Lions back-up XV for South Africa contains five Irish players 2 weeks ago

Lions back-up XV for South Africa contains five Irish players

No Johnny Sexton again, but hardly surprising as he has not featured for Leinster since April 10.

Sean O'Brien may yet get his wish - Tomos Williams could be a Lion before the summer is out.

Back in early May, hours after Warren Gatland's 2021 British & Irish Lions squad had been announced, Adam Jones and Sean O'Brien were giving their reactions on House of Rugby. Both men, who had toured together on the winning tour to Australia in 2013, agreed that Williams should have made the cut.

"I think someone that's not in the squad is probably the best half-back out of the British & Irish Lions [options], and that's Tomos Williams," declared O'Brien.

"I couldn't believe he was left out. Nothing against [Scotland's] Ali Price, but he's different gravy. I'm very surprised he's not in the squad, especially with Dan Biggar there as well. They know each other really well. It's tough on him."

Tomos Williams and Cian Healy are both on the stand-by list. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Williams was held up by injury niggles, earlier this year, and only played in Wales' first and last games of a winning Six Nations campaign. He has been playing regularly for Cardiff Blues, of late, and ran in two tries against Munster, last weekend.

Fans of the 26-year-old will be heartened, then, to learn that Williams is the next 9 up if one of the three selected Lions scrum-halves comes a-cropper in South Africa.

We have already collated the list of 30+ players that have been told they are still in consideration if injury/suspension cover is required for the tour. Wales Online have used their contacts and sources to go one step forward and present their 'first cab off the rank' stand-by players.

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The 15 players combine for one hell of a team, and it is primarily loaded with English and Irish players. Many of the selections certainly tally with what we have been told about those that may yet feature for the Lions [remember, there have been 25 call-ups over the past three tours].

The most interesting of the inclusions is the Harlequins outhalf Marcus Smith, who has yet to feature in a Test match for England. While Smith has been in electric form this season, many rugby fans would have figured Johnny Sexton or even George Ford as the next man up.

Leinster's injury update on Sexton, on Monday, shows there is progress after he was stood down, last month. Sexton received a couple of concussions in a short time-frame and has not played since Leinster beat Exeter Chiefs, almost two months ago. The latest Leinster release read:

'Johnny Sexton will continue to develop contact in training and will be further assessed through the week.'

When Leinster scrum coach Robin McBryde, who is part of the Lions coaching set-up, was quizzed on Sexton, on Monday, he went no further than to read that exact same line from the province's earlier release.

There are four of Sexton's Leinster teammates on the shortlist - Hugo Keenan, James Ryan, Ronan Kelleher and Cian Healy, who looks to be ahead of Leicester and England loosehead Ellis Genge. CJ Stander, who should be back in South Africa during the tour, is also included.

LIONS BACK-UP XV

15. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
14. Jonny May (England)
13. Chris Harris (Scotland)
12. Manu Tuilagi (England)
11. Jack Nowell (England)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
9. Tomos Williams (Wales)

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
2. Ronan Kelleher (Ireland)
3. Kyle Sinckler (England)
4. Cory Hill (Wales)
5. James Ryan (Ireland)
6. Josh Navidi (Wales)
7. Sam Underhill (England)
8. CJ Stander (Ireland)

The Lions are due to play Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 before flying out to South Africa, a couple of days later, for their eight-game tour.