Brian O’Driscoll has told Henry Slade that this Saturday’s Champions Cup offers a priceless opportunity to stake a late Lions claim.
O’Driscoll recognises that England’s Six Nations flop will have hurt the chances of a good number of Eddie Jones’ team.
But with Exeter and Sale through to the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier competition, the Lions legend reckons there is a lifeline for their top players.
“Lions auditioning ultimately takes place in the Six Nations and you have to anticipate that nearly the whole squad is selected,” said O’Driscoll.
“But if there are still one or two question marks it’s this round of European ties, and certain match-ups within it, that will grab Warren Gatland’s attention.”
Head coach Gatland is expected at Sandy Park to watch Slade go up against Robbie Henshaw in the Exeter-Leinster clash.
Slade missed England’s drubbing in Ireland last month due to injury, having caught the eye in victory over France the previous week.
O’Driscoll is intrigued to see how well he goes against Henshaw, the scourge of the English in Dublin, and believes Gatland will be too.
“If somebody can get the better of another in a 50-50 call just maybe there’ll be a little (Lions) subplot,” he said.
Whoever comes out on the winning side will also have a Champions Cup semi-final to showcase their skills on the very weekend the Lions squad is finalised ahead of the May 6 announcement.
A year ago O’Driscoll was asked to name a Lions XV to play South Africa and more than half his team was English.
After a Six Nations in which England lost three times and finished a lowly fifth, his team of the tournament contained not one of Jones’ side.
“I was asked to pick a Six Nations team on form and I didn’t pick an English players,” he said. “But does that mean there’s no English players in the Lions? Of course not.”
O’Driscoll sees Anthony Watson, Maro Itoje and Tom Curry making the Test side, and thinks Ellis Genge could push for a place in the 23 as he has “that edge” and “you can’t be soft against a South African team”.
Time will tell what influence, if any, Saturday’s quarter-finals has on selection.
But you can bet that Slade, Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds are not planning to let the opportunity slip.
Whilst away from Sandy Park, expect Curry to pull out all the stops to get Sale past La Rochelle in France.
O’Driscoll’s four semi-finalists? Leinster, La Rochelle, Toulouse and Racing 92.
BT Sport is the home of the Heineken Champions Cup with every single match live. Watch all the action from the Quarter Finals, including Exeter Chiefs v Leinster Rugby, this Saturday and Sunday from 2:45pm on BT Sport 2.