Former Lion Austin Healey has predicted three call-ups which he feels Warren Gatland will eventually make before the South Africa tour is over.
Former Wales boss Gatland named his British and Irish Lions squad in early May ahead of a Jersey training camp and Japan warm-up in June, followed by the three-Test tour against the world champions.
While 37 players received the coveted summons which many players in the home nations see as the pinnacle of their rugby careers, those who missed out were left to take stock and put their best foot forward.
Gatland and his coaches explicitly pointed to the fact there are likely to be further call-ups if injuries occur, which is unfortunately almost a certainty.
As for Healey – who toured with the Lions in 1997 and 2001, amassing two outings to add to his 51 England caps – he is predicting late arrivals for Ellis Genge, Manu Tuilagi and Marcus Smith.
All three have put Lions disappointments to one side to come out firing for their clubs in recent weeks: Genge for Leicester Tigers, Tuilagi for Sale Sharks and Smith for Harlequins.
Writing on Twitter on Sunday, the former Leicester Tiger said: “3 names who I think will end up in SA on Lions Tour Genge, Smith and Manu. All could add something to that squad”.
Prior to the Lions squad unveiling, 26-year-old prop Genge revealed he was not one of the 70-odd players on the Lions’ long-list who had been sounded out over their availability.
Capped 27 times by England, the looshead is highly-rated and has been in barnstorming form for the Tigers of late – most recently in their 18-17 win over Worcester on Saturday, where he scored two tries.
He later revealed he had given himself a pep talk after his Lions snub, quoted by Planet Rugby as saying: “It was disappointing not to be selected for the Lions so I had a word with myself. I accepted that my performances had probably not been good enough.
“It’s not often you get over the whitewash and my last five tries have come from a total of 10 metres.”
Tuilagi, meanwhile, had been racing to return to full fitness after an Achilles injury but his eight-month absence from the game – only returning on Friday night, three weeks after Gatland’s squad announcement – meant he was not included.
The 30-year-old blockbusting centre came off the bench to help Sale clinch an outstanding victory over Bristol which secured their place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.
Healey isn’t the only one singing Tuilagi’s praises, with ex-Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan also believing he could earn an 11th-hour call-up.
“A couple of rampaging performances from the England centre in the final few weeks of the domestic season – perhaps inspiring Sale to the Premiership title, who knows – and it is not hard to imagine Tuilagi’s name leaping to the front of the reserve queue should anything befall any of Warren’s chosen Lions centres,” McGeechan wrote in a Telegraph column.
Finally, fly-half Smith, who has been in and around the England camp but is as yet uncapped. His unflustered nature with the ball and raw talent saw many tipping him to be a Lions bolter.
The playmaker has been crucial to Harlequins’ play-off push in the Gallagher Premiership this season – a spot they secured with a win over Bath on Saturday.
The 22-year-old, scorer of 278 points this term in 22 games, is sure to have a high chance of featuring when England face the USA and Canada this summer.
If he’s not a late incoming to the Lions squad, that is.
In a Covid-secure bubble, any new face being brought into the Lions fold at Gatland’s behest is likely to come through one circumstance only: injury.
The squad was originally meant to be 36 players, but Gatland wanted to add in Courtney Lawes at the last minute and had to wait until the evening before the announcement before special dispensation was granted.
Gatland previously said: “When I had to go back to the CEO and the board about getting an extra player, that costs the Lions well over £100,000 by the time we’ve paid the club and the player and all the costs associated with that. Particularly at the moment when rugby’s struggling financially and the Lions are desperately trying to break even, or there’s potentially a loss situation, it’s not the easiest conversation to have.”
One man’s pain is another’s gain.
Watch this space.