Rónan Kelleher called up to the British and Irish Lions squad

The 23-year-old scored four tries in a test against the USA Eagles last Saturday

Rónan Kelleher has been called up to the British and Irish Lions squad and will arrive in Cape Town today. The 23-year-old, who became only the fifth Irish player to score four tries in a test against the USA Eagles last Saturday, will provide additional cover at hooker for the remainder of the tour.

The Lions are expected to confirm the news today and it is also understood that Alun Wyn Jones will also join the Lions’ squad in South Africa later today. This follows reports in Wales which confirmed that the 35-year-old, the original choice as Lions tour captain, completed a double session with his national squad yesterday, just two and a half weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the Lions’ win over Japan at Murrayfield.

If so, it will be a fourth Lions tour for the world’s most capped player, and he seems sure to come into contention for the first test on Saturday week.

Sources have confirmed to The Irish Times that Kelleher has been called up, although whether or not he sees any game time remains to be seen, as Ken Owens, Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie remain the front-runners in contention for the match-day squad in the test series. Following tonight's game against South Africa 'A', the Lions have only one more warm-up match, against the Stormers this Saturday, before the first test.


Explaining the rationale behind bringing out a fourth hooker on Monday, Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: “One of the discussions we’ve had with the South African management was they were a bit concerned about frontrow cover, if we pick up some injuries the fact that players or replacement players would have to spend a number of days before they could join the squad officially.

“We are just looking at do we need cover at hooker, if we picked up an injury there, and then picked up an injury in training. They were concerned that possibly a game could go down to uncontested scrums. So we might look at making sure we have got some cover in the frontrow in terms of that hooker position.”

With George and Cowan-Dickie both involved in end-of-season play-off games with their clubs, Saracens and Exeter, Kelleher impressed Gatland and the Lions coaches when called into the two-week, pre-tour training camp in Jersey. They had wanted him to be a part of the matchday squad in the game against Japan, but it was felt that Kelleher would be better served starting Ireland’s two wins over Japan and the USA.

Lions forwards coach Steve Tandy said at the time: "Ronan has been brilliant, absolutely brilliant since coming in.

“He has really bought into it. I know it might be tough [FOR HIM]leaving, but to even have 24 hours, a week or 10 days in a Lions environment, I’m sure, you learn loads.

“Even being a part of it shows where you need to get to, or what you’re doing. But he has been outstanding. I’ve been very, very impressed with how he goes about his business. Great kid and really impressive on the training field too.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times