Caelan Doris and three other Irish players mentioned by Lions coaches
"He's been an incredible player, hasn't he?"
It was no surprise to hear Johnny Sexton's name cropping up when the British & Irish Lions coaches were discussing their early squad selection debates. Caelan Doris and a couple of his Ireland teammates will be heartened to hear they were also mentioned.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland asked his new coaching team to send him on a list of their 36-man squads for the tour to South Africa, this summer. Gatland says each of the five lists had '20 to 25' of the same names. After that, it got tricky.
Each of the coaches - attack, defence, scrum and kicking - will have their own ideas and preferences. In the end, 57 players were included across those five different squad lists. Leinster's Champions Cup win over Exeter Chiefs, and Ireland's late Six Nations surge, have boosted the Lions chances of several of their squad.
On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:00 below], Fergus McFadden, Michelle Claffey and Ian Madigan spoke the Leinster players that have boosted their Lions chances by reaching the last four of the Champions Cup.
Of the four Irish players that came up in conversation during the latest Lions media rotation, the one that came up most often will shock very few - Johnny Sexton.
After calling Sexton 'an incredible player', kicking coach Neil Jenkins praised the longevity of the Ireland captain and Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones. "He's in great form and it's no surprise that he is banging down the door for selection."
Next up was one that may raise eyebrows, but a highly-rated player that McFadden has previously tipped as a bolter on House of Rugby - Rónan Kelleher.
"You look at that World Cup final [between South Africa and] England," said Lions scrum coach Ronin McBryde, "and the scrum played a pivotal role in the outcome of the game. First and foremost, the front row must be able to scummage. As much as you may want them to do the added extras, carry or defend well, we need to put the set-piece first."
"Yeah, Rónan was in the discussion yesterday," he added, "as were a number others. As I said, 57 names mentioned so that has to be streamlined a bit."
The other two players that came up during the conversations with the coaches were two players that have struggled with concussions in recent months - James Ryan and Caelan Doris. McBryde, who is also scrum coach with Leinster, would certainly vouch for both forwards.
Ryan featured in three Six Nations games but left the fray early in two matches after taking blows to the head, and missed the France and England games. Doris had a fine 2020 for Leinster and Ireland but has not played since January since reporting with concussion-type symptoms before the championship began.
"With regards to James and Caelan, they're working their way back to fitness. Hopefully we'll see them in the next couple of weeks and they'll have the opportunity to stake their claims. Both of them were involved in discussion yesterday, as potential candidates.
"At the end of the day, if you perform and play well, that's as much as you can do. I would encourage them both not to worry about Lions selection, especially with those individuals and we've got left to do at Leinster. We've got an opportunity to do something special.
"First and foremost, we've got to do that. And if we're successful doing that, it goes hand-in-hand with regards to staking a claim."
Andrew Porter may also get a boarding pass for the tour to South Africa as he can cover both sides of the front row. Asked if versatile players stand a better chance of making his scrummaging unit, McBryde said, "It depends on how good they are on both sides. That's the simple answer."
Asked how many Leinster players he had in his 36-man list, McBryde remarked, "There was quite a few more after the game at the weekend!"
"You want to be playing at the business end of the season and there's no-one better than Leinster, who've been involved time and time again. Consistent performers. It's a great opportunity for them.
"But the doors not closed for anyone. We discussed 57 players yesterday and not all of them are current internationals. The door is never closed. It's going to be interesting."