Punters in Ireland will be able to get a close-up look at the Lions before they head Down Under thanks to Carton House being chosen for the pre-tour camp.
The tourists will begin arriving in Kildare on 19 May and the camp will wrap up on Friday 24th before heading to London for the farewell dinner. They fly out to Hong Kong on Monday 27th.
The plan I understand is for sessions to be open to the general public, and once they arrive in Australia the shutters will come down.
In the time frame between the tour announcement in London next Tuesday, the camp itself, and then the opener in Hong Kong – where local interest is less than fever pitch – Warren Gatland will have been forced to make a handful of changes because of injury. And it will be interesting to see if that alters the mix in the squad.
As it stands Wales will skate in with the biggest representation when the squad is announced in London on Tuesday. In the Sunday Independent I’ll pick the combination I’d like to see going, but I’d be confident Gatland will bring at least nine Irish players: Kearney, Bowe, O’Driscoll, Sexton, Healy, Ross, O’Connell, O’Brien and Heaslip.
The coach is off to Montpellier tomorrow so that’s a last chance for Simon Zebo to stake a claim. Donnacha Ryan as well, though I wonder about the state of his shoulder at this stage.
Conor Murray would be nailed on in most people’s squads – as one of three – but Rob Howley will be making the key call here. Do they want to go with two big physical players and a runner to change it up, or one big man and two runners. If it’s the latter then Murray will lose out to Danny Care, with Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs filling the first two spots.
Not many across the water would have Mike Ross in their team but Graham Rowntree will have a big shout here and he’s a fan of the Leinster tight head.
Equally Jamie Heaslip doesn’t have too many admirers but Gatland will be swayed by the experience of four years ago in South Africa when Heaslip got better as the tour went on.
As for the captaincy, you can interpret in a number of ways Gatland’s comment a few weeks ago that he isn’t hung up on the tour captain being the Test captain. In that case your figurehead must have profile and gravitas. O’Driscoll is out front on that one.