Lions boss Warren Gatland has insisted that old age will be no impediment to veteran players such as Johnny Sexton and Alun Wyn Jones when it comes to selection to go on next year’s three-Test tour to South Africa.

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England World Cup winner Neil Back holds the record as the oldest ever player to start a Lions Test match, the back row checking in at 36 years and 160 days old when he packed down against the All Blacks at Christchurch in June 2005. 

Next oldest is fellow England international Simon Shaw – the lock was 35 years and 306 days old when appearing against the Springboks in July 2009. 

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Lions boss Warren Gatland guests on All Access, the RugbyPass interview series

By the time of next year’s first Test in Johannesburg on July 24, Ireland skipper Sexton will be 36 years and 13 days old while Wales captain Jones, who this weekend becomes the most capped Test player of all time with 149 caps, will be 35 years and 308 days old when the first whistle sounds in the Test series versus the world champions. 

Both players were integral parts of the 2013 and 2017 tours in Australia and New Zealand and Gatland, speaking ahead of this weekend’s finale in the delayed 2020 Six Nations, said: “Age is no limit because when you’re looking at a Lions squad you’re not looking at the future, you’re not thinking of four years’ time. You’re just thinking of the here and now, not developing a team or players or thinking a couple of years ahead for a World Cup. 

“It’s about picking the best players if his form is good enough. One of the things about Alun is he is incredibly honest about his own performance, how he manages himself as he has got a bit older. He wasn’t the best when he was younger. 

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“It [the caps record] is a tremendous accolade for him. It’s taken a reasonable amount of time for recognition of what he has achieved as a player. It’s probably been the last three, four years in terms of his achievement as a player for Wales and for the Lions.

“I’m absolutely delighted for him. He has done a great job. He leads from the front, he’s incredibly honest and hopefully that (Wales) team can go out there and deliver a performance for him against Scotland to give him a game to remember in breaking the record of Richie McCaw. It’s fantastic for Alun Wyn and I hopes he does well on the weekend.”

Switching to Sexton, Lions boss Gatland added: “Like I said, it’s not about the future, it’s about the here and now. For Johnny, he has managed himself really well and this autumn is going to be what Ireland do in terms of that and then the Six Nations. 

“Probably in the last year or so his biggest challenge has been to string a number of games together. He has picked up niggles and knocks, a few head knocks as well. That’s from where we will be looking at him. There’s no doubt about his experience and leadership and qualities as a player. He’s someone I look back on in 2017, he didn’t have a great start to the tour and then came back – and that’s what world-class players do. 

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“Sometimes their form can go but they are able to, what is it they say, form is temporary ad class is permanent sort of thing. Again it’s just having a look and seeing how Johnny goes over the next six months. That’s the important factor for him, holding his body together and how he manages it. If he is selected how he is managed on tour as well.”

– Warren Gatland was speaking on behalf of Canterbury at the launch of the British and Irish Lions Pro jersey,  available at Canterbury.com

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