John Hayes may be 35, but legendary prop Jason Leonard is in no doubt that the Irishman should be included in the British & Irish Lions squad for this summer’s Tour of South Africa.
Hayes played a huge part in Ireland’s historic RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam success, with the Munster tight-head emerging as the front runner for the Lions number three jersey.
Certainly, Leonard, who made 114 appearances for England, believes that "The Bull," as Hayes is known, fully warrants a place in the Lions starting XV.
"John Hayes is a fantastic player. He never lets Ireland down and he’s so important to their set-piece,” said the 2003 World Cup winner.
”He’s a tremendous professional, too. I think he’s been a credit to his country for such a long time now.
”He’s won 94 caps for Ireland, and I know exactly how hard it is to play so many games at international level.
"So he’s been around a long time and, let me tell you, experience counts for a lot on a Lions Tour. We’re talking about one of the most experienced and most well respected guys in world rugby here.
”He’s just a great prop, so I really hope he gets a start at some point. He played some tremendous rugby in this year’s Championship, so I’d love to see him get the nod. Certainly, on current form, he should.”
However, Leonard is well aware that the picture could change quite quickly between now and Ian McGeechan's squad announcement on April 21.
“There’s actually quite a few in contention. I don’t think any of the props on show in the Championship let their country down. I think most of the front-row battles were very competitive,” he argued.
”But I think Euan Murray will definitely be in there. He should start at loose-head.
”Obviously, I think John Hayes will be included, too. Andrew Sheridan’s a maybe. Gethin Jenkins should travel and Adam Jones will go close as well.”
Leonard has an enormous amount of respect for Sheridan but feels that the Sale Shark will have to rediscover his best form – and quickly – if he is to secure his participation in the Tour.
”Well, I must admit that I don’t think that Sheridan, and some of his colleagues in the front row, are playing at the top of their game at the moment. They didn’t really light the Championship up," he lamented.
"But it’s not only the RBS 6 Nations that the Lions coaches will be looking at. They’ll only be looking at club rugby so there’s still time.
”But as things stand, on the basis of the RBS 6 Nations, the majority of the players in the Lions squad will be Irish and Welsh.”