Johnny Sexton continues to be left out of the Lions squad after Warren Gatland called up Marcus Smith as a replacement for Finn Russell in South Africa.
An Achilles injury looks set to end Russell’s chances of playing in the Test series and while he remains in the camp for now, Smith’s arrival has seen the Harlequins youngster shoot up the pecking order. Sexton, meanwhile, looks set to watch the series from home.
“There’s no doubt that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality,” said Gatland.
“We looked at where we’re going – South Africa – and the thing that kept coming back to us is Johnny’s durability, being able to put a string of big matches together consecutively.
“He’s been rested on a number of occasions and that’s possibly what swayed it for us, not having the confidence that he can get through what’s going to be a tough physical tour.”
However, Gatland’s decision has confused Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, who was an assistant to the Kiwi during the 2017 tour to New Zealand.
“Johnny is fighting fit,” Farrell said after Ireland’s win over the USA. “He’s been in our camp, is taking good care of himself and Warren knows that. I heard the comments; I think he made the comments that it was a like-for-like (replacement) in terms of Finn Russell and Marcus Smith.
“I mean, I don’t know what to make of it, to be honest. Again, I can only go back to what we all know, who was the best outhalf in the Six Nations? I don’t know what more Johnny could do really.”
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