Names beginning to emerge from Lions stand-by list for South Africa
"Look you never know, do you?"
Despite the fact that he was in 99.9% of our British & Irish Lions squads, before team manager Jason Leonard announced the 37-man troupe to the world, Tadhg Furlong had a nervous viewing experience.
The squad announcement - replete with their hologram interviews and chats with a long list of Lions and Springbok legends - will have been tough for most tour hopefuls, but the forwards had to wait even longer.
Starting with the backs, and going in alphabetical order, Furlong had to wait until another 22 players had learned their fate before his named was called out.
"Ah, I was bricking it," Furlong admits. "I was absolutely bricking it.
"It’s hard to think what it was like four years ago because we were in Leinster in the canteen four years ago and you kind of miss a lot of the build-up. We were training and you kind of just get to the names part whereas this time you were sitting down watching the intro and the whole build-up to it.
"I kind of had it in my head, 'Right, if I’m going on this thing my name is coming out after Toby Faletau, on the alphabetical order jobby'.
"Zander Fagerson came out and I was like: ‘Fa.., Fu..’ You’re doing all that stuff in your head and next thing you get called out and it’s just like, 'Thank God'. It’s a mad feeling."
While Furlong and Fagerson made it, along with Andrew Porter, one tighthead prop omission that shocked many was that of Kyle Sinckler. Furlong spoke well on his 2017 Lions teammate missing out, and names from Warren Gatland's stand-by list are starting to emerge.
On Saturday, Sinckler spoke superbly, with his emotions not far from the surface, about the heartache and anger of missing out on the Lions squad, and how he could use that to improve as a player, and a person.
"It's just so hard to get on a Lions tour," said Furlong.
"I suppose it's so open to opinion really. Before it, I thought Sincks had a good chance of making it but it isn't the case. You probably seen at the weekend as I did as well how much it meant to him and how disappointed he was."
While the door has closed on Sinckler, and others, for now, there is every chance that some of the unfortunate players that missed out could yet be travelling to South Africa yet.
Over the course of the last three tours, 25 players have been called up as straight-up replacements or cover for the pack or backline. Here are some of the notables:
2009: Gordon D'Arcy, James Hook, Tom Croft, John Hayes
2013: Simon Zebo, Alex Corbisiero, Christian Wade, Rory Best
2017: James Haskell, Greig Ladlaw, Finn Russell
While none of the 2017 replacements featured in the Test Series, against the All Blacks, Corbisiero, Croft and Hayes all got Test caps, with the two England players featuring prominently.
Looking at the players most likely to feature on Gatland's stand-by list, which reportedly has 30+ names, and you would not put it past a few of them from featuring in a Test against the Springboks, this summer, if they got the call.
In a piece for The Daily Telegraph, Daniel Schofield has named Sinckler and three other English players as being on Gatland's stand-by list. He writes:
'All will now be told to keep themselves ready for when injuries strike on the notoriously brutal tour to South Africa. That back-up list will also include England outsiders Danny Care and Ben Spencer, the scrum-halves, as well as Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith.'
Looking at the squad selected by Gatland, the biggest omissions, from talking with some well-placed sources, and by gauging what the Lions would be looking for in their replacements, we have a talented stand-by list assembled.
Care and Spencer have both been listed a potential scrum-half cover options but first cab off the rank is surely Wales' Tomos Williams. On House of Rugby, Adam Jones spoke about Williams' talents and remarked, "The best scrum-half isn't even going on tour."
It includes nine former Lions (highlighted in bold) and is stacked with great options for Gatland and his coaches to debate about, all over again.
LIONS STAND-BY CANDIDATES
ENGLAND (11): Sam Underhill, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Sinckler, Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Ben Spencer, Jonny May, Henry Slade, Ellis Genge, George Ford, Will Stuart
IRELAND (10): Garry Ringrose, James Ryan, Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls, Ronan Kelleher, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander, Cian Healy, Hugo Keenan, Chris Farrell
WALES (7): Tomos Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Josh Navidi, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Nick Tompkins
SCOTLAND (5): Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Stuart McInally, Huw Jones, Sean Maitland
In 2009, Tom Croft only made the Lions squad after Munster and Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan was banned for 'making contact with the eye' of Leo Cullen in a Heineken Cup semi-final loss to Leinster.
Croft then got the No.6 jersey for the Test Series after Stephen Ferris had his tour ended by injury in a warm-up game. The Leicester Tigers man ended up scoring twice in the First Test, featuring in all three games of the series and getting nominated for 2009 World Player of the Year. He made the 2013 Lions squad outright and played in two Tests.
For those that missed the initial Lions call, Croft's story shows that all hope is not lost.