BRYAN Redpath has emerged as a surprise candidate to be part of the British and Irish Lions tour this summer.
Redpath retired from Test rugby with 60 caps at the end of the 2003 World Cup, but has remained a top performer in the Zurich Premiership with Sale and admitted yesterday he would jump at the chance to end his career in New Zealand.
Sir Clive Woodward has admitted that players retired from representing their country are being considered for selection, quoting Lawrence Dallaglio, Neil Back, Matt Dawson, Trevor Brennan and Redpath as contenders.
At the launch of clothing supplier Eden Park’s sponsorship deal with the 2005 Lions, Dallaglio was tight-lipped when asked if Woodward had assured him of a place on a third successive tour. But when asked of the worth of retired Test players, he said: "I wouldn’t rule out Bryan Redpath going on tour. He’s been out of international rugby for nearly two years, but he’s got real quality and experience.
"When I retired from international rugby I recognised that you take yourself out of the shop window, so predominantly the squad will be chosen from the Six Nations championship and we all appreciate that, but if the management feel they have to look elsewhere then there are other options. All Lions tours need experienced players."
Redpath, 33, will retire this summer, but he insisted he was in the best shape of his life and desperate for a Lions chance. He said: "I did receive a Christmas card and follow-up letter from Sir Clive Woodward, but I haven’t had anything since, so I don’t know if I’m in their minds.
"I understand all the Six Nations guys have had contracts, but I’ve heard that Matt Dawson didn’t get one and he’s being touted for a tour place, so who knows?
"I can understand what Lawrence is saying because I do think there is a case for experienced players being in there, whether it is in the first-team or midweek squad, but it’s not our call. I know I’m in good shape. I had a few weeks off in December after I fractured my cheekbone, but I’ve played eight games since and lifted my heaviest weights ever a few weeks ago, so I’m ready if they want me."
Redpath’s former Scotland team-mate Kenny Logan added: "Bryan is a big player, a leader, and the Lions need leaders, which is why guys like Lawrence [Dallaglio], Neil Back and Matt Dawson will all probably go.
"Bryan has kept himself very fit and is in good form with Sale, one of the best sides in the Zurich Premiership, but, crucially, he has the experience you need on a Lions tour."
Meanwhile, Ieuan Evans, the British Lions legend, yesterday called for an end to the hysteria surrounding Jonny Wilkinson’s fitness.
The 25-year-old England fly-half has not played international rugby since the 2003 World Cup final after being struck down by a succession of different injuries and he is currently recovering from damaged knee ligaments.
Evans, though, insisted the player’s availability will neither make nor break the Lions’ chances against the All Blacks. "I don’t think we need to get too hung up on Jonny Wilkinson," he said.
"The success of this tour won’t purely hinge on whether Jonny Wilkinson is available or not. There are too many quality players there for that to be the case.
"If he is fit then there is no reason not to take him. But in making the selection you can always say that if you can’t prove your fitness then that will have a bearing on whether you can go or not.
"If you get injured between now and the departure then you have got the ability to be dragged out of the tour."