Warren Gatland has confirmed that Johnny Sexton’s “durability” is the biggest factor in ignoring the Lions’ double away game and this year’s Six Nations leading scorer.
The Lions head coach also cited the performances of James Ryan in Leinster’s loss to La Rochelle last Sunday and their Champions Cup quarter-final loss at home to the Saracens last September in the framework of the justification for its omission.
“There was no doubt that was one of the toughest decisions we had to make,” admitted Gatland regarding the exclusion of Sexton and preferring Owen Farrell, Finn Russell and Dan Biggar as his options. At the half of it or in the middle.
“I have enormous respect for Johnny and his quality. But it’s such a pivotal position for us and it’s about sending a message to the No.10s we’ve selected that we trust and believe in them to do a job.
“When we looked at where we were going in South Africa, what probably came back to us over and over again was Johnny’s sustainability. To be able to set up a series of matches, consecutively great matches together. He’s been rested a number of times and unfortunately maybe that’s what swayed us in that we don’t have the confidence that he can get through what is going to be a tough physical tour.
As for not picking Ryan, Gatland said, “Look, there are a lot of tough calls. James was unlucky. For us, it was about finding that balance with our second and return options and having cover in those positions. Players can play second or backrow. “
This factor worked in favor of Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson who, like Maro Itoje, also played blind.
“Look, James is out of luck,” Gatland repeated. “We saw an example last weekend with Leinster against La Rochelle and if you watch the game closely, La Rochelle reminded me of what we are going to face in South Africa. We are going to face great physical men. They had Will Skelton, at which point they came straight from No.9.
“Probably the last couple of years, with Leinster in a few of these big games – I know they were really good against Exeter – but we’ve seen that this weekend and 12 months ago against the Saracens in the European quarterfinals – they’ve really been tough physically up front and this challenge. “
As it turns out, Garry Ringrose’s cruel run with injuries turned out to be particularly unfortunate when he missed the Six Nations final against England, not least because it showed Bundee Aki’s abilities at “12”. “And Robbie Henshaw at” 13 “in Ireland’s convincing victory.
“This combination of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw has been exceptional for Ireland against England, we have to be able to have that balance between the physique they bring and the ability to play rugby.
“These two players bring that, they know how to roll up their sleeves when the going gets tough, but they can also play some pretty positive offensive rugby.”