Stuart Barnes believes only four England players are Lions certainties
"Bar staying fit, there’s nothing more the players can do."
We are now just over two weeks away from British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland naming his squad to tour South Africa, this summer. There is a growing sense that there could be several top England stars missing out.
The topsy-turvy nature of the 2021 Six Nations - with only Wales consistently going above and beyond - has led to some interesting conversations when it comes to squad selection. Even the Lions coaching staff managed to select 57 different players for their initial squad debate, last Monday.
In his latest column for The Sunday Times, former England and Lions outhalf Stuart Barnes has given his take on certainties to tour. It makes for grim reading for a host of England stars.
On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 27:00 below] Springboks legend Tendai Mtawawira and former Ireland star Mike Ross discussed front row prospects for the Lions, with only one English player mentioned.
Mtawawira says Saracens and England lock Maro Itoje is the one Lions player he would have the most apprehension about facing his Springboks. Barnes agrees with that statement.
'Against Scotland he stood tall while the team collapsed around him,' Barnes writes. 'It may be that his indiscipline is the abiding memory of his 2021 Six Nations but he too is a certainty.' Here are the four England players Barnes believes will definitely tour:
- Maro Itoje
- Tom Curry
- Anthony Watson
- Owen Farrell
Barnes believes Curry and Watson both improved their respective standings with strong Six Nations campaigns. They both did, even though England finished in fifth place.
Itoje playing on, and often over, the boundaries came back to bite him in the Six Nations, but his obvious talents should see him travel. Farrell, a 'near certainty', has produced for Gatland in 2013 and 2017, and can cover 10 and 12. Barnes has him pencilled in.
What of the rest of England's leading lights? Jamie George has 'lost his edge', Mako Vunipola 'is vulnerable to an aggressive scrum' and Billy Vunipola has little credit in the bank with Gatland.
Barnes is pessimistic about the chances of Jonny May, sees Sam Underhill as a possibility and doubts Henry Slade will make the plane, as much as he would like to see him travel.
One player not mentioned by Barnes is the front row Mike Ross says he would take to back up Ireland tighthead Tadhg Furlong - Kyle Sinckler.
It has been a rough few months for England's top guns.