Late Lions momentum growing for CJ Stander and Keith Earls
The save-the-date emails have gone out to 50+ players.
Warren Gatland now knows he will take his British & Irish Lions squad to South Africa without Ben Youngs, George North and Joe Launchbury.
Only one of them - North - was a dead-cert to travel, but the past week has been a reminder Gatland could do without. Even the squad he announces on Thursday afternoon [around 12:30] will eventually be shorn of first-choice picks.
While Launchbury and North both suffered ACL [knee] injuries last weekend, Ben Youngs was the first player to tule himself out of the seven-week tour to South Africa. The England scrumhalf was on the shortlist of potential squad picks, but he let Gatland knows he was opting to remain with his family this summer.
One would think that England's No.9 withdrawing his name from the hat would badly damage the Lions. However, these are the men Gatland will have to choose three from:
- Conor Murray, Luke McGrath, John Cooney (all Ireland)
- Danny Care, Ben Spencer (England)
- Kieran Hardy, Tomos Williams, Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb (Wales)
- Ali Price (Scotland)
A few Munster supporters reacted to the news of Youngs ruling himself out by kindly offering up Craig Casey to travel. Were this a 10-game tour, and with bigger squads allowed, Casey could be a bolter but Gatland is likely to go with Murray and two from that Welsh quartet.
As the Lions squad announcement countdown clock heads to less that 100 hours, the pundits and experts are all making their final pitches and arguments.
While the likes of Sam Warburton, Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Jim Hamilton and Ugo Monye have already nailed their Lions XVs and squad picks to the mast, this weekend has seen some strong cases made from other, respected sources. Interestingly, there is some late momentum for Munster and Ireland pair CJ Stander and Keith Earls.
During the week, former England captain Dylan Hartley selected a Lions XV with only three Irish starters but with the likes of Simon Zebo, James Ryan and Earls in his squad.
Over in The Guardian, Michael Aylwin predicted Exeter's Sam Simmonds are a possible outside-the-box selection and wrote, 'CJ Stander, in his homeland, is the type of player Gatland is likely to favour against a Springboks'.
And, in The Sunday Times, former Scotland captain John Barclay had eight Ireland players - including Earls and Stander - in his final squad. On Earls, Barclay declares:
'Keith Earls and Anthony Watson are class acts and prolific scorers who have to be on the plane.'
Barclay went for Ben Youngs over Conor Murray in his squad but, as we all know by now, Youngs will be watching the action unfold at home.
With Warburton and O'Brien already pressing the case for Earls and Nemani Nadolo proclaiming, "You'd have to have Earlsie in there, for sure," there is a wave of momentum there for the Moyross native.