last Lions tour and could very well be overlooked again this summer.
Although Brown has played international rugby on the wing before, Ireland’s Simon Zebo and Wales’ Liam Williams fluctuate between wing and fullback a lot more frequently than Brown does for Harlequins and England. Their versatility may give them the edge when it comes to selection with Stuart Hogg a certainty to go and 2013 tourists Rob Kearney and Leigh Halfpenny also both available.
2. Taulupe Faletau
Gatland took just two number eights on the 2013 tour of Australia with a 22-year-old Taulupe Faletau joining a 29-year-old Jamie Heaslip as the Lions two number eight options.
The emergence of Billy Vunipola for England last season has really altered the pecking order for the Lions number eight stakes, with both Heaslip and Vunipola both receiving World Player of the Year nominations last year. Even if Gatland takes Faletau as a flanker, he’s going to then have to add the Welsh backrower to a pool of players that already consists of James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton, Sean O’Brein, CJ Stander, Josh van Der Flier, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Lydiate, Ross Moriarty and Chris Robshaw. An uneviable task to say the least.
3. Jamie Roberts
Roberts was primarily used as a battering ram on both the 2009 tour of South Africa and the 2013 tour of Australia, but 2017 will finally be the year where we see some new blood in the Lions 12 jersey.
After a poor showing against Australia in November, it looks like Roberts days as a Wales starter could be numbered given the presence of Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, and with the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Owen Farrell, Mark Bennett and Henry Slade also available, Roberts’ Lions days may finally be coming to an end too.
4. Greg Laidlaw
Right player, wrong time. If Greg Laidlaw was the player he is today in 2009, he may very well have been selected by Sir Ian McGeechan ahead of Harry Ellis and Tomas O’Leary on the tour of South Africa, but unfortunately, Laidlaw was 24 at the time and nowhere near the same player he is today.
Unfortunately for Laidlaw in 2017, he has to compete with Conor Murray, Ben Youngs and Rhys Webb, a formidable field with Murray and Youngs certainties to go barring injury while Webb will likely fill out the role of the midweek scrum-half.
5. Richie Gray
Richie Gray would have been considered a nailed on starter for the 2017 tour if you were to look back at the Lions locks in 2013. Gray was 23-years-old when he was selected for Gatland’s tour of Australia, however, in 2017 he may not even make the plane, with younger brother Jonny, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn-Jones, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury all competing for a place in Gatland’s squad.
A lot changes in four years and a player that would have been predicted to be a nailed on starter for this tour four years ago, may not even make the plane now, even if he’s at the peak of his powers.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena