Lions tour manager Andy Irvine admits that the prospect of losing potential tourists to injury over the coming weeks is already playing on his mind.
The Lions lost original squad members Tomas O’Leary, Jerry Flannery and Tom Shanklin before departure for South Africa four years ago and Irvine is hoping that a similar situation doesn’t repeat itself this time around.
With the likes of Tommy Bowe. Simon Zebo, Rhys Priestland, Alex Corbisiero, Stephen Ferris, Richie Gray and Ryan Jones all currently sidelined, Irvine admits the Lions would love as close to a clean bill of health as possible come squad selection on April 30.
“Injuries are always a concern for us,” said Irvine.
“That’s the same for both sides as the Aussies have already lost David Pocock.
“We’ll be a bit nervous over the next few weeks because the grounds are starting to get harder and the players have still got to play quite a lot of club games so there’s still the prospect of injury and that’s a major concern.
“On the positive side, because we can choose from four nationalities, there’s quite a bit of cover there.
“But I feel for the players because some of them will be playing right up until almost the date of departure, and that’s not a good thing.
“They’ll have mixed emotions because they’ll be keen play for their clubs but they’ll also be a bit protective because they’ll want to come through and be on that plane.”
Having been a Lions tourist on three occasions himself back in 1974, ’77 and ’80, Irvine knows exactly what will be going through the minds’ of the current crop of stars as the Australian adventure fast approaches.
With just a month to impress head coach Warren Gatland between now and selection, Irvine says excitement will be mixed with nerves for the cream of the crop.
“The players will be very nervous about whether they’ll be selected and they’ll also be hugely excited at the prospect,” added Irvine, who kept a close eye on the recent international competition in Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Paris and Rome.
“Lions tours have gone from strength to strength in recent years and to a man the players are desperate to be on that plane. To be pitted against one of the best teams in the world on their own patch is a fantastic challenge.
“I think we will still have a very strong group, but I think it’s quite interesting the way that things have gone recently. Some players have gone off the boil, others have found form.
“The exciting thing is that one or two youngsters have really come through and thrown their hat into the ring in a big way and one or two of the older players have thankfully found a bit of form again.
“We’re into ‘Lions Time’ now and we’re looking forward to the tour enormously. Selection’s going to be quite interesting but it’s all systems go from now on.”