Lions squad to tour New Zealand named

April 19, 2017

The British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand has been named by coach Warren Gatland, with a number of surprises and disappointments for fans of the four home nations.

An unusually large contingent of 41 players will make the trip, with 16 Englishmen in it. There will also be 12 Welshmen and 11 Irish players, but just two Scots - backs Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour.

The big shock for some English fans will be the absences of skipper Dylan Hartley and Joe Launchbury. George Ford, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw also miss out. The squad will be captained by former Wales captain Sam Warburton, who is only the second man, after Martin Johnson, to captain the Lions twice after leading them to victory in Australia four years ago. By contrast, Hartley becomes the third English skipper in a row to miss out on the tour altogether, following in the footsteps of Steve Borthwick in 2009 and Chris Robshaw in 2013.

Speaking about his decision to pick a man who relinquished the Welsh captaincy in 2017 as his skipper, Gatland said: "Sam is fully aware his form needs to be good enough to be selected. There is pressure on him for that but he is the right man for the job.

"He did a great job in 2013 so for us he is the natural choice."

Those English players who have been picked include Dan Cole, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marker, Kyle Sinckler, Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola in the forwards, while Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Jack Nowell, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson and Ben Youngs are included in the backs.

Discussing the squad make-up, the coach admitted there were "some pretty lively debates" with his team about who was going to be included.

The number of players picked may have made the tough task of selection a little easier, with the ten-game fixture schedule providing the rationale for taking 41 men. Gatland explained: "This will be the toughest tour - in previous tours the midweek games have been easier. If you look at the quality of the teams we are playing midweek, it is going to be hugely challenging.

"That is why we have picked a few extra players, to make sure we have got depth and quality."

Nonetheless, the fact that Hartley has missed out on a trip to the land of his birth in favour of Jamie George - normally his understudy for England - may leave some questioning the decision. However, it could also drive Hartley on to prove the doubters wrong and fans booking corporate hospitality for the match between England and the Barbarians at Twickenham next month could see a few players - both inside and outside the Lions squad - who will be keen to prove a point out on the pitch.  

Those on the New Zealand tour will have much to prove too. Not since the 2-1 win of 1971 have the Lions won in New Zealand. They lost 2-1 in 1977 and 1993 and suffered 3-0 clean sweeps in 1983 and on the most recent trip in 2005.

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