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Stephen Jones Has Picked His Lions Squad And It Doesn't Make Any Sense

Stephen Jones Has Picked His Lions Squad And It Doesn't Make Any Sense
By Conor O'Leary
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I hate bringing it up, but when Brian O'Driscoll was dropped from the final test of the Lions tour in Australia - it brought home what the Lions meant to me. I didn't care how the team played, I only cared that Ireland's players were recognised with their justified selection.

Maybe that's the same for you, and maybe it isn't - but we can all agree on one thing - Stephen Jones' Lions selections today defies logic. He's gone all in on English players, sprinkled with the Welsh team that made up the 2013 Lions. There are only token Scots and Irish representatives included. It's not the nationality breakdown that doesn't make sense though - it's who is picked, and why.

The Welsh-born rugby pundit that Irish fans love to hate has picked his own Lions touring squad. It's complete with his reasons for the squad, and his starting test team - if he had to pick them tomorrow for next year's test series.

Given that England just whitewashed Australia, the English media are naturally flying overboard with confidence - but Jones takes it to another level. He's got six English players in his starting XV. Here's his starting XV for the first test against New Zealand:

L Halfpenny; A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, G North; D Biggar, R Webb; T Faletau, J Haskell, M Itoje; G Kruis, L Charteris; WP Nel, D Hartley, J McGrath

Even allowing for the fact that there is only one Irish player in his first XV - there is no way that's the best back team the Lions could produce, especially in the forwards. It seems odd to include seven Welsh players given that they had their asses handed to them on a plate in their three-test series with New Zealand.

Luke Charteris isn't even the best second row in Wales, and James Haskell is still not an openside flanker. In the backs, Liam Williams is showing that Halfpenny isn't Wales' best fullback option - and I won't believe that Jonathan Davies is in the top three best outside centres in the British Isles.

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As for the rest of his squad:

Backs J Payne, L Williams, J Nowell, T Seymour, J Roberts, R Henshaw, R Jackson, C Murray
Forwards B Vunipola, J Hardie, I Henderson, R Gray, U Dillane, AW Jones, D Cole, K Owens, J George, J Marler, M Vunipola

That's Scotland's Ruaridh Jackson as the second outhalf. Ahead of Scottish first choice outhalf Finn Russell, and second choice Peter Horne. So the third choice Scottish outhalf is ahead of George Ford, Johnny Sexton, and Paddy Jackson. Go figure. Don't worry though - the Premiership based Jackson gets in instead of the PRO12 alternatives.

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Jones' reasoning behind not picking Sexton?

The sheer intensity of life in New Zealand rugby may well mitigate against the selection of the talented Johnny Sexton, so prone to injury and, occasionally, a player who looks affected by physical pressure ranged against him.

That means that Conor Murray, Jack McGrath, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Ultan Dillane, and Iain Henderson are Ireland's only representatives. No CJ Stander, no Peter O'Mahony, no Rory Best, no Mike Ross, no Tadhg Furlong, no Sean O'Brien. Of Stander and O'Brien, Jones reasons:

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my tour squad does not include as flankers any of CJ Stander, Ross Moriarty, Chris Robshaw or the outstanding Exeter chief, Don Armand, and none of those would be likely to let down the Lions. Sean O’Brien of Ireland also misses out, because his battle with injury has reduced the old effectiveness, perhaps temporarily and perhaps for good.

It's not all doom and gloom for Irish players though. Jones reserves special praise for Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson is "exactly the sort of intensity and electricity that the Lions will demand, either in the second row or on the flank", while of Dillane, Jones thinks he's the bolter of the year for the squad:

He is so selfless and rumbustious, that he may well be worth a punt. A few games in similar vein for Ireland in the forthcoming season could well seal it.

Perhaps it would all be better if we didn't allow Irish players to be involved, so we could just call them the British Lions and not care anymore.

[Sunday Times]

See Also: Should We Even Care About The Lions Anymore?

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