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British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Bolters

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British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will name his squad to face South Africa on Thursday, May 6. Below we look at some of the potential bolters from the four nations. Watch every match on the 2021 Lions tour exclusively live this summer on Sky Sports

Cameron Redpath, Sam Simmonds and Ronan Kelleher are in the frame. Below, we look at some potential bolters for the Lions...

Cameron Redpath, Sam Simmonds and Ronan Kelleher are in the frame. Below, we look at some potential bolters for the Lions…

We look through the contenders for potential 2021 British and Irish Lions bolters, and who head coach Warren Gatland might be looking at ahead of his squad announcement…

On each and every Lions tour in history, there have invariably been bolters – that is to say players who have arrived out of nowhere to tour, like a bolt from the blue.

Be it Martin Johnson in 1993, Will Greenwood, John Bentley and Eric Miller in 1997, Jason Robinson in 2001, Keith Earls in 2009, Matt Stevens and Sean Maitland in 2013 or Jared Payne in 2017; surprises in squad selection are part of Lions history.

Below, we look through some of the potential bolters for the class of 2021…

Ronan Kelleher (Leinster and Ireland; Test caps: 11)

Perhaps the most likely bolter for the 2021 tour is hooker Kelleher, who has increasingly made onlookers aware of his talents as the weeks and months have passed.

The 23-year-old only made his Test debut in 2020, and has only started one Six Nations Test before now – vs Italy in 2021 – but his impact off the bench for Ireland, coupled with performances for Leinster at the highest stage of club rugby have given him a real chance.

Physically robust and strong, a willing and able ball carrier and a brilliant breakdown operator, if Kelleher can master his throwing at the set-piece consistently, he will be the first-choice Ireland hooker for years to come. Has he done enough to edge out one of Jamie George, Ken Owens and Luke Cowan-Dickie for a place on the plane to South Africa though?

Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs and England; Test caps: 7)

It’s hard to recall a player performing so well within a domestic competition, but ignored so regularly by their national coach.

Exeter back-row Simmonds has been one of the best Premiership players for several years now, but his last Test cap for England came over three years ago in 2018.

Since then, the 26-year-old has been vital as Exeter have gone on to become Premiership and European champions in 2020, as well as contesting a further two Premiership finals before those successes. Yet, Eddie Jones has repeatedly ignored the rapid No 8, whose nose for a try and line-break is superb.

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Gatland can’t have helped to have noticed Simmonds’ exploits for Exeter, however, and his call-up would be in true bolter style.

Cameron Redpath (Bath and Scotland; Test caps: 1)

Perhaps the ultimate of bolters if selected, Redpath has just one Test cap to his name, which arrived in February of this year for Scotland vs England at Twickenham.

Centre Redpath – who Eddie Jones actually called up once for England in 2018, before the midfielder withdrew at the time through injury – enjoyed a Scottish Test debut to remember. He was energetic, looked silky and skilful on the ball, and caused the England defence a host of problems.

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A neck injury ruled the 21-year-old out for the remainder of the championship, however, costing him valuable opportunities to press further claims. He is now back playing for Bath, but his inclusion looks unlikely at this stage, though never say never.

Hugo Keenan (Leinster and Ireland; Test caps: 11)

Up against it to make the squad he may be, such is the calibre of back-three options at Gatland’s disposal, but Keenan has certainly thrown his hat into the ring with his performances for Leinster and Ireland.

Tasked with filling the full-back void left by Rob Kearney at provincial and national level, the fleet-footed 24-year-old has slotted in relatively seamlessly at all levels.

Reliable under the high ball and a fantastic attacking talent, his displays in Ireland’s Six Nations win over England in Dublin and Leinster’s European Cup quarter-final win over Exeter at Sandy Park in particular will not have gone unnoticed.

Danny Care (Harlequins and England; Test caps: 84)

Experienced scrum-half Care has been spoken about as a potential Lions bolter before now in some circles, such has been his form this season in Harlequins’ run into the Premiership playoffs. Since compatriot Ben Youngs’ decision to withdraw from possible selection, that talk has grown stronger.

The 34-year-old has not featured in a Test match since November 2018, and has never been a Lion before, missing out on squad recognition in 2009, 2013 and 2017. But his pace, wits and fundamental skills of the position remain at a high level.

Care is desperate to make the touring party, but has Gatland seen enough from him to warrant being picked?

Kieran Hardy (Scarlets and Wales; Test caps: 4)

The bolter with perhaps the best chance of making the plane, is Wales scrum-half Hardy.

As profiled in our half-back contenders, the 25-year-old is a live option having impressed for Wales during the 2021 Six Nations, particularly in their victory over England in Cardiff.

If there is a position in which a bolter is likely to strike, there is currently no better bet than at scrum-half. Hardy, who began the 2021 Six Nations as third choice Wales nine, could very well fit the bill.

Keith Earls (Munster and Ireland; Test caps: 93; British and Irish Lions tours: 2009)

The notion of a Lions bolter is every changing, with as loose a definition as can be in sport.

In 2009, Munster’s Earls was an out-and-out bolter on the Lions’ epic tour to South Africa – the then 21-year-old had never featured in a Six Nations squad, had just two Test caps for Ireland, and only one Test start (vs Canada).

Earls didn’t trouble the Test squad 12 years ago but his talent has never been in question and has blossomed since. Searingly quick, hardworking, tenacious and a wonderful finisher of tries, injury cost Earls a chance to tour again in 2013, while he was ignored for the 2017 tour.

Over the last couple of years, very few people would have counted Earls as a tourist, but at 33, he seems to have lost no pace, and having tormented Scotland and England in the 2021 Six Nations, is under consideration for sure.

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