Who's fighting fit for Lions' slalom of punishment? Brendan Fanning picks 12 Irishmen in his 37-man squad
At this stage of the season, every four years, the sight of a high-profile player being carted off has greater connotations than normal. Immediately you consult the calendar to check the following dates: initial assembly of the squad; first game on tour; last Saturday game before the first Test. And then with great insight we slosh about trying to figure out the chances of the wounded man being part of the Lions squad.
So the sight of Sam Warburton hobbling out of the Guinness Pro12 match with Ulster last weekend was not your average occurrence. Will the red-hot favourite for captaincy be fit to lead the Lions? If the official line (a low-grade medial ligament strain) is accurate, then he is blessed to be getting a little break before the off.
And that's what it's about. The greatest challenge to any Lions party is not about finding enough quality, rather it is trying to put together a bunch who have some energy left for a slalom of punishment.
It would be interesting to look at the casualty rates from the last five tours - ie those in the professional era. And if they weren't going up tour by tour, it would be startling. It is hard to separate those injuries not just from the brutality of the sport but the season that precedes, without rest, the tour itself. So brace yourselves.
To that end we have included George Kruis in our squad - clearly he is a very good operator, but with his season only starting this weekend it gives him almost the perfect profile. Slotting in those around him is probably the hardest gap to fill on any Lions tour for there has never been so many strong candidates. You could make a decent second-row combo from those left behind: the Gray brothers, Donnacha Ryan, Courtney Lawes, Devin Toner.
If Kruis looks to have recovered in the nick of time then the same is not the case for two certainties: Rob Kearney and WP Nel. Our trips to New Zealand in June over the years have reinforced a handful of things, and top of the list are the weather and the rugby - there is no respite from either. The tour will open against a Provincial Union XV on June 3 in Whangerei. If it isn't cold and wet then global warming will be messing with the natural order of things.
By that stage the stragglers, delayed by domestic finals, will have caught up to speed with the rest of the gang. At least a couple from the standby list will already be there, or on their way, and New Zealand will be transfixed by the prospect of putting even more distance between them and the only ever successful raiding party - in 1971.
Will there be bolters in Warren Gatland's squad? If so then Joey Carbery has a chance, and Christian Wade an even better one. We suspect Ross Moriarty might have the best though. It's a nice thought, but there is enough talent around to stick with the tried and trusted.
The closest we have to the bolter class is John Ryan. There are only a couple of Test matches in experience between himself and England's Kyle Sinckler - both are bench options - but the Munster tighthead is more disciplined. And his scrummaging performances this season have been first class. He has the look of a player who could go on a tour like this as a midweek man and come home with Test time on his cv.
The runners and riders will be announced on Wednesday. The casualties will follow soon after.
Here is the 37-man squad Brendan Fanning would bring:
Full-backs: S Hogg (Sco), M Brown (Eng); Wings: L Williams (Wal), G North (Wal), E Daly (Eng), J Nowell (Eng), A Watson (Eng); Centres: O Farrell (Eng), R Henshaw (Irl), J Joseph (Eng), D Taylor (Sco); Flyhalves: J Sexton (Irl), D Biggar (Wal); Scrumhalves: C Murray (Irl), R Webb (Wal), A Price (Sco); Props: J McGrath (Irl), M Vunipola (Eng), C Healy (Irl), T Furlong (Irl), D Cole (Eng), J Ryan (Irl); Hookers: J George (Eng), R Best (Irl), K Owens (Wal); Locks: AW Jones (Wal), J Launchbury (Eng), G Kruis (Eng), M Itoje (Eng), I Henderson (Irl); Backrowers: P O'Mahony (Irl), CJ Stander (Irl), B Vunipola (Eng), N Hughes (Eng), S Warburton (capt)(Wal), S O'Brien (Irl), H Watson (Sco).
Sunday Indo Sport