British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has stated that Johnny Sexton’s “durability” was a key factor in leaving him out of the 37-man squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa.
Sexton has played 99 Tests for Ireland and has amassed 925 points which ranks him second in most points scored for his country after Ronan O'Gara. He was also part of the last two tours of the British and Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017 and had featured in all six Tests including starts in five games.
However, the Irish skipper has been enduring tough times with injuries with the latest being a concussion related issue that kept him out of Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle which was played just before the squad announcement news came.
“There’s no doubt that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make,” admitted Gatland.
“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.”
Can’t believe they left Sexton out. Must have been a tough call but they had some quality 10’s to pick from https://t.co/UV3Udjhpo3— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) May 6, 2021
Gatland opted for England's Owen Farrell, Wales' Dan Biggar and Scotland's Finn Russell for the options at fly-half and Sexton's former Ireland team-mate Tommy Bowe felt the injury record of the 35-year-old in recent times went against him.
"A lot of people were surprised," he old Sky Sports News. "Even the likes of Dan Carter put out a Tweet last night saying how shocked he was that Johnny Sexton wasn't picked in the squad.
"I felt that Warren Gatland would go for him ahead of Finn Russell. I think it helped that Finn Russell had Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy - two of the Scottish coaches - on the selection panel, but I can see where they are coming from.
"Johnny Sexton started five of the last six Tests for the Lions - of course he was on the bench for that sixth one - so Warren Gatland knows what he is leaving behind, but the thing is that Johnny's injury record over the last couple of months and maybe years just has not been good.
"I know from that tour in 2009, particularly playing at altitude, it is relentless. The training is so difficult on your body."