With Warren Gatland’s main coaching team for next year’s British & Irish Lions tour now confirmed, thoughts will shift to the make-up of his playing squad.
Debates will rage in clubhouses across the British Isles, and much excitement will be derived from the fact that Gatland is not shackled by the thoughts of his international coaching rivals.
He has already opened the door to a call up for Danny Cipriani by admitting “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t discuss” the Wasps fly-half.
So, should Cipriani put his summer holiday plans on hold? ESPN looks back at the last five Lions tours, to find out how the bolters got on.
Will Greenwood (1997)
Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan put his faith in an uncapped Greenwood in 2007. Alex Livesey /Allsport
Sir Ian McGeechan made a statement with his Lions selection in 1997, picking the then uncapped Greenwood ahead of England captain Phil de Glanville.
The 24-year-old repaid the coach’s faith with some solid displays for the midweek team, before his tour was cut short by a brutal injury.
Playing against the Free State, Greenwood swallowed his tongue following a tackle by Jaco Coetzee and came to just before an incision was about to be made to clear his airways.
Fortunately for Greenwood he made a full recovery, going on to make his England debut that autumn before becoming an integral member of the team that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup. He would also feature on two subsequent Lions tours.
Jason Robinson (2001)
The 2001 Lions tour of Australia helped to kickstart Robinson’s international union career. Dave Rogers/Allsport
Robinson may seem an odd inclusion given his rugby league pedigree, and what he went on to achieve in union, but his place on the 2001 tour of Australia was far from assured.
He had made an inauspicious start to his England career, making three appearances as a replacement in the 2001 Six Nations without crossing the whitewash.
Graham Henry saw Robinson’s union potential and his gamble was rewarded with a try-scoring performance as the Lions won the first Test convincingly in Brisbane.
Another score would follow in the deciding clash in Sydney, but it wasn’t enough as the tourists lost a tight series 2-1.
Robinson learned from his experience, though, and would score again on his return to the scene of the final Test two years later — as England won the World Cup.
Ryan Jones (2005)
Jones played in all three Lions Tests in 2005 despite missing out on the original squad. David Rogers/Getty Images
Much was made of Sir Clive Woodward’s initial 44-man 2005 Lions squad, featuring as it did 20 Englishman and only 10 Grand Slam-winning Welshmen.
Young back row Ryan Jones was one of the omissions, instead being selected to tour North America with Wales, at the end of his first season in Test rugby.
Jones played just one Test on that tour before an injury to Scotland’s Simon Taylor prompted a call from New Zealand.
Just two weeks after his arrival, the then 24-year-old would come on as a replacement in the opening Test. Mounting injuries and a collective loss of form ensured that he started the remaining two, as the All Blacks secured a 3-0 series whitewash.
Keith Earls (2009)
Earls ended his first season as an Irish international on the Lions tour to South Africa. David Rogers/Getty Images
Like Jones, Keith Earls had been an international for less than 12 months before the call came from the Lions.
Earls’ international career consisted of a mere two caps — and one start — before McGeechan selected him ahead of established Ireland centre, Gordon D’Arcy.
The versatile back would not make a Test appearance, but following a nervy debut he went on to score tries against Free State Cheetahs and the Emerging Springboks.
Earls was overlooked for the 2013 tour to Australia, but has been an important presence for both Munster and Ireland, racking up a half century of Test caps in the process.
Matt Stevens (2013)
Stevens had retired from international rugby in 2012, only to be called up by Warren Gatland a year later. David Rogers/Getty Images
Gatland’s inclusion of Matt Stevens for the tour to Australia four years ago should give Cipriani hope of a call this time around.
The prop had seemingly ruled himself out of the running when he announced his retirement from international rugby less than 12 months previously.
He had missed the previous tour to South Africa, too, as he served a two-year drugs ban, but his experience helped convince Gatland that he was worthy of a place on the plane Down Under.
Stevens would not see any action in the successful Test series but did make six appearances in tour matches.
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