NEWS

Former England star backs Lions for success

April 21, 2017

Beating New Zealand in their own country is the toughest task in rugby - but former England star Jeremy Guscott has backed Warren Gatland's squad to beat the All Blacks.

Writing in is BBC Sport column, Guscott said the coach had made the right decisions in selection - despite some contentious calls like leaving out England captain Dylan Hartley - and suggested this could ensure the "impossible" task of defeating the All Blacks in their own back yard may not be beyond them.

He remarked: "I like the look and balance of the squad. The players are good enough to win the series, the challenge will be whether they can.

"New Zealand at home are pretty much unbeatable. The statistics and a great deal of logic suggests a Lions win would be unlikely, but they have the best possible chance.
This is a talented squad of players. They have an opportunity to create a serious part of history against the best team in the world."

Discussing the hotly-debated decisions about the make-up of the squad, Guscott suggested two-thirds of the squad had already been "inked in", and said he was glad it was Gatland, not himself, having to make difficult calls over selections in positions where competition has been intense and the quality high.

The position of hooker was one case in point, Guscott reflected, with Hartley missing out because he was up against the likes of Rory Best, Ken Owens and Jamie George. Indeed, the England captain had himself said it would be a "bonus" if he was picked.

Another area where the depth of quality is exception is in the second row area, he noted, with the brilliance shown in this area by so many players in the RBS Six Nations making it a very hard selection. It was only for this reason that a Scot like Johnny Gray could be left out, he mused.

The lack of Scots in the squad - just two out of 41 - has been a big issue, but Guscott suggested the high proportion of English and Irish players was a correct choice given the performances of those two counties in the Six Nations.

Fans watching England stars closely may be particularly keen to see some of them in action next month at Twickenham, when they take on the Barbarians.

The make-up of the English side will be confirmed nearer the time, but Baa Baas coach Vern Cotter has already confirmed some of the players who are part of his squad.

Last week, he named Australians Adam Ashley-Cooper and Will Genia, New Zealanders Corey Flynn and Bundee Aki, Samoan Census Johnson and Facundo Isa from Argentina. Aki will be one to watch as he plays for Connacht and will qualify for Ireland later this year, meaning he could feature against England in future RBS Six Nations fixtures.

Discussing the inclusions, Cotter said: "The Barbarians is all about bringing together talented players from different countries and you can see from the first group of players selected that we’ve been able to do exactly that."

After the match at Twickenham on May 28th, the Barbarians will play against Ulster in Belfast.

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