Warren Gatland Explains His Decision To Leave Johnny Sexton & James Ryan Out Of The Lions Squad

Staying at home.

Warren Gatland has echoed Neil Jenkins’ sentiment that the decision to leave Johnny Sexton out of his British and Irish Lions squad was mainly down to the Ireland captain’s issues when it comes to durability.

Sexton is currently sidelined with concussion problems and has struggled with a number of issues over the last couple of years as he enters the twilight stages of his career.

A very special British & Irish Lions House of Rugby show – fronted by Sean O'Brien and Alex Goode – is available now and will run for the duration of the tour. Follow and subscribe to it HERE

The 35-year-old is regularly rested for Leinster and rarely puts a string of games together consecutively – something that will be important for Gatland and his team with a busy schedule to contend with in South Africa.

The fact that the Springboks are going to be extremely physical opponents also “swayed” Gatland and his coaching ticket.

“There’s no doubt that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make,” Gatland admitted.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality. But, it’s such a pivotal position for us and it’s about sending a message to the No 10s we have selected that we have confidence and belief in them to do a job.

“When we looked at where we were going, to South Africa, probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny’s durability. Being able to put a string of games together, consecutively big matches together. He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately, that’s possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what’s going to be a tough, physical tour.”

As for not picking Ireland and Leinster second-row James Ryan, Gatland said the lock’s inability to cover other positions worked against him. Gatland instead went with Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes who can all cover the back-row as well as the second-row.

“Look, there are a lot of tough calls. James was pretty unlucky,” Gatland added.

For us, it was getting that balance right with our second-row and back-row options and having cover in those positions. Players being able to play second-row or back-row.”

“We saw an example last weekend with Leinster against La Rochelle and if you look at the match properly, La Rochelle reminded me of what we’re going to face in South Africa. We’re going to face big, physical men. They’d Will Skelton, how direct they were coming off No 9.

“Probably the last couple of years, with Leinster in a couple of those big games – I know they were really good against Exeter – but we saw at the weekend and 12 months ago against Saracens in the European quarter-final – they’ve really gone hard at them physically upfront and that challenge.”