WARREN GATLAND has dropped a couple of major selection bomb-shells in his 37-man Lions squad to tour South Africa.
Leinster quartet Johnny Sexton, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Cian Healy have all missed out on the tour, with their Leinster colleague Jack Conan and Connacht’s Bundee Aki both surprise Irish inclusions.
The selection will have a big impact across the four nations involved, with Kyle Sinckler, Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola the most notable English absentees.
2018 World Player of the Year Sexton is the biggest name to miss out.
The Ireland captain had hoped to make a third tour in a row this summer, but doubts over his durability appear to have swayed the Kiwi coach against taking him to South Africa - instead opting for England's Owen Farrell, Wales' Dan Biggar and Scotland's Finn Russell as his out-halves.
Sexton has been stood down from contact work by Leinster after he suffered three head injuries in nine weeks. He sat out the recent defeats to Munster and La Rochelle and despite a strong finish to the Six Nations the 35-year-old misses out on one last tour having worn the No 10 shirt in five of the last six Lions Tests and come off the bench in the other.
In Sexton's absence, the Irish flag will be carried by eight players.
Aki is one of three Irish backs, with Robbie Henshaw in for his second successive tour and Conor Murray back for his third.
The two Irish centres get the nod ahead of Ringrose whose recent injury can’t have helped his case.
However, he’ll be disappointed to find himself behind Scotland’s Chris Harris and England’s Elliot Daly who was a winger on the tour four years ago.
Up front, Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter are picked at tighthead along with Zander Fagerson as Gatland surprisingly goes without Kyle Sinckler, while Ronan Kelleher and Healy miss out at hooker and loosehead prop.
Luke Cowan-Dickie joins Jamie George and Ken Owens from four years ago, while Rory Sutherland makes it despite concerns over his recent shoulder problem. He joins Mako Vunipola and Wyn Jones as the looseheads.
Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne get in ahead of Ryan who has his own challenges with head injuries and looked off-colour against La Rochelle last weekend. Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes join captain Alun-Wyn Jones as the second-rows.
In the back-row, Conan is Ireland’s sole representative and he faces competition from Taulupe Faletau and Sam Simmonds for the No 8 shirt. The squad is light on blindsides, but Beirne and Lawes can both do a job in that area.
Behind the scrum, Murray is the favourite to start at scrum-half with Gareth Davies and Ali Price also in the mix, while out wide there’s no Irish involvement as Gatland goes for full-backs Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams, with wingers Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe.
The 2021 Lions tour of South Africa squad:
Back three (6): Josh Adams (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales);
Centres (4): Bundee Aki (Ireland), Elliot Daly (England), Chris Harris (Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland);
Out-halves (3): Dan Biggar (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Finn Russell (Scotland)
Scrum-halves (3): Gareth Davies (Wales), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland);
Hookers (3): Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Jamie George (England), Ken Owens (Wales);
Props (6): Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Wyn Jones (Wales), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Mako Vunipola (England);
Second-row (6): Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Jonny Hill (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun-Wyn Jones (Capt, Wales), Courtney Lawes (England);
Back-row (6): Jack Conan (Ireland), Tom Curry (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Sam Simmonds (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Hamish Watson (Scotland).
Country by Country breakdown