They may be battered and bruised from this year’s Six Nations but former British & Irish Lions captain Martin Johnson believes Irish half-backs Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are still in pole position for a trip to New Zealand this summer.
The duo endured a frustrating time last time out against Wales with scrum-half Murray sustaining a shoulder injury while fly-half Sexton suffered a head knock but was not concussed.
It got worse for the team too as, despite Sexton’s best efforts, Ireland came up short in their fightback at Principality Stadium losing out 22-9.
That handed the initiative to England who duly wrapped up the Six Nations title with victory over Scotland although Ireland will be aiming to end their hopes of a Grand Slam when they host the champions on Saturday.
Both Sexton and Murray were back in training this week and Johnson was in no doubt as to their importance to both Ireland - and also the British & Irish Lions team for later in the year.
"I think [Murray and Sexton] are quality guys and they’ll go on the Lions tour,” said Johnson.
“Murray had a bit of an injury during the game, Sexton was getting banged around a bit. He tried his damnedest to open them up, but it didn’t quite happen for them.
"You win or you lose, [the difference is] only a few per cent sometimes. From their back three, I thought Rob Kearney played well in that game, his aerial stuff was great.
"Conor Murray got injured, Jonathan Sexton was taking knocks and got sin-binned, they just never quite got their grip on the game.
"CJ Stander had a good run down the left-hand side, but I don’t think Sean O’Brien or Jamie Heaslip were quite in the game as much as they would like to have been.”
While Ireland have become increasingly dependent on Sexton, one man who has found the going tough this Six Nations has been Simon Zebo.
The winger was a member of the touring party for the last British & Irish Lions tour to Australia.
And Johnson believes the 27-year-old is having to play a waiting game currently, with chances to show what he can do at a premium.
"Simon Zebo is a guy who maybe will have thought ‘I haven’t really had that many opportunities in this tournament',” he added.
“But you understand as a player that you have to do your job for 80 minutes, and whoever might get that chance to score a try will do it."
Martin Johnson is an Ambassador for British & Irish Lions Principal Partner Standard Life Investments.