Brian O’Driscoll predicts there will be few bolters in the British & Irish Lions squad this year, but hopes Donnacha Ryan will force his way into the reckoning as he would be “ready for the fight” and an “excellent tourist” in New Zealand.
Lions legend O’Driscoll, who won Test caps across four tours, led the squad to New Zealand in 2005 and knows full well the magnitude of the ask facing Warren Gatland’s side as they look for their first series win on Kiwi soil since 1971.
Gatland will name his Lions squad on April 19 and has previously said he has 25 players nailed on for selection, leaving 12 places for those who pushed their case in the Six Nations or some wildcard picks.
For O’Driscoll, he feels 33-year-old Munster second-row Ryan would be an ideal candidate to fill one of those open slots and while he might miss out on a spot in the three Tests against the All Blacks, he would bring experience and physicality to their midweek efforts.
Donnacha Ryan takes on George Ford. Clive Mason/Getty Images
When asked who his bolter would be, O’Driscoll told ESPN: “Donnacha Ryan. I don’t think it’s really a year for bolters per se. But if you said Donnacha Ryan down in Munster, they’d say he’s already a shoo-in to be on the plane.
“Every club or fan is biased towards their own at the minute and everyone at Saracens feels their whole side should be on the plane and likewise in Munster, Leinster and Wasps; we’re incredibly partisan in our opinions.
“I don’t think there will be that many bolters and outside of Munster, I get the feeling not many would have Donnacha Ryan on the plane but he ticks all the relevant boxes for being a really good tourist: a great guy, someone who’s ready for the trenches.
“While he might not be a Test player right now, he would do a phenomenal job against the other sides in New Zealand as you need someone who’s combative and ready for the fight and he would be an excellent tourist.”
O’Driscoll won eight caps for the Lions across his four tours at outside centre, and he believes Ireland and Leinster No.13 Robbie Henshaw is favourite to fill his old spot on this tour.
“I’d go for Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell and Robbie Henshaw at 10-12-13,” O’Driscoll said. “Sexton’s playing so well and there aren’t really any other standout 12s so organically you put Farrell there as you want your best players in the team and Sexton’s one of them and so is Farrell so you have that combination.
“No.13 is between Jonathan Davies and Henshaw because of the type of games they play and their physical nature but Henshaw’s in better form than Davies currently. Johnny and Owen are similar on a similar wavelength and could be outstanding.”
Brian O’Driscoll was speaking whilst at the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, the sixth leg on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as it’s looks to capitalise on Rugby Sevens highly successful Olympic debut.
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