Irvine: Lions places still up for grabs
Andy Irvine believes selection for this summer's British and Irish Lions tour to Australia is "very wide open".
Lions head coach Warren Gatland will continue his watching brief over the next two weekends of RBS 6 Nations action as he builds towards an expected squad announcement in late April. And 2013 Lions tour manager Irvine has described the final two rounds of Six Nations games as being key in the overall selection picture.
"The next two weeks are absolutely crucial. It's an old cliche, but there is still an awful lot to play for," he said. "The next couple of rounds of the championship will probably go a long way in determining who might, and might not, go on tour."
He added: "Selection is going to be extremely difficult because there are so many positions wide open where there are a number of genuine contenders. It's going to be a very long debate as to who does, and doesn't, make the trip.
"After some games it looks as though selection has cleared up a bit, and then after the next game it all changes again.
"Things are very wide open - I don't think there are all that many certainties pencilled in. There are a number who are highly likely to go, but certainties would perhaps be a bit too strong.
"There are still two games to go in the championship, and there are a good few league and European matches left as well, so it's still quite early in the selection process."
The Lions launch their three-Test trip against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 before facing Australia on successive Saturdays from June 22 in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. And while the Lions have not won a Test series since toppling South Africa 2-1 in 1997, they will head Down Under strongly fancied to end that losing sequence.
"We are going to have a combination of an old guard that have been there and got the badge of honour, so to speak, and some really exciting youngsters," Irvine said in the latest edition of the Lions Rugby Newsletter.
"It's Warren's call because ultimately he is responsible for selection, but, if you look at his track record, he has been quite innovative and adventurous in bringing through young talent, both when he was with Ireland and, more particularly, with Wales."