Donal Lenihan believes the scars of the Lions’ last tour to South Africa informed Warren Gatland’s selection with extra emphasis placed on physicality.
Among those missing out on the trip to the home of the World Cup winners are James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Johnny Sexton with Gatland citing concerns over the durability of the Ireland captain.
Twelve years ago the Lions lost the opening games of the series after two brutal attritional Tests.
That, believes former manager and selector Lenihan, is behind a ‘horses for courses’ 37-man squad, which was announced yesterday.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Lenihan said: “Gatland was the forwards coach in 2009 when the Lions were just blown away in the opening Test, physically, and I think that has remained part of his selection [thought] process ever since.
“He said if they were touring New Zealand or Australia, it could be a slightly different squad.
“When you are going to South Africa everything is predicated on the physicality of the opposition. You go back to what South Africa did to all opposition, to England in the final of the World Cup.
“They overload their forwards, they have what they call the ‘Bomb Squad’, a whole new front five who come off the bench with 30 minutes to go and they just look to obliterate you.
“The Lions added an extra player, which was Courtney Lawes because he hadn’t got an availability card prior to selection. Now they have six second rows in the squad, so they want to match the physicality up front.
“James Ryan was disadvantaged, missed a lot of the Six Nations, probably unfortunate that [Leinster] came up against a massive La Rochelle pack last weekend in the Champions Cup. He was struggling for match fitness.”
Among the eight Irish players included is Ulster lock Iain Henderson. On the subject of the squad make-up, he said: “They’ve obviously picked the personnel that they think is best to carry out the task of which their vision provides.
“[South Africa] are an abrasive team so obviously that would have played on the minds of the coaching staff, even if it’s maybe more of a stereotype, I’m not sure.”
Follow Munster v Ulster (8.15pm) and Connacht v Leinster (Saturday, 7.35pm) via our live blogs on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday Sport.
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