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A 'Snubbed Lions XV' that reflects the touring side's remarkable strength in depth

By Josh Raisey

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Creating one squad out of four teams always means plenty of good players will miss out, and British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has said that this was the most challenging squad he has ever had to select.


That is unsurprising when looking at the raft of players who have been omitted this year, from Test centurions to a World Rugby player of the year to a former Lions player of the series.
So here is an XV of players who missed out on the Lions this year:

Although his chances of making the Lions grew with every game he played for Leinster and Ireland this season, Hugo Keenan was still competing against a welter of top class fullbacks. The 24-year-old secured the green No15 jersey this Guinness Six Nations but is one who would have benefited from the rumours that the tour was going to be pushed back to 2022.

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Since narrowly missing out on the 2017 tour Jonny May has had an exceptional four years, scoring 25 tries in that time and becoming England’s second-highest try scorer. He was a safe bet for the Lions across that period but this recent Six Nations saw the emergence of some new wingers on the Test scene, which pushed the 31-year-old out.

Ireland’s Garry Ringrose was relatively new to Test rugby in 2017, having made his debut in November 2016, and therefore missed out on the Lions. This year he has just been pipped by the likes of Chris Harris, who had an exemplary Six Nations.

The player of the tour in 2017 and a starting centre in the Lions’ past six Test matches, Wales centre Jonathan Davies misses out after struggling to find top form since a devastating knee injury in 2019. He has played seven Tests since his return from injury, but obviously has not reached the level Gatland requires.

A toe ligament injury has meant 2017 tourist Jack Nowell has been limited to a handful of minutes this year for Exeter, which left him too little time to make a statement to the selectors.

Nowell Exeter <a href=

England injury” width=”1200″ height=”675″ /> (Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Vying to become Ireland’s most capped Lion in the professional era, injuries may have taken their toll on the 35-year-old Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who missed Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle with a head injury. On top of that, the 2018 World Rugby player of the year was competing against a wealth of high class fly-halves.

Wales and Cardiff Blues scrum-half Tomos Williams made his Test debut in a victory over the Springboks in 2018 in Washington DC. He appeared to be a popular choice under Wayne Pivac in the 2020 Six Nations, but a shoulder injury ruled him out of the autumn and a hamstring injury this year limited him to just one start in the Six Nations, which prevented him from truly staking his claim for the Lions.

In what was likely to be his last chance to earn a Lions Test cap after an ankle injury midway through the 2013 tour sabotaged his chances, the 33-year-old Ireland prop Cian Healy has been pipped in his pursuit of that cap by some looseheads who have surged into consideration over the last 18 months.

Ireland dejection Leinster Rugby

Cian Healy and Jacob Stockdale (left) sum up Ireland’s dejection following their shock defeat to Japan at the World Cup (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Scotland’s 17-cap hooker George Turner took advantage of injuries to Stuart McInally and Fraser Brown during the Six Nations and made a statement with his performances in the early rounds of the Championship, particularly in Scotland’s historic win at Twickenham.
But he faced stiff competition from Ken Owens, Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie, and a troublesome day in the lineout against Ireland earlier this year may have worked against him.

After featuring in all three Tests against the All Blacks from the bench in 2017, Kyle Sinckler has featured heavily under Eddie Jones since then. However, the Bristol Bears tighthead is one of many casualties from England’s poor Six Nations.

As good as Jonny Gray was for Scotland during the Six Nations, the reality is the second-row position currently has some players that are likely to go down as all time greats. The Scottish tackling machine is playing in a generation where some very good locks will miss out on the Lions.

Exeter Scotland Six Nations

(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Ireland and Leinster’s James Ryan made his Test debut against the USA during the 2017 tour, and since then the 24-year-old lock has won titles for both club and country. He was untouchable for two years between 2018 and 2019, but suffered a slight dip in form in a crucial year.

Scotland’s Jamie Ritchie only made his debut in 2018, but the 24-year-old has become one of the first names on the team sheet under Lions attacking coach and Scotland boss Gregor Townsend in that time.
This year, however, players like Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje, who can play in the second-row or blindside flanker, have been chosen to take on the notoriously physical Springboks, which therefore ousts other No6s like Ritchie or Wales’ Josh Navidi.

Sam Underhill. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A stellar 2019 and 2020 with England meant Sam Underhill was in a good position to earn a Lions berth at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately a hip injury came at the worst possible time and ruled him out of the Six Nations this year.

After a shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the 2017 Lions tour, Billy Vunipola misses out this year after struggling to put in the performances he is capable of over the Six Nations. Saracens’ season in the Championship has affected many players, but none more so than the England No8.

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A 'Snubbed Lions XV' that reflects the touring side's remarkable strength in depth