RUGBY: Warren Gatland comes under fire after Lions call-ups

2017 British & Irish Lions Tour To New Zealand
2017 British & Irish Lions Tour To New Zealand

Ross Moriarty has been ruled out of the British and Irish Lions tour in another blow to Warren Gatland’s plans.

The Wales flanker suffered a back strain in the tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians and has now had to admit defeat in his fitness battle.

The Lions added four Wales players to their ranks on Saturday, and were poised to draft in two Scotland men too.

Lions head coach Gatland has rejected the chance to draft in another addition specifically to offset Moriarty’s unexpected loss.

“We are really disappointed for Ross,” said Gatland. “He has had a hugely impressive season, capped off with selection for the British and Irish Lions and his performance in the first match justified that selection.

“It is disappointing to see injury cut his tour short but we wish him all the best with his recovery.”

Gatland blamed the Lions’ drive from Auckland to Whangarei to complete community visits in part for Moriarty’s back injury, which was then exacerbated in the 13-7 tour-opening win over the Provincial Barbarians the next day.

The Lions suffered criticism for favouring geographical proximity over meritocratic selection, in drafting in the Wales quartet of Gareth Davies, Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey and Tomas Francis, who were already in New Zealand with their national side.

Eddie Jones slammed the decision to overlook players from England and Ireland, while a host of former Test stars criticised the move on social media.

Scotland duo Allan Dell and Finn Russell were poised to join the Lions tour too, following completion of their Test clash in Australia on Saturday.

Gatland has aimed to add those six players to boost numbers for Tuesday’s Chiefs match, to keep his Test-match 23 fresh for next Saturday’s series opener against New Zealand.

Lions boss Gatland hatched his plan to draft in mid-tour replacements back in September, but has still come under fire for following through.

The Lions kept their initial touring squad to 41 men in a bid to ensure no splits in the camp.

But now Gatland is adding in a host of late arrivals specifically to sit on the bench against the Chiefs, Tuesday’s starting XV can be left in little doubt they will not start the first Test but for injury.

England boss Eddie Jones said Lions call-up should be decided on “merit rather than geography”.

“It’s only a 13-hour trip from here to New Zealand,” Jones said on the BBC.

“The (England) boys could be there. The Lions is a prestigious team - when you become a Lion you’re remembered for life.”

Players only receive an official Lions playing number once they take the field for the tourists.

So any call-ups to the tour will not gain total Lions status without joining the fray against the Chiefs, even if they take a seat on the bench.