‘Sexton’s injury history counted against him for Lions spot’

Warren Gatland has named his 37-man British & Irish Lions squad for South Africa tour; Johnny Sexton, Jonathan Davies and Billy Vunipola missed out on places; Jack Conan, Sam Simmonds and Bundee Aki among the surprise inclusions; the Lions tour will be exclusively live on Sky Sports

Last Updated: 07/05/21 12:40pm

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Former Ireland and Lions winger Tommy Bowe says former team-mate Johnny Sexton’s Lions omission is partly due to his injury record
Former Ireland and Lions winger Tommy Bowe says former team-mate Johnny Sexton’s Lions omission is partly due to his injury record

Johnny Sexton’s injury problems are behind the fly-half missing out on Lions selection, according to former Ireland team-mate Tommy Bowe.

On Thursday Warren Gatland named his 37-man squad for the tour to South Africa over the summer, with Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell selected as the three players to fight for the Test number 10 jersey – though Farrell could play inside centre.

Bowe was surprised to see Sexton miss out on selection, but feels the fly-half’s recent injury concerns, coupled with the rigours of playing against physical South African teams, was what ultimately cost the 35-year-old a place.

“A lot of people were surprised,” Bowe, who toured South Africa with the Lions in 2009, told Sky Sports News. “Even the likes of Dan Carter put out a Tweet last night saying how shocked he was that Johnny Sexton wasn’t picked in the squad.

“I felt that Warren Gatland would go for him ahead of Finn Russell. I think it helped that Finn Russell had Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy – two of the Scottish coaches – on the selection panel, but I can see where they are coming from.

“Johnny Sexton started five of the last six Tests for the Lions – of course he was on the bench for that sixth one – so Warren Gatland knows what he is leaving behind, but the thing is that Johnny’s injury record over the last couple of months and maybe years just has not been good.

“I know from that tour in 2009, particularly playing at altitude, it is relentless. The training is so difficult on your body.

“Sometimes you might have to play on a Saturday, again on a Tuesday and maybe again on a Saturday on the bench potentially.

“It’s tough on the body, and with Johnny Sexton, somebody who struggles maybe to back up match after match or particularly training at the intensity that you’ll have to at the Lions, I think that counted against him.”

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Dan Biggar is pushing for a British & Irish Lions Test starting place
Dan Biggar is pushing for a British & Irish Lions Test starting place

With the options available to Gatland, Bowe says he can see his former Ospreys team-mate Biggar – now playing in the Premiership with Northampton – getting the nod to play fly-half in the Tests against the world champions.

“I think Dan Biggar is probably going to be my starting 10 with Owen Farrell at 12,” Bowe said. “His goal-kicking has been exceptional.

“He just is such a clever thinker, Dan Biggar, and certainly since going to Northampton it’s just taken it to a new level; his leadership, his competitiveness.

“Going up against the Springboks you’re going to have to be physical and up for everything.”

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Stuart Hogg says Exeter team-mate Sam Simmonds deserves his inclusion in the Lions squad and believes it will lead to him playing for England again
Stuart Hogg says Exeter team-mate Sam Simmonds deserves his inclusion in the Lions squad and believes it will lead to him playing for England again

Among the surprise selections were Bundee Aki and Jack Conan, as well as Sam Simmonds who has been overlooked by England since his last Test in the 2018 Six Nations.

Bowe believes Simmonds and Conan have been picked because they offer a more dynamic ball-carrying option to Gatland on the hard pitches in South Africa.

“From Jack Conan’s point of view, he’s like a Sam Simmonds,” Bowe said.

“He is not the big ball carrier like a CJ Stander or a Billy Vunipola who’s just going to run into that back-row of South Africa, because if you want to try and take them on physically, just running into them like a battering ram, you’re going to come off second best.

“The likes of Sam Simmonds, Jack Conan – even Taulupe Faletau – they have great footwork, they can try and move those big players around and try to get in the gaps in between the defenders.”

Source : Sky Sports