By Will Epps
The 2017 British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer has been announced. Gatland has named sixteen English, twelve Welsh, eleven Irish and two Scottish players in his 41-man Lions squad to tackle the All Blacks in the summer. The squad will play a three match series against the All Blacks alongside seven warm up matches against all five Super Rugby franchises, the Maori All Blacks and the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. The first match takes place in Whangarei against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on 3 June.
Sam Warburton has been appointed as captain for the second tour in a row; his experience of leading the side to victory over Australia, as well as his overall leadership ability were Gatland’s rationale for this decision. Warburton found this out last week while at the supermarket with his wife.
“The wife was getting some bread and milk and I didn’t want to go in because the cashier loves rugby and would ask me about the Lions,” Warburton said. “I actually hung up on Gats the first time because I thought it was the Cardiff boys messing around.”
Although Warburton will be celebrating, many England players will not. Captain Dylan Hartley becomes the third successive England captain to have been overlooked, after Steve Borthwick in 2009 and Chris Robshaw in 2013. Hartley loses out to his international understudy, Jamie George. This is not the first time Hartley has not been included. After his initial selection four years ago, he found himself removed following his abuse of Wayne Barnes in the Aviva Premiership Final against Northampton.
Fly-half George Ford, flanker James Haskell, lock Joe Launchbury, and full-back Mike Brown also missed out despite contributing to back-to-back Six Nations championships and a record-equalling 18-match winning streak. Joe Launchbury can perhaps have the biggest grievance. Launchbury thrived throughout the Six Nations, picking up two man of the match awards and a player of the tournament nomination. Gatland instead decided to opt for the physicality and athleticism of Courtney Lawes. This is a theme that runs throughout his selection.
Two Scottish players have been selected. Six Nations player of the tournament Stuart Hogg is predicted to start in the Test side that takes on the All Blacks, and will no doubt prove a key part in Gatland’s plans. Winger Tommy Seymour has also been rewarded for an excellent campaign. However, former Scottish international Jim Telfer has reacted angrily to the decision to include just two Scottish Players.
“It should have been more. Players like Finn Russell and Hamish Watson have every right to be disappointed. What has Leigh Halfpenny done all season? When Scotland beat Wales at Murrayfield, he didn’t even want to take a kick at goal in case he missed it.”
Interestingly, there are an equal number of Kiwis (Ben Te’o and Jared Payne) in the British and Irish Lions squad as there are Scotsmen.
The Irish had more luck with selection. Centre Robbie Henshaw makes the cut alongside eleven of his fellow countrymen. Henshaw, however, will face stiff competition for a starting spot. Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Ben Te’o, and Jonathan Joseph will all be pushing hard for a place in the match day XV. Joseph’s place was initially in jeopardy as leaked reports in the build-up to the squad announcements suggested he had been left out. Were it not for a last minute intervention from Gatland, he would not have been on the plane.
Surprise opportunities have been handed to Ross Moriarty and Kyle Sinckler. Both these players have made strong impressions for their countries despite limited appearances. Moriarty is a favourite of Gatland’s, and has recently relegated Faletau to the Welsh bench. Both these players are consistent with the choice to select a powerful pack.
Full details of the squad by position can be found below.
Props: Dan Cole, Tadhg Furlong, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola
Hookers: Rory Best, Jamie George, Ken Owens
Locks: Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes
Flankers: Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton
No 8s: Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty, Billy Vunipola
Scrum-halves: Conor Murray, Rhys Webb, Ben Youngs
Fly-halves: Dan Biggar, Jonathan Sexton
Centres: Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Jared Payne, Ben Te’o
Wings: Elliot Daly, George North, Jack Nowell, Tommy Seymour, Anthony Watson
Full-backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons