Bolters: The six big surprises in Gatland's edgy Lions squad
British and Irish Lions squads are always full of shocks and this year’s is no exception. Warren Gatland has named his 37-man squad and while there are some huge names that are not on the list, there are equally some that have raised a few eyebrows.
After securing a European and domestic double with Exeter Chiefs last season, second-row Jonny Hill was deservedly capped by Eddie Jones last October, and has since played nine games for England. However, his inclusion may still come as a surprise largely due to who he has displaced, Ireland and Leinster’s James Ryan.
With 89 caps to his name, two of which were for the Lions against the All Blacks in 2017, the world knows Courtney Lawes has the ability, and particularly the brutality in defence, to make the Lions.
But the Northampton Saints lock/flanker has only managed two caps in over a year due to an ankle injury at the end of last year and a pectoral injury this year. Many thought those injuries would have worked against him.
There were plenty of players that appeared in the ‘bolters’ category leading up to the selection, but Ireland’s Jack Conan did not feature much. Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds stole a lot of attention out of the No8s, but the Leinster man has snuck in as well.
Gatland may have been convinced by the impact the 28-year-old had on Andy Farrell’s Ireland this year after an ankle and neck injury had kept him out of the national side since 2019.
In the absence of Wales’ George North in the midfield, Gatland clearly needed some power to take on the Springboks. Ireland’s Bundee Aki fits that bill, but is still a surprising selection as he beats the likes of Jonathan Davies or Garry Ringrose to a Lions spot.
Based on form alone, Chris Harris’ inclusion in this squad comes as no surprise at all as he was impenetrable throughout the Six Nations for Scotland in the No13 channel. However, to keep out some names like Davies, Ringrose and even Manu Tuilagi may have shocked some.
Quite a few England players have had their chance of going on tour snatched away from them on the back of their fifth place finish in the Six Nations. Saracens’ Elliot Daly was one of those that was in the firing line, but he provides the versatility in the back line that the selectors would have wanted, not to mention a monstrous boot that could be useful at altitude.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now