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Irish players miss out as Lions call on Welsh and Scottish reinforcements

England boss Eddie Jones has already voiced his disapproval.

Murray Kinsella reports from Rotorua

THE LIONS HAVE ignored the claims of Irish and English players as they have called on a group of six Welsh and Scottish players to reinforce their squad before Tuesday’s clash with the Chiefs in Hamilton and the first Test against the All Blacks next weekend.

Wales hooker Kristian Dacey, second row Cory Hill, tighthead Tomas Francis and scrum-half Gareth Davies have been officially confirmed as additions to the Lions squad, as have Scotland’s Finn Russell and Allan Dell.

Warren Gatland speaks to the team Gatland is bringing in six new players. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Wales in Auckland after Friday night’s win over Tonga and Scotland playing Australia in Sydney on Saturday, Gatland has turned to those two nations due to the geographical proximity of their players – a decision England coach Eddie Jones has questioned.

“We have said all along that we need to give ourselves the best chance of winning the Test series and that could potentially involve calling up players,” said Gatland.

“Bringing in these players from an identical time zone, who can hit the ground running and step straight in rather than having to adjust following long-haul travel will help us manage players before the first Test, give us quality training numbers to prepare properly as well as offering us options for selection for the Chiefs match.”

Scotland out-half Russell and loosehead Dell have flown to New Zealand after their impressive win against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

The Welsh quartet arrived in Rotorua ahead of Saturday evening’s clash with the Māori All Blacks, where they joined the non-playing Lions at Rotorua International Stadium.

With Ireland currently in Japan – roughly an 11-hour flight to New Zealand – and England in Argentina – around 13 hours – their players have missed out.

The likes of Cian Healy and England’s Joe Launchbury are among the unlucky players not called on by the Lions as Gatland brings in six new faces to sit on the bench against the Chiefs and then versus the Hurricanes a week later in the final midweek game in Wellington.

Frustratingly for the Lions, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen revealed that they would make the call-ups on Thursday, before any Lions announcement, and already there has been a backlash, with England boss Jones leading the charge.

“It’s only a 13-hour trip from here [Argentina] to New Zealand,” Jones told the BBC.

Eddie Jones Eddie Jones doesn't agree with the selection criteria. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

“The [English] boys could be there. The Lions is a prestigious team. When you become a Lion, you’re remembered for life.

“My only comment would be that I would like to see it picked on merit rather than geographical proximity.”

A number of former players have also expressed their disapproval, with ex-Lions wing Ugo Monye calling it “complete bollocks.”

Despite Jones’ words, Gatland said that he had previously spoken to the head coaches of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, receiving their support for these call-ups.

“These are players currently on international duty who we are looking forward to welcoming into the Tour party as we did with several players in 2013,” said Gatland.

“I spoke to all the home union coaches prior to departure and explained our thinking and they were all supportive.”

Having initially named a 41-man squad to tour New Zealand, the new additions will mean Gatland has called on a total of 47 players for this trip, bringing about strong comparisons with Clive Woodward’s bloated and unhappy 2005 tour.

The need for additional players once again points to the great demands of the Lions’ touring schedule, with midweek matches just four days before the first and second Tests.

In 2013, Gatland also used a batch of reinforcements in the clash with the Brumbies before the first Test, with 36-year-old Shane Williams, Simon Zebo, Tom Court, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees and Christian Wade having all been called up after missing out on selection in the original squad.

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Murray Kinsella

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