I had only just come in from training and finalising a plan for Montpellier when I had a chance to scroll through the Lions squad for South Africa. What a fascinating collection of talking points it provided.
We are almost conditioned in the first instance to focus on those who missed out. While there is understandable comment on the exclusion of Johnny Sexton, his Leinster colleague James Ryan is another I am truly gutted for.
Not going to South Africa is a mammoth blow to Ryan because he has a great age profile (24), has captained Ireland, and is already spoken of as a world-class talent and a potential Lions skipper. That’s the sort of thing that knocks the stuffing out of a player, and he will feel things have gone inexplicably pear-shaped for him in recent times, I am really disappointed for him even if his form has just dipped at the wrong time.
These things are totally subjective, but excluding Johnny Sexton doesn’t make sense to me from the only perspective that is important - the rugby perspective. We are talking aboutsummer, nothing beyond that, and in that context and timeframe, he is clearly a better and more experienced option than Finn Russell or Dan Biggar in the moments when the pressure is ratcheted up against the world champions. Simple as.
Garry Ringrose might also wonder what he has done wrong because he has retained good consistency, but Warren Gatland was always going to lean towards a Manu Tuilagi or a Bundee Aki, and he will have tracked the Connacht centre all the way back to the Chiefs in Waikato, where both cut their teeth. Aki is the sort who could really excel on fast tracks in South Africa.
There are different criteria applying to each of the big omissions and you have to respect the decision-making process of Gatland and his management. The proof of the pudding will be in July and August. There is considerable disappointment, and some surprise, too that CJ Stander has failed to make the cut, while Jack Conan has.
On other selections, versatility is a friend to the likes of Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson, Andrew Porter as well. Having more than one string to your bow is a serious plus on a Lions tour.