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Lions hangovers: Five players who've struggled to find form post tour

By Ian Cameron
Louis Rees-Zammit /Getty Images

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The British & Irish Lions is widely viewed as the professional high point of any Home Nations player’s career – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the form that got said player on the plane, will follow them off it.

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For every player that goes on multiple tours, there’s a handful that are one-hit wonders, whose careers receded from sight thereafter.

Yet even Test veterans can fall foul of the metaphorical Lions’ tour hangover and the 2021 Lions’ tour of South Africa was no different. Here’s we look at five players who have struggled to re-ignite after the most recent campaign.

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LOUIS REES-ZAMMIT
While admittedly Rees-Zammit didn’t see much game time under Warren Gatland in South Africa, the bolter’s attacking prowess is plain to see. For all his attacking brilliance on the ball, question marks over his defending and his work rate off it continue to dog the 21-year-old.

After a strong Autumn Nations Series, the youngster’s failure to make an impact in the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations culminated in Wayne Pivac dropping him from the team in favour of veteran Alex Cuthbert. No doubt it’s a bump in the road for Rees-Zammit, whose try against Northampton Saints on the weekend at the very least shows the setback hasn’t dampened his attacking flair.

MAKO VUNIPOLA
Possibly the one player with the most justification to feel aggrieved with Eddie Jones’ squad refresh ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup. The Saracens prop went from being a British & Irish Lions starter in the second Test to being surplus to requirements as far as Jones and England were concerned when he returned.

Mako Vunipola
Saracens’ Mako Vunipola (left) cheers on his team mates from the side lines during the Gallagher Premiership match at the StoneX Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday March 5, 2022. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
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The Australian has said the door has been left open for the loosehead to battle back into the reckoning, but it feels like lip service from Jones, not least given his Vunipola’s decent form for Sarries. An injury at the weekend against Leicester Tigers will end any immediate return to favour, but a return doesn’t look likely.

GARETH DAVIES
The hero of the 2015 Rugby World Cup didn’t feature heavily on tour but may not have expected to lose his position as Wales’ number one scrumhalf quite so quickly. Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy appear to be Pivac’s first and second choice nines going forward. Davies did feature in the first two Wales’ Guinness Six Nations fixtures against Ireland and Scotland, from the bench, but at 31, Pivac may be planning without the talented halfback.

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Gareth Davies prior to the the put in at the scrum (Getty)

OWEN FARRELL
Farrell brought questionable form into the British & Irish Lions tour, but arguably the greatest England player of the professional era had enough credit in the bank to warrant inclusion. Prior to his January, 2022 injury and operation, the 30-year-old was beginning to find his form of old for Saracens.

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For all that, Marcus Smith’s ascension to the England flyhalf mantle appeared fated, even if the pair didn’t get to go head to head for it in England camp. Many had predicted Farrell would play 12 outside of the Harlequins’ magician, but we’ll never know.

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrell /Getty

WYN JONES
The Scarlets’ prop went from the preferred Lions’ loosehead and a star of the 2021 Six Nations, to a player who hasn’t quite hit the heights of his breakout season. A delayed wedding and a lack of game time due to Scarlets’ URC matches getting postponed over Christmas didn’t help him on the fitness front.

He started against New Zealand and Australia in the Autumn and all of Wales’ Six Nations games to date, so it might be unfair to characterize Jones’ form as having dipped dramatically, yet his star hasn’t shone in the same way it did in 2021.

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Props are no strangers to post-Lions tours hangovers. Injury issues saw Lions loosehead Alex Corbisiero play just two more games for England after the 2013 Lions tour of Australia, while Ireland’s Jack McGrath went from a Lions starter in 2017 to missing out on Ireland’s 2019 Rugby World Cup just two years later.

INJURIES: Ken Owens, Anthony Watson, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi have all suffered long-term injuries since the tour and haven’t been considered for this list, even with the latter two making a return to action in recent weeks.

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