Lions boost for Irish quartet as Gatland gives injured hopefuls an extra week
IRELAND duo Jonathan Sexton and Paul O'Connell's chances of making the Lions tour were given a shot in the arm after coach Warren Gatland insisted that he will give injured stars every chance to prove their fitness before he names his squad in late April.
Gatland also namechecked sidelined Irish fliers Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo as players in his thoughts.
O'Connell makes his comeback from a serious back injury for Munster in the Pro12 this weekend, while Sexton faces at least a month on the sidelines with a foot injury, which threw his tour in doubt.
However, Gatland revealed that he resisted pressure to name his squad a week earlier than the April 30 deadline, to give injured players the best possible chance to make the plane.
It also allows the Lions coaching ticket to take in the Heineken and Challenge Cup semi-finals, which will be the hopefuls' last chance to impress Gatland.
"We had come under a bit of pressure to name the squad a week earlier, from a suppliers point of view, but we pushed it out a week, because I wanted a weekend that potentially could be significant, where there will be positions that are still up for grabs," said the former Ireland and Wales coach.
"It also gives players coming back from injury an opportunity.
"We know a lot about Paul O'Connell. We know what he brings to the party, so we will be keeping a pretty close eye on him. Someone like Tommy Bowe, if he gets back from injury (would be in the mix), Dan Lydiate as well.
"There is a young, talented player in Simon Zebo – is he going to run out of time? We'll keep a close eye on these sort of players over the next six weeks," revealed Gatland, who was in St Michael's College in Dublin to launch the FirstCape rugby coaching master class.
Gatland was coy about the captaincy – Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones and Chris Robshaw lead the betting, with Brian O'Driscoll fourth in the market.
"There are a number of people we've got in mind. I think it is crucial we get that right before we name the squad, so we just want to take our time," said the Kiwi.
"Whoever it is, will be under no illusions that their form has to be good enough to warrant selection for the Test side. If someone else is playing better in their position, we have no problem asking someone else to captain the Test side."