'No Johnny Sexton is crazy': Former Lion Luke Fitzgerald hits out at Warren Gatland's Lions squad

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Johnny Sexton has six Test caps for the Lions but there was no place for him on the plane to South Africa  - PA
Johnny Sexton has six Test caps for the Lions but there was no place for him on the plane to South Africa - PA

Warren Gatland’s decision to leave Irish trio Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and Garry Ringrose out of his Lions squad was last night branded “crazy” by former Lion Luke Fitzgerald.

The ex-Leinster wing Fitzgerald, who was a tourist the last time the Lions made the trip to South Africa in 2009 and started the second Test in Pretoria, waded into the selection debate after England and Exeter’s Jonny Hill was surprisingly selected at Ryan’s expense, while he also questioned the selectors sanity over Sexton’s omission.

“Hill>Ryan...wake up from that dream. No Sexton is crazy,” wrote Fitzgerald before adding “I’m saving a ‘no Ringrose’ vent for later” in relation to centre Ringrose’s omission.

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Ringrose was widely perceived as having a good chance of making the tour due to George North’s injury but the 26-year-old was left out as Irish teammate Bundee Aki was instead selected among the centres alongside with Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw, who many regarded as a nailed-on selection due to his Six Nations form.

There had been concern in the Irish media prior to Gatland naming his squad that Irish numbers could be the lowest since 1997 tour to South Africa when just four Irishmen were selected, given there was little Irish influence among Gatland’s selection panel aside from Welshman Robin McBryde, the current Leinster assistant coach.

Those fears grew on Wednesday night when reports suggested that Sexton was on the brink of missing out as there had been growing doubts over the talismanic fly-half’s inclusion due to three recent head knocks, which Gatland confirmed on Thursday and cited concerns around his “durability” on what is expected to be an ultra-physical tour.

However, the final tally of eight Irish players, matching the Scottish contingent, was lesser the talking point than who actually got the call.

James Ryan's non-selection was a shock for many Ireland fans  - GETTY IMAGES
James Ryan's non-selection was a shock for many Ireland fans - GETTY IMAGES

Ryan evidently paid the price for not playing a major role in the Six Nations due to injury and the Leinster pack found themselves completely outmuscled by La Rochelle in their Champions Cup semi-final defeat last weekend, which weakened his position in the selection window. It would seem fellow Irishman and 2017 tourist Iain Henderson, who has excelled for club Ulster as well as country this season, took his place in the second row.

Leinster’s tighthead Andrew Porter squeezed out England prop Kyle Sinckler thanks to a strong Six Nations showing while deputising for his fellow tighthead Tadgh Furlong, whose inclusion was expected, with Gatland also favouring his ability to cover both sides of the front row.

Tadhg Beirne’s inclusion will be of little surprise considering the influence he has had on Ireland recently and versatility to play in the second and back rows, while the selection of scrum-half Conor Murray appeared a formality. However, Jack Conan’s star showing against England in March, combined with his supreme return to form after more than a year out injured, swayed Gatland into selecting him as a third No 8 alongside Sam Simmonds and Taulupe Faletau.