A young Irish fly-half on a tour of New Zealand was once told by famed All Blacks flanker Grizz Wyllie: “You’ve come a long way to die, son.”
But at least the tourist in question was on the field at the time, warning or no warning.
Inactivity on a rugby tour, or even relative inactivity, can be hard to deal with. For many, playing for the Lions is the fulfilment of a rugby dream. Holding tackle bags isn’t.
In fairness, Warren Gatland has tried to give as many players opportunities as he possible could on this shortish trek through South Africa. He promised to give everyone originally selected a start over the first three games and but for pandemic-related issues would have delivered on his pledge. As it was, by the fourth game all had featured in run-on sides.
But it’s a fact of touring on these trips that some will be busier than others.
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Elliot Daly has featured in six games, while Duhan van der Merwe has had five outings and banked 391 minutes of action heading for the second Test, for which he has again been named as a starter.
Spare a thought for those who haven’t had so much to do, though.
Here are the six least played players.
Minutes played: 0
He hasn’t actually taken the field at all after his mid-tour call-up as cover for the hooking position.
The Irishman had helped out the Lions with their preparations in Jersey, and the coaches were impressed by the way he conducted himself.
There’s one game after this one for him to feature on the tour, but it’s the final Test, so no guarantees there.
Another mid-trip call-up, with the fly-half coming in after Finn Russell picked up an injury.
Smith was handed a start against the Stormers and took his chance, playing with confidence, zest and skill.
But with the Test beginning a week later, he’s since had a watching brief.
Nonetheless, he did enough to turn heads in his sole appearance, with Ronan O’Gara among those who feel he could feature at No. 10 in the Tests in Australia in 2025.
“I thought he was smart, challenging and decisive, trusted his instincts, but also played to the game plan,” O’Gara said.
“I think you are looking at the Lions’ Test starter on the next tour.”
The Scottish free spirit has had an Achilles problem which has placed him off limits since an appearance off the bench against the the Sharks on July 7.
With his game-breaking talents, he had been tipped by some to potentially figure against South Africa.
But his injury ruled him out of contention for the first encounter of the series.
He has returned to the mix now, and it isn’t inconceivable he could yet add to his on-pitch minutes on the tour, depending on injuries and whether the Lions require something different.
Along with others, the Wales scrum-half had to endure a spell in isolation after Covid hit the Lions squad, causing him to miss the first game against the Sharks.
His one opportunity to start came in the second match against the same opponents, but a scrappy team performance in the opening 40 saw few players shine.
The Lions had started to move up the gears against tiring opponents who’d had a man sent off when Davies was withdrawn from the action.
Since then he’s had just four minutes off the bench against South Africa A and 22 minutes as a replacement against the Stormers.
His tour has yet to truly ignite.
With his ability to hurt opponents with his pace, he could have filled an important role as an impact player in the Tests.
After this weekend, though, there’s just one game left for that to happen.
Gareth Davies in training
(Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Alun Wyn Jones
That’s he’s been able to add to the eight minutes of action he saw against Japan has been something to behold.
A dislocated shoulder would have done for pretty much anyone else on the planet for the rest of the campaign and beyond.
But Jones is cut from different cloth and he banged in an outing off the bench against the Stormers before playing 80 minutes in last weekend’s Test.
A back spasm meant he started the tour late, but he’s also had Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler as rivals for the No. 3 shirt.
Both the Irishman and the Englishman have been playing outstandingly well on this tour.
Fagerson has let no-one down, but he’s had to be content with just the one start and three outings off the bench.
Two starts after coming on board as a replacement, and outstanding in his first outing, against the Sharks.
Navidi also showed up well in defence against South Africa A and has missed just one tackle from 27 attempts on tour. South Africa A stopped him on the gain-line as a carrier, though.
There’s one game left after this weekend for the Wales international to win a Test cap on this tour. This most deserving of players will hope he gets a chance.
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