Questions over the fitness of Jonathan Sexton will have been enough for Warren Gatland to justify leaving the Ireland captain at home, according to former Lion Tommy Bowe.
Gatland said that ‘no decision had been taken lightly’ prior to the announcement of his 37-man squad to tour South Africa this summer.
Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell were the fly-halves picked ahead of Sexton, who toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017.
Sexton missed Leinster’s Champions Cup semi-final defeat to La Rochelle after suffering a third head injury in nine weeks.
But Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster had sought to allay any doubts by telling reporters the day before the announcement that Sexton was still in training and was ‘training the house down’.
Now 35, Bowe inferred that Gatland may have been easily swayed by Scotland coaches Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy who form part of his staff preparing to beat the Springboks.
“I felt Warren Gatland would go for him ahead of Finn Russell. I think it helped that Russell had Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy, two of the Scotland coaches, on the selection panel,” Bowe told Sky Sports.
“I can see where they are coming from. Johnny Sexton started five of the last six Lions Tests, he was on the bench for the last Test in New Zealand, so I think Warren Gatland knows what he is leaving behind.
“The thing is Johnny’s injury record over the last couple of years has not been particularly good. And I know myself from the 2009 tour that playing at altitude is relentless. The training is so difficult on your body.
“Sometimes you might have to play on a Saturday and Tuesday and then on the bench. It’s tough on the body and so with someone like Sexton who struggles to back up match-after-match and the intensity of the training, I think that counted against him.”
Gatland did address the omission of Sexton, labelling the decision as ‘one of the toughest’ to make but that doubts over his ‘durability’ had been an overriding factor.
“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.”