26 May 2017

The lions selection debate that wasn't

6:57 pm on 26 May 2017

Opinion - And then suddenly, nothing happened.

From the (predictable) selection brouhaha - The Guardian said England and Irish fans are ticked off because favourites have not been picked; the Scots are unhappy because they've only got two players and the Welsh because Warren Gatland defied expectations by naming some players in his squad who are English, Irish and Scottish - to sweet Fanny Adams.

 British and Lions Player Administration Day in London earlier this month.

British and Lions Player Administration Day in London earlier this month. Photo: Photosport / INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Like Spike Milligan himself, this was somewhat unsettling.

With the monster Lions squad due to fly from Heathrow on Monday - and stuff still to play for at home - in terms of opinions and/or predictions, it has been pretty much shtum across Britain's sporting pages.

Only the Telegraph appears to have dipped its toe in those murky waters, with a rather subdued who's in the team, who's on the bench and who will be lining up for the midweek side?

Give us the weekend, though, and 'advice' on what Gatland should or should not do will no doubt be overflowing like a British complaint box.

What we have had is much talk around the formidable hole left by the withdrawal of the Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola (Anyone but Billy, harrumphed the BBC online) with a long-standing shoulder injury, and Gatland's fears that he will lose more players.

With Lions players involved in domestic knockouts and finals over the weekend, Gatland has planned for more injury blows before and during the tour, including Vunipola's replacement, James Haskell.

The coach, it seems, phoned the Wasps flanker to check his fitness before calling again with news of his selection. He might have to ring back. Haskell is set to be involved in Saturday's Aviva Premiership final against Exeter at Twickenham, 24 hours before joining the squad.

"There could be a couple more next weekend as well and given the history of the Lions, we've planned to lose anywhere between six and 10 players," Gatland said (yeah, and the rest, bigfella). "I mean, that's just the attrition of past tours."

Fortunate then that he fought to take one of the biggest Lions parties ever assembled - four more than planned - at an extra cost of some £600,000 (about $NZ1.1 million).

The good news? Lions captain Sam Warburton reported that he had "trained fully" on Monday. The Cardiff Blues flanker has not played since injuring his knee injury early last month, but said: "That's all the boxes ticked, and now I can crack on."

As for the available rest, they are back in the gym; getting a sweat on according to the Daily Mail, at their training base in County Kildare.

Rhys Webb and Robbie Henshaw were among those feeling the strain, it reported, with Owen Farrell, candidate for the 10 and 12 jerseys, joining the squad, bloodied but unbowed after Sarries' Premiership exit.

No downtime either, out of the gym. The Telegraph's 'The Talk of Rugby' column reveals the Lions will be shown specially commissioned videos to get up to speed on new rules because there has not been time to bring in a match official to explain them.

So, cries of foul, and a feeling that success for the Lions would come despite, not thanks to, administrators.

One tart entry, in the Guardian's 'The Breakdown' column, suggests club commitments hinder training and preparation, and that questions must be asked of those responsible for a frenetic schedule not fit for the professional era.

But, lack of time together - the full 41-strong squad will only come together on Sunday - acknowledged, opportunity still beckons. As Gatland said: "Everyone's spirits are willing; hopefully their bodies will eventually follow."

* Mick Reid is an Australian journalist who has called Old Blighty home for too long. A late convert to the oval ball game, he has worked at the past three Rugby World Cups and considers himself a neutral - of sorts.

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