Sexton, Healy and Earls still 'on Lions radar' despite Ireland decision
"Look, these lads are aware of the situation."
Cian Healy, Keith Earls and Johnny Sexton are all centrally contracted with the IRFU but been given the summer off by Ireland coach Andy Farrell.
Eager to use the summer Tests against Japan and the USA to look at new players and combinations, Farrell has excused the experienced trio of Sexton, Healy and Earls from international duty.
Asked, not long after he named a 37-man squad with 11 uncapped players, if it was a tough decision to leave those three players out, Farrell said:
"No, very easy because there is a plan behind it and the reason for that is it gives opportunities to other lads. These lads understand that and hopefully agree with that, and for them to have a proper rest and on top of that come back and have a proper pre-season where they can make gains with their body and comeback into the start of next season with the fire burning rapidly is going to benefit us all in the long-term."
All three players were unfortunate to miss out on another 37-man squad recently - Warren Gatland's British & Irish Lions selection for South Africa - but Farrell does not feel their Ireland omissions will affect chances of being Lions' injury cover.
"No, definitely not," he said. "Warren is certainly aware of what they can do, and Keith is certainly in that bracket as well because he was playing some outstanding rugby during that Six Nations so I’m sure he’s on the radar as well.
"Look, these lads are aware of the situation. They will be training in the background and keeping themselves fit and Warren knows exactly what they are about."
Sexton has not played since early April, when he sustained a second confirmed concussion in the space of two months, but Farrell says the 35-year-old is 'good to go'.
"I speak to Johnny all the time," Farrell said. "I spoke to him yesterday. We are very lucky here that we see the right people about the right thing.
"The specialists are the ones who make the judgement and as far as the specialists are concerned, Johnny is good to go. There’s no problems there whatsoever and who I am to go against that?"
In the absence of Sexton, James Ryan will captain Ireland. Farrell was asked if he was surprised that he would have the lock, who missed out on the Lions squad, at his disposal.
"I was surprised," he replied. "We’ll start with that first. I think he’s s class player, bordering on world-class in my opinion.
"James knows that there’s room to improve his game and one of those is his leadership role. He has come on leaps and bounds and we’ve invested a couple of times with James in that role. He’ll have learned some lessons from that and he’ll be looking forward to what’s ahead of him.
"I think his form since not getting selected for the Lions has been outstanding, actually. Some of his attack work has been top class, his lineout calling has really come on so he’s taking responsibility. There’ll be other guys that will be in that leadership group, which has yet to be decided that will step up and help James become a better captain also."
While there yet be more Irish involvement in the Lions' playing squad, Farrell looks set to join the coaching staff ahead of the Test Series against the Springboks.
"I've spoken to Warren a couple of times and I'm more than happy, obviously, to help out because it's an unbelievable honour to be involved in the Lions," he said.
""Where it stands at this moment in time is that Warren has left a spot open there and he wants to see how the workload goes in the first week or so of the camps. If he needs any help in and around all of that, I'm happy to help.
"The experience that they've got there in the coaching staff is top-class and the experience they've got in the management group is top-class as well, so I'm sure they'll be fine.