Warren Gatland caused something of a stir at the weekend when he announced the six players to be called up to the Lions squad for this week’s clash against the Chiefs.
The purpose of the additions – namely Welshman Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill, Tomas Francis and Gareth Davies as well as Scots Finn Russell and Allan Dell – was simple enough, to keep the Test squad fresh for the first encounter with the All Blacks on Saturday.
However, it is the identities of the players themselves that has caused controversy. By essentially picking geography over merit (Wales being in New Zealand at the time too and Scotland being in Sydney), Gatland has been accused of “cheapening the jersey,” especially with other players from England and Ireland seen as “more worthy” of joining the squad, even if it is just as a bench option in a midweek side.
While these call-ups have not been received well, there have been a number of Lions additions over the years that have left many scratching their heads.
But where does this latest batch (some of them more than others) rank among some other bizarre and controversial Lions call-ups?
Allan Dell, Kristian Dacey and Cory Hill (2017)
Gatland has never paid much attention to public reaction to what he does, and he can argue that these players are simply backup to the 40 players already in the squad, but even he must see how it looks to include three players with barely twenty international appearances between them, and are not even first picks for their nations.
Tom Court (2013)
Called in as cover for the injured Alex Corbisiero, Court was a highly surprising choice to be drafted in not least because his status as an automatic squad pick for Irish internationals was venturing on shaky ground at that time. It just so happened, however, that he was holidaying in Australia at the time – minimal travel time seemingly something which appeals to Gatland. In all he played, 25 minutes against the Melbourne Rebels.
Andy Titterrill (2005)
2005 wasn’t a particularly vintage year for the Lions, as a 3-0 whitewash by the All Blacks and the disaster that was hiring Alastair Campbell as PR lingering long in the memory after. With two England appearances to his name, Clive Woodward seemingly saw enough in the forward to put him on the plane. Like Court, he made one appearance for the Lions.
Tyrone Howe (2001)
Howe was drafted in by Graham Henry as a replacement for the injured Dan Luger, but it was odd for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the then-Ulster winger wasn’t the most prolific of players. Secondly, he had just come back from serious injury, so the timing of the call-up was hardly ideal for his recovery either. Nonetheless, he was drafted in an, like most of the players on this list, made one appearance.
Shane Williams (2013)
There was no disputing Williams’ place in the Lions squad in 2005, with the Welsh legend equalling a record five tries in a single game against Manawatu as if to hammer that point home. However, by 2013 the wing was 36, playing his club rugby for the Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan and was, like Court, conveniently in Australia anyway to work for the tour as a radio commentator.
Nonetheless, he was drafted for three days to play a tour match against Brumbies, in which he was named on the starting lineup.