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Six fly-in Lions heroes that made their mark despite missing the plane

By Josh Raisey

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The rugby world has been picking the bones of Warren Gatland’s 37-man British and Irish Lions squad for almost two months now. But the reality is the squad that flies to South Africa will look different to the one that flies back.


Injuries and suspensions before and during the tour are inevitable, meaning there is still hope for plenty of players who missed out. What’s even more promising is the fact that many replacements have gone on to cement their name in Lions folklore. Here are some of them:

Jeremy Guscott is a legendary name in Lions history, and while he is best remembered for his 1997 exploits, he scored the decisive try against Australia in the 1989 second Test before starting in the series-clinching third Test. The most impressive thing is the 23-year-old only had one cap prior to this, against Romania, and was called up to replace Will Carling.

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How do players from 4 rival countries become teammates | Spirit of Rugby | EP 4 | RugbyPass
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How do players from 4 rival countries become teammates | Spirit of Rugby | EP 4 | RugbyPass

The Lions’ captain in both 1997 and 2001 Martin Johnson was not originally selected for the 1993 tour. But after replacing Wade Dooley in New Zealand, the one-cap Johnson started the final two Tests against the All Blacks and his career blossomed from there.

An injury to Peter Clohessy before the Lions had embarked for South Africa in 1997 opened the door for Ireland’s Paul Wallace, and he took his opportunity with both hands. The prop started all three Tests in the iconic 2-1 series win.

Wales’ eight-cap 24-year-old flanker Ryan Jones went from missing out on being selected on an extensive 44-man squad to producing a man of the match performance against Otago and playing in all three Tests against the All Blacks in 2005.

Tom Croft was unlucky to miss out on the 2009 tour after his late surge with Leicester Tigers, but a suspension to Munster’s Alan Quinlan before the tour meant the Englishman made the squad, and scored two tries in the first Test against the Springboks.


Injuries to both Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy during the 2013 tour against Australia meant Warren Gatland summoned Alex Corbisiero, who was in Argentina at the time with England. The loosehead started the first and third Tests, scoring the opening try in the series decider.


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