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Thursday May 6, 2021

The big hits and misses from a Lions squad that has divided opinion

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has named his 37-man squad for this summer’s tour of South Africa earlier today, with a few big inclusions and ommissions. Here are some of the hits and misses of his selection.

HITS

Bundee Aki (Ireland)

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New Zealand-born centre Aki, who qualifies for Ireland on residency, was among the surprise selections in Gatland’s squad. He was not expected by many to challenge for a midfield berth, given the congested selection picture, but he has come through on the rails.

The Connacht player offers a considerable physical presence and a direct running ability that the Lions will require when they take on not only the Springboks, but their other tour opponents. Expect him to make the most of his opportunity.

Elliot Daly (England)

Saracens back Daly toured with the 2017 Lions to New Zealand, playing his part in a memorable drawn Test series. He was barely mentioned in the build-up to squad selection this time around, though, given his general lack of form for England in the recent Six Nations.

But Gatland knows what he can do, with Daly also offering considerable versatility given his ability to also perform at full-back and on the wing, while he also possesses a strong kicking game, which will be an essential ingredient on tour.

Sam Simmonds (England)

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Exeter number eight Simmonds has taken the Premiership by storm this season, but he continues to be overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones. Simmonds won the last of his seven caps in March 2018, yet his sustained excellence saw him named 2020 European player of the year after Exeter won the Heineken Champions Cup, and his 14 league tries this term mean he is just three short of equalling the Premiership record held by Dominic Chapman and Christian Wade. An explosive player with an all-court game.

MISSES

Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

Ireland’s 35-year-old captain and fly-half has played 99 times for his country, amassing more than 900 points, and in six Lions Tests across the 2013 and 2017 tours. But Sexton, who is currently sidelined after failing a head injury assessment during Leinster’s European Cup quarter-final victory over Exeter almost four weeks ago, misses out on this occasion, with Gatland opting for fly-half options such as Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell. It is a big call by the coach to leave at home a player of such experience.

Jonathan Davies (Wales)

Scarlets centre Davies was named the Lions’ player of the series in New Zealand on the 2017 tour, and few could argue with that accolade, such was his contribution across the series. Many thought he would make the selection cut this time around, despite being sidelined for a long period after the 2019 World Cup because of injury, but Gatland has decided otherwise.

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Davies failed to recapture any obvious consistent form during his recent runs for Wales and the Scarlets, but the experience of 88 Wales caps and six Lions Tests might still have got him over the line.

Kyle Sinckler (England)

The Bristol and England tighthead prop was viewed in most quarters as not only a guaranteed squad selection, but also likely to make the match-day Lions Test 23, probably as back-up to Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong, but Sinckler has not made the cut.

He played in all three Tests on the 2017 New Zealand tour and, with 44 England caps, he offered considerable experience and consistency of performance. He is arguably the biggest surprise omission and one that will spark considerable debate among Lions, England and Bristol fans.

As suspected, Alun Wyn Jones will captain the squad. The Wales skipper, who has made a world record 157 Test match appearances for Wales and the Lions, has won head coach Warren Gatland’s vote for the trip.

Here’s a look at his career in numbers.

35 – Jones’ age.

148 – the number of Test matches Jones has played for Wales.

9 – the number of times Jones has played in Tests for the British and Irish Lions.

5 – the number of Six Nations titles Jones has won with Wales.

15 – the number of years since Jones made his Wales debut.

3 – the number of Lions tours Jones has been part of.

245 – the number of games Jones has played for the Ospreys.

21 – the number of World Cup appearances made by Jones.

6 – the number Jones wore when he made his Wales debut against Argentina in 2006.

19 – the number of times Jones has played for Wales and the Lions against South Africa.

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