Warren Gatland recently made clear the Lions selectors wouldn’t needlessly restrict themselves when it came to selection for next summer’s tour to South Africa.
Why would they?
Potential tourists wouldn’t have to be playing Test rugby beforehand to earn tickets for the trip, said the New Zealander.
“We’re not against picking players because they’re not in an international team,” said Gatland.
“The thing about England is, just because players aren’t in there at the moment doesn’t mean they won’t potentially be in there in the Six Nations.
“When you look at England as a base, there are potentially some players that may not be in the squad that you may consider.
“Selection is just a matter of opinion — that’s all it is.
“I look at the Wales squad that was selected a few weeks ago. There’s probably a few players that I thought were unlucky to miss out and a couple of players that were in the squad that I may not have picked. But I’m not the coach.”
He will be the coach on the Lions tour next summer, though.
We looked at which eligiible players currently out of favour might come into contention for the trek south, with some more likely than others…
“You can’t coach someone to be 6ft 10in and 19st,” Gatland memorably said when explaining his selection of the giant Ospreys second row for the autumn-series clash with Australia in 2018.
Beard didn’t let him down, impressing in opposition to the twin-peaks lock partnership of Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman. With his appetite for defence and ability to disrupt opposition mauls, allied to his size, Beard became an important player as Wales went on a record-breaking 14-game winning run, with the big man playing in 13 of those games.
Surprisingly, he’s slipped from favour under the current regime.
But he’s been playing well for the Ospreys and will be one Gatland keeps an eye on.
Arguably, this guy played as well as any other scrum-half in England after rugby returned from its virus-enforced break.
The Bath player is a quality operator who can control games through his kicking and hurt sides with his running.
But Eddie Jones left him out of England’s autumn squad.
It seemed a strange decision at the time, and it still seems a strange decision.
The Gloucester playmaker has all the talent in the world but the stark facts are that he’s started just one international in 12 years, a state of affairs that must bring romantics on the eastern side of the River Severn close to despair.
Time is now against him, with Cipriani having just turned 33.
And many would contend he’s not a Warren Gatland type player.
But, hey, Gatland will not be picking for the future and a big campaign from Cipriani for his club might yet persuade the Kiwi to give serious consideration to him.
Don’t put the house on it, mind.
The Autumn Nations Cup is here as a busy month of international rugby arrives.
To get the latest daily Welsh rugby news and Simon Thomas’s weekly inside briefing sent straight to you inbox for FREE, click here and select ‘rugby’.
Now we are talking.
If Gatland watched Mike Ruddock’s son playing against the Ospreys recently he might have been tempted to allow his mind to wander and picture the 6ft 3in, 17st 11lb back rower leading out the Lions midweek team in South Africa.
The Leinster back-row forward was to the fore in every sense as he accepted responsibility with relish and set a towering example for his team-mates.
He has physical presence, carries well, hits hard in the tackle and is good over the ball.
It says much for Ireland’s back-row riches that he’s not in their squad this autumn.
He is Gatland’s type of player.
Talking over his omission from the 2019 World Cup squad, Scarlets prop Evans recently got quite emotional as he mulled over the scale of his disappointment and the hard work he had put in that ultimately came to nothing.
But a succession of untimely injuries had caused him problems at the time and contributed to Gatland’s decision to leave him out.
He’s a big lump and a character who’d be a popular tourist.
Undoubtedly, he’ll need to start returning his game to where it was when he helped Wales win their Grand Slam last year.
But don’t rule him out.
It’s odds-against this one happening.
After all, Young won only three caps during Gatland’s reign and the competition for back-row places is molten hot.
But never say never.
Gatland won’t have Wales’ 60-cap rule restricting his options in selection when he sits down to pick his Lions panel. And Young is a dynamic, all-court player who can lift his game to great heights.
But let’s accept it would be a surprise.
Devin Toner (Ireland)
When Toner was dropped by Ireland for the World Cup last year, Brian O’Driscoll said: “He’s been the go-to guy in big games.
“It was only 10 months ago that he dominated the lineout in the big victory over New Zealand. It’s quite a fall from grace. If I was Devin I would be feeling very sorry for myself and wondering whether it was justified.”
At 6ft 11in and 20st he’d come in handy on a tour of South Africa, where under-6ft 6in locks are considered vertically challenged.
But the competition is hot, hot, hot at lock and the question for Gatland is whether the 34-year-old’s best days are behind him.
“If England were playing New Zealand tomorrow, or France in Paris, I would definitely want the Exeter fly-half on the bench,” said Sir Clive Woodward after Exeter Chiefs’ double-winning playmaker and captain was left out of England’s autumn squad.
“If Owen Farrell were to twist his ankle after five minutes, Simmonds is the man I would want to replace him — which is always the acid test.”
Woodward confessed to being “massively surprised” at Simmonds’ omission.
So were plenty of other people.
He’s an all-round talent and a dead-eyed goalkicker.
Gatland will keep tabs on him.
The brother of Joe Simmonds, he’s a compact 6ft and 16st 2lb and busts tackles and scores tries, plenty of them.
He also plays in a winning environment at club level, which will count for something with Gatland.
Is he quite big enough?
It’s a matter for debate, but countless defenders would testify that he’s explosive enough.
It’s a long shot here, for sure.
But in a handful of games Griffiths is capable of leaving a huge impression on those watching.
He has it all for a back-rower. Freakishly powerful and fit? Tick. Achieves multiple turnovers in single games? Tick. Makes many metres as a carrier? Tick. Man-handles opponents as a defender? Tick.
Injuries have had a ruinous effect on his prospects so far.
And you’d get long odds on his getting anywhere near the Lions squad.
But if he gets into Wales’ set-up for the Six Nations his list of admirers will grow.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk