There has been a lot of hot air and irate ink about Gatland devaluing the Lions shirt with his call up for replacements for the dirt-trackers.
People have been saying “These players might play in the second or third test” and they are right but actually that means a massive swathe of injuries. The test side first choice player has to be injured and unable to recover, plus the sub, plus usually the dirt-tracker starter and often an existing sub. Then the new sub might get to play in the second or third Lions test. Could that happen? Sure. Is it likely to happen? No. One of the dirt-trackers got 10 minutes for an HIA, and I’d expect more of them to get a look next week against the Hurricanes, other than that they’ll train, they’ll hold tackle bags and they’ll go home never having run onto the pitch.
A lot of people are saying Launchbury, almost certainly the next cab off the rank at Lock if one of those selected in the squad had been injured and unable to get on the plane, should have been selected for this ahead of the Welsh lock who, in all honesty even I’d never heard of he’s that far down the Wales pecking order. We don’t know what conversations were held, Gatland to Jones, Gatland to Launchbury and so on. But, in all honesty, if I was going a shoe-in to play for my country in Argentina as a senior player on Saturday night, then fly 7 times zones for a possibility of sitting on the replacements bench on Tuesday morning and maybe playing the next Tuesday morning if someone gets injured… up to you Joe, I’m happy to invite you but I can’t guarantee you a cap I might just go for it. If it was more “But I need you to get on the plane and miss the second match against Argentina” I really don’t think I would. And Gatland tends to invite criticism onto himself and wouldn’t say “I invited Launchbury but he chose to play for England rather than be a sub for the dirt-trackers,” so I can see the press conference going exactly as it did in those circumstances.
This is speculation of course but, cast in that light, while I understand the protests of devaluing the shirt, I wonder how many of the obvious choices would travel for almost no chance of playing? This isn’t replacing a player in the squad before they travel and fighting on an equal footing with the others from the start of the tour for the right to start, this is travelling to be a sub on the dirt-trackers’ bench for a couple of match and only getting anywhere near the test squad with probably three serious injuries to players ahead of you.
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