Selecting a British and Irish Lions squad is a devilishly hard job for any coach, and there are invariably some players who are bitterly unlucky to miss out. So while it is hard to inveigh against any selectors in the choices they make, there have been some players in the past who looked shoe-ins to tour for the prestigious team and have missed out, and here are some of the best:
1 Duncan Jones
Once a member of Wales’ and the Ospreys’ hirsute front row alongside Adam Jones, Duncan Jones was a contender for the 2005 Lions tour, but was unfortunately ousted by the emerging Gethin Jenkin for Wales that season, who went to New Zealand instead.
2 Dylan Hartley
A Lions tourist in 2013 had it not been for his asinine slur directed at Wayne Barnes, this will rank as one of Dylan Hartley’s greatest regrets throughout his career. After coming so close and having the chance taken away from him, the former England captain simply missed out in 2017.
Honourable mention: Sean Cronin
3 Mike Ross
The cornerstone of Ireland’s scrum for many years, Mike Ross was pipped for a place on the 2013 tour as Warren Gatland opted for Matt Stevens in a decision that caught everyone by surprise. The England prop’s ability to play both sides of the scrum helped him, but it did mean Ross was bitterly unlucky to miss out.
Honourable mention: WP Nel
4 Gareth Llewellyn
With 92 caps to his name, former Wales captain Gareth Llewellyn was once his country’s most capped player, but that could still not earn him a seat on the plane to New Zealand in 1993 or South Africa in 1997. The 2001 tour to Australia was during his two-and-a-half year absence from the Test arena, before he retired in 2004.
Honourable mention: Jonny Gray
5 Joe Launchbury
During 2017, Joe Launchbury had to watch his three England second-row teammates, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Courtney Lawes, all go to New Zealand, while he toured Argentina with England. With the likes of Alun Wyn Jones on the tour as well, Laucnhbury has unfortunately been playing during an era of great locks.
6 John Barclay
Scotland players have been the least well represented side in the Lions squads in recent years, which comes with the territory given the strength of the other three nations this millennium. While many fans, and indeed players, have begrudged Scotland’s under-representation, few can feel more hard-done-by than former captain John Barclay.
Honourable mention: Alan Quinlan
7 Chris Robshaw
Being captain of your country does not earn you a place in a Lions squad by right, as Chris Robshaw found out in 2013. The Harlequin was one of England’s most consistent and reliable performers, but was perhaps let down by England’s 30-3 loss to Gatland’s Wales in March 2013, which would have had calamitous consequences for some England players. Maybe didn’t quite have athleticism or explosiveness
Honourable mention: Hamish Watson
8 Victor Costello
A brute at the base of the scrum for Ireland and Leinster, as well as an Olympic shot putter, Victor Costello was never called upon to wear the red of the Lions. While he did not have the longest Test career, spanning only 39 games in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were not many players to rival his size and natural thew.
9 Peter Stringer
One of the most surprising players to have never been selected for the Lions, Peter Stringer was ever present for Ireland and Munster in the 2000s. Much of his career, and his 98 caps, was partnering Ronan O’Gara, who made the 2001, 2005 and 2009 tours.
Honourable mention: Danny Care
10 Jonathan Davies
A switch to rugby league deprived former Wales standoff Jonathan Davies of ever representing the Lions, despite being one of his country’s greatest ever players. While his exclusion was by his own design, he is still a player that would have undoubtedly toured in 1989 and 1993 had he not left union.
11 Sean Lamont
During a 105-cap Scotland career which straddled three Lions tours, Sean Lamont was a great servant for his country, but surplus to requirements for the Lions. While there were some great wingers from rival countries during his career, Lamont was always a powerful weapon for Scotland and would have been a candidate to tour.
Honourable mention: Tom Varndell
12 Mike Tindall
The starting inside centre when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, and later the captain of his country during his 75-cap, eleven-year Test career, Mike Tindall is another shocking absentee. Perhaps too young, at the age of 22, to go to Australia in 2001, a broken foot dashed his hopes of making the 2005 tour, and by the time the South Africa series arrived four years later, he was not in contention.
13 Garry Ringrose
There is little doubt that Ireland’s Garry Ringrose will play for the Lions at some point in the future, but he was even unlucky in 2017. Though the tour may have come slightly too early for him, having only made his debut in late 2016, he was still a possible to make the tour.
14 Chris Ashton
Despite being exiled from the England team in 2017, partly due to disciplinary reasons, Chris Ashton was an outside bet to make the tour to New Zealand. As a player who scores tries for whomever he is representing, there is no question that he would have crossed the whitewash in a Lions jersey if he had the chance. Last time out he suggested his ‘wife’ had more chance of touring with the Lions.
15 Chris Paterson
Scotland’s record points scorer Chris Paterson also holds the unfortunate record of having the most caps in the British Isles without touring with the Lions. A haul of 109 caps and 809 points was still not enough for the form Edinburgh and Gloucester fullback to ever make the cut.
Honourable mentions: Mike Brown and Girvan Dempsey
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now