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Why 2017 star George is one of 9 Lions unused in 2021 Test series

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has explained why Jamie George has gone from an ever-present Test team pick in 2017 to being surplus to requirement on the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa. The England hooker started all three matches versus the All Blacks in the drawn Test series four years ago. However, despite encouraging early signs on this latest tour, George will head home after this Saturday’s Test series finale versus the Springboks as part of a very different Lions club – players who haven’t played a single minute of the Test series. 

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George isn’t alone. In total nine of the 40 players Warren Gatland has with him in South Africa haven’t been selected in the Test squad, the list of the other eight surplus players reading: Gareth Davies, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Jonny Hill, Ronan Kelleher, Josh Navidi, Louis Rees-Zammit and Marcus Smith.

For George, it’s quite a let-down. When the Lions played the Sharks in their July 11 rematch, the tourists’ third game on South African soil, the forward has not only become the first Englishman to skipper the Lions since Phil Vickery had the honour versus Western Province in 2009, but he also became the first hooker from England to have ever skippered the famed tourists.  

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George scored two tries in that match but rather than that potency launching him into Test contention, his only game time after that was 32 minutes off the bench in the July 17 win over Stormers and since then he has been on training duty as Luke Cowan-Dickie started the first two Test games with Ken Owens in reserve, a selection that now reverses for this weekend’s deciding third Test.

“That has been a really tough call,” explained Gatland about his exclusion of George from the Lions Test squad. “I spoke to Jamie and he is really disappointed, gutted that he hasn’t had an opportunity. We just felt that the other two haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes that is what happens and when you make calls it’s not about making a change for change sake or giving someone else a chance.

“Sometimes you do that but also if you do drop a player and make changes you have got to give them a pretty good reason. If they have been playing well and doing okay then that is difficult. We felt that both hookers have done well. Luke has played well on this tour and Ken Owens has come on and given us an impact at times and Jamie is just unlucky. I keep saying it is a credit to the players because we have had so many different choices and some players have really been unlucky.” 

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The Lions tour has been a mixed bag for the five representatives from Saracens, the club that provided the biggest representation of any for the 2021 trip. While Maro Itoje has been chosen to start all three Test games, both Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly have been chosen to start once and play twice off the bench, while Owen Farrell has been dropped from this weekend’s matchday squad after appearing off the bench in the opening two Tests. 

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Why 2017 star George is one of 9 Lions unused in 2021 Test series

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