WHILE THE PREDICTIONS that Jonathan Joseph was going to miss out on making the Lions squad for New Zealand did not come to pass, it transpires that the England outside centre was a late, late inclusion in the 41-man group.
Warren Gatland and his coaching staff met on Tuesday afternoon for their final selection meeting before yesterday’s squad announcement, and it seems the head coach pulled rank to convince the others of Joseph’s value.
While the English midfielder brings exciting attacking quality to the party, as well as an undervalued defensive game, there was some disappointment among Irish rugby fans that Garry Ringrose missed out.
And it appears that the 22-year-old Leinster man came out on the wrong side of Joseph being written back into the Lions’ plans at the last minute.
“We decided on a number of positions yesterday [Tuesday],” said Gatland. “We had a good discussion about the midfield and what I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out,” Gatland said.
“If I look at it from a Welsh perspective, he’s the one player that causes us so many problems when we play England. It’s his footwork and pace and some other midfielders in other teams don’t have the same stuff.
There was a long debate in terms of the midfield, someone like Garry Ringrose was very unlucky to miss out.
“He’s had a good Six Nations and he’ll learn from that. Andy Farrell thinks that in six months’ time, he’s someone that’s going to be incredibly special. I can assure you there was some lively debate about some of the final selections.”
Ringrose wouldn’t have featured in too many predicted Lions squads before the Six Nations began but his impressive campaign for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland made him a strong contender.
He will now look to finish the provincial season with European and Pro12 glory with Leinster, before a tour of the US and Japan under Schmidt offers further opportunity to grow his Test experience.
But the eight-times capped centre is very likely to be on the Lions’ standby list in case of injuries, which are always part of these tours. Ringrose might feature in New Zealand yet, as Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell – also part of Ireland’s backroom staff – suggested.
“Garry, like everyone else, we had a pool of players and the depth was huge,” said Farrell. “There was a lot of very, very good players that unfortunately missed out. Garry was spoken about, like a lot of other players.
“We all know what happens on British and Irish Lions tour and we know what this period now with the big games coming up, what that sometimes throws up. Not just before you get on the plane, but once you get into New Zealand as well.”
– First published 11.41, 20 April
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