Warren Gatland today snubbed captain Dylan Hartley and ignored key England players who had helped win successive Six Nations titles and equalled the world record of 18 successive wins when he named a 41 strong British and Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer.
England still had the largest contingent in the squad with 16 players with Wales supplying captain Sam Warburton amongst their 12 , Ireland boast 11 players while Scotland only have full back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour on the plane to Auckland for the three test, 10 match trip.
It means Hartley becomes the third successive England captain not to tour with the Lions joining Lions coach Steve Borthwick(2009) and Chris Robshaw(2013) on that list. Standard Sport understands that the decision not to take Robshaw to New Zealand was one of the last discussions chaired by Gatland who has increased the size of the party from the expected 37 to given himself more options.
Hartley, who has won 84 caps and was born in New Zealand, will finish his career never playing for the Lions having lost his place before the tour departed in 2013 after an 11 week ban for abusing a referee. England reserve hooker Jamie George, Ireland captain Rory Best and Ken Owens of Wales, are the three hookers.
The other major England losers are Mike Brown, George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Robshaw and James Haskell, players who helped win a 3-0 test series in Australia last year and the Grand Slam in 2016. Patently, that was not good enough for Gatland who will be accused of bias towards his Wales team having opted for the 2013 Lions series winning centre Jonathan Davies but rumours of 30-year-old Jamie Roberts being picked were wrong.
England’s Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson have been included along with six Saracens players while Irish centre Jared Payne is a major surprise selection.
The make up of a very physical back line epitomises the way Gatland likes to play his rugby and the squad shows that the head coach intends to take the fight to the World’s No1 team in a bid to repeat the Lions 1971 series triumph.
Besides George, the Saracens hooker, Gatland has also chosen Worcester centre Ben Te’o, Exeter wing Jack Nowell and Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler who have not been regular starters for England.
Warburton is currently out with a knee injury but said:” It is a great honour to captain the Lions again and I am totally confident that I will be fit for the tour.”
Gatland said: “Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain. We believe that Sam’s experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain. He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work.”
The list of notable absentees also includes Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip and Scotland’s Jonny and Richie Gray, Finn Russell, Sean Maitland and captain Grieg Laidlaw.
as seen in Evening Standard