Warren Gatland has called four Welsh players into the Lions squad ahead of their three-test series against the All Blacks, with two Scots mooted as also riding to the rescue.
As predicted by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen last week, the Lions have called for reinforcements with Wales’ Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis joining the side.
“We have said all along that we need to give ourselves the best chance of winning the test series and that could potentially involve calling up players,” Gatland said.
“Bringing in these players from an identical time zone, who can hit the ground running and step straight in rather than having to adjust following long-haul travel will help us manage players before the first test, give us quality training numbers to prepare properly as well as offering us options for selection for the Chiefs match.”
The Welsh quartet, who were in New Zealand already and played Tonga on Friday at Eden Park, will join the squad ahead of the game against NZ Maori in Rotorua on Saturday.
“These are players currently on international duty who we are looking forward to welcoming into the tour party as we did with several players in 2013. I spoke to all the home union coaches prior to departure and explained our thinking and they were all supportive.”
Of the original 41-player squad, fullback Stuart Hogg has gone home with a facial injury while back-rower Ross Moriarty is also heading home with a nerve injury. Owen Farrell has an injured quadricep, and withdrew from the reserves for the New Zealand Maori game on Saturday.
Of the six, Russell was the most unlucky to miss the initial squad, he has played almost 30 games for Scotland and with Englishman George Ford shaped as ideal cover for Farrell, being able to cover the inside backs and centre.
Francis is a tighthead prop who has played more than 20 times for Wales; Dacey a hooker with fewer than 10 caps, Hill an internationally inexperienced lock, while halfback Davies played in the 2015 World Cup, and has a knack of scoring tries.
If he had been supportive when Gatland talked to him, England coach Eddie Jones had since criticised the possibility before it became reality.
Jones said players should be selected for the Lions “on merit rather than geography”.
He saw it as devaluing the Lions jersey by calling up players based where they were, rather than on merit.
Ireland played the United States in New Jersey last weekend and Japan on Saturday, while England are in Argentina.The move today surprised no one. It had been widely reported Gatland was poised to call up the four Welshmen, and two Scots from their side after Saturday’s test against Australia.
Kay said players should have to earn their promotion.
“It is harsh on those like [Dylan] Hartley and Joe Launchbury, who were next in line on merit, to miss out on Lions selection just because England are on the other side of the world.
“Jonny Gray can feel unfortunate too, given what he has achieved with Glasgow Warriors and Scotland over the last couple of years – and he is in Australia.”