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Just 5 Irish Players Make Stephen Jones' Lions Squad, And Johnny Sexton Is Not One Of Them

Just 5 Irish Players Make Stephen Jones' Lions Squad, And Johnny Sexton Is Not One Of Them
By Gavin Cooney Updated

Stephen Jones has once again consolidated his position as the most read British rugby columnist in Ireland by choosing a largely nonsensical squad for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand next year. Jones has created a strong readership base in Ireland by frequently refusing to idolise our greatest rugby players as we do, often reticent to declare Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara among the best in the world while they were at the peak of their powers.

So strong is Jones' readership base, he does not feel the need to maintain clicks coming through twitter, such is the quite staggering number of people blocked from seeing his tweets.

Jones selected a Lions squad that does not even see Jonathan Sexton or Conor Murray make the squad. He says he has selected the squad to meet the unique challenge of the All Blacks, meaning he has prioritised the "biggest and baddest players at the selectors disposal".

Jones has included three out-halves: Dan Biggar, Scotland's Finn Russell and England's Owen Farrell, despite the latter not playing at out-half in this year's Six Nations. Jones justifies the omission of Sexton by saying that his "star is waning in context of a New Zealand furnace tour".

At scrum-half, Jones reckons Conor Murray will be edged out by a combination of Rhys Webb, Ben Youngs, Greg Laidlaw and Gareth Davies.

To be fair to Jones, he is definitely taking five Irish players on tour. Three are unsurprising: Robbie Henshaw at centre, Jack McGrath at prop and Iain Henderson at blindside flanker. Slightly more surprising are the inclusions of Ultan Dillane at second-row and Dave Kearney on the wing, with Jones saying that Dillane is "worth the gamble". Jones is a major fan of the barnstorming Dillane, awarding him the "best cameo" award elsewhere in the paper for his appearance at Twickenham.

Jones believes that Jamie Heaslip would require "a major career revival" to make the squad, while he reckons that Rob Kearney and the "beast" that is Stuart McCloskey will narrowly miss out. Elsewhere, Irish captain Rory Best is deemed to have been "too quiet" on previous Lions tours to warrant inclusion. There is no mention at all of Simon Zebo, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien or CJ O'Stander.

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Here is Jones' starting XV for the first test against New Zealand, which has a distinctly Welsh flavour about it:

Leigh Halfpenny

George North

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Jonathan Davies

Jamie Roberts

Anthony Watson

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Dan Biggar

Rhys Webb

Jack McGrath

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Dylan Hartley

WP Nel

Luke Charteris

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Alun Wyn Jones

Iain Henderson

Sam Warburton

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Toby Faletau

You can read Jones' full squad behind the Sunday Times paywall here.

See Also: Should There Really Be So Many Ireland Players In RTÉ's Team Of The Six Nations?

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