Five players who struggled to get back into shape after the tour

The British and Irish Lions are widely regarded as the professional highlight of any Home Nations player’s career – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the form that got said player on the plane will follow them.

For every player who goes on multiple tours, there are a handful who are one-hit wonders, whose careers have subsequently slipped out of sight.

Still, even Test veterans can fall foul of the metaphorical Lions tour hangover and the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa was no different. Here are five players who struggled to come back on after the last campaign.

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LOUIS REES-ZAMMIT
While it’s true that Rees-Zammit hasn’t seen much playing time under Warren Gatland in South Africa, the bolter’s attacking prowess is evident. For all his attacking brilliance on the ball, question marks over his defense and work rate continue to plague the 21-year-old.

After a strong Fall Nations Series, the youngster’s failure to make an impact in the first two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations resulted in Wayne Pivac dropping him from the squad in favor of veteran Alex Cuthbert. There’s no doubt that’s a roadblock for Rees-Zammit, whose try against Northampton Saints at the weekend shows if nothing else the backhand has dampened his attacking flair.

MAKO VUNIPOLA
Perhaps the most justified player to feel aggrieved by Eddie Jones’ squad refresh ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup. The Saracens prop went from being a starter for the British and Irish Lions in the second Test to being surplus to requirements when it comes to Jones and England on his return.

Mako Vunipola
Saracens’ Mako Vunipola (left) cheers on his team mates from the side lines during the Gallagher Premiership match at the StoneX Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday March 5, 2022. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Aussie said the door had been left open for the coward to fight his way back into the reckoning, but that feels like lip service to Jones, especially given his Vunipola’s decent form for Sarries. An injury this weekend against Leicester Tigers will end any immediate return to grace, but a comeback does not seem likely.

GARETH DAVIES
The 2015 Rugby World Cup hero didn’t feature much on tour but perhaps didn’t expect to lose his position as Wales’ number one scrum-half so quickly. Tomos Williams and Kieran Hardy appear to be Pivac’s first nine and second picks going forward. Davies has featured in Wales’ opening two Guinness Six Nations matches against Ireland and Scotland from the bench, but the 31-year-old Pivac could plan without the talented half-back.

World Rugby
Gareth Davies before the scrimmage (Getty)

OWEN FARRELL
Farrell brought questionable form to the British and Irish Lions tour, but arguably the greatest England player of the professional era had enough credit in the bank to justify his inclusion. Prior to his injury and surgery in January 2022, the 30-year-old was starting to regain his former form for Saracens.

However, Marcus Smith’s rise to the title of England opener seemed fatal, even if the duo could not face each other in the English camp. Many had predicted that Farrell would play 12 outside the Harlequins magician, but we’ll never know.

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrel/Getty

WYN JONES
The Scarlets prop has gone from being a Lions favorite loose-head and a 2021 Six Nations star to a player who hasn’t quite reached the heights of his breakout season. A delayed wedding and a lack of playing time due to the postponement of the Scarlets’ URC games to Christmas did not help his fitness wise.

He started against New Zealand and Australia in the fall and every Wales Six Nations game to date, so it might be unfair to characterize Jones’ form as having dropped dramatically, but his star did not shine the same as in 2021.

Props are no stranger to hangovers after Lions tours. Injury problems saw Lions coward Alex Corbisiero play just two more games for England following the Lions’ Australian tour in 2013, while Irishman Jack McGrath went from a Lions starter in 2017 to miss the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Ireland two years later.

INJURIES: Ken Owens, Anthony Watson, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi have all suffered long-term injuries since the tour and have not been considered for this list, although the latter two have returned to action in recent weeks.

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Charles P. Patton