James Haskell insists the inclusion of Alun Wyn Jones in the British and Irish Lions squad to face South Africa in the first test on Saturday does NOT weaken the squad.
However, the former Lion admits he is emptied of the current crop of tourists who miss the social aspect of a “magical” experience.
Warren Gatland has named a daring squad to take on the Springboks in Cape Town, with Jones a surprise starter after dislocating his shoulder four weeks ago.
Renowned for their physique, the reigning world champions have an impressive pack with Captain Siya Kolisi who is back after recovering from COVID.
And while Haskell has admitted the 35-year-old is certainly replaceable, he’s not worried about South Africa targeting him or his shoulder specifically.
“There are always dark arts,” Haskell said on Sports Day. “But this is not a one-on-one battle.
“That’s what excites people in sport; they talk about those one-on-one fights in team sport, sometimes they’re there.
“Still, because you have 14 other men on the pitch, I think trying to aim for that shoulder would be so hard to do.
“I just think you’d target the team with a real physical thing and I just think he’s a man.
“He’s not a Jason Robinson or a Dan Carter – one of those guys who can change the game like a game of chance – what he does brilliantly is a leader who works like a horse. Troy, he’s incredibly vibrant and up front.
“But he’s only a second row! I think if you take him out there are some amazing second rows on the bench and some amazing people missed the game who would have felt a little bit offended that he came back.
“It’s definitely amazing, but I just don’t think you would ever do that because I just don’t know what advantage you get.
“I think it would be so difficult and if you did it in this modern game you did something weird you would be understood immediately.”
Haskell toured with the Lions in 2017 as they won a draw against New Zealand after three intriguing tests.
Known for his hilarity off the pitch and crispy tackles, the former Wasps and England flanker wasn’t even destined to face the All Blacks that summer.
Still, a late call from Gatland changed all that and made the experience even more special.
“It’s magical, the whole Lions experience in every way,” he added. “It’s about more than playing rugby.
“Rugby is the most important thing, in terms of winning, but it’s about bringing together a whole bunch of players who would normally never be together.
“You would still play international rugby against them, you don’t really know them, you can bang yourselves seven bells against each other and then you have time to devote and bond.
“It’s the best of the best in one place, but it’s so much about the emotions on and off the pitch and the camaraderie.
“It was the most magical experience and, without a doubt, the best touring experience I have ever had. There were three or four players I thought, “I’ll never get along with these guys.”
“I’ve played Jonny Sexton for Ireland so many times and we always had a bit of a fight and those moments. Then we became close buddies, same with Dan Biggar and Sean O’Brien.
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“You remain friends for life and you are bound by it. These guys in South Africa have a different experience, but because they’re locked in the hotel, they just don’t have the same kind of social experience.
“But, if they win, there is nothing better to bind a team together than to win.”
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