On Wednesday 19 April Warren Gatland announced his 41 man squad to take on the Lions Tour to New Zealand this summer. It’s a pretty large squad so fits in a few more people than might have been expected, but still a few players will be disappointed not to be included.

Representation

First up let’s look at the representation from each country.  The squad includes:

  • 16 England players
  • 12 Wales
  • 11 from Ireland
  • 2 Scotland

I think Scotland will feel aggrieved to not have a larger representation in the squad.  They started the Six Nations well, but definitely suffered later in the competition through a lack of strength in depth as a number of front line players fell to injury.  Having said that they still finished 1 win and 4 points ahead of a generally lacklustre Wales side.

In the Pro 12, Scottish teams didn’t fare so well with Glasgow finishing behind Scarlets and Ospreys, but still they were the only side from Scotland or Wales to reach the Quarter Finals of the Champions Cup.

With regards to the numbers from England and Ireland, I think these are about right.  England were unbeaten in 18 maches until their loss in Dublin, whilst Ireland have beaten New Zealand, England and Australia in the last year.

I certainly believe that Ireland deserve to have more players in the squad than Wales whilst Scotland deserve a few more at the expense of some of the under-performing Welsh players.

However most fans will have expected Gatland to be somewhat biased towards the Wales players he is so familiar with.  It certainly feels like a few players have got in on reputation rather than form.

The Squad

Forwards: Rory Best (Ireland), Dan Cole (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Joe Marler (England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Ross Moriarty (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), Ken Owens (Wales), Kyle Sinckler (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England), Mako Vunipola (England), Sam Warburton (Wales)

Backs: Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Conor Murray (Ireland), George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Jared Payne (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Ben Te’o (England), Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Liam Williams (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)

Position Breakdown

Loose Head Props

  • Mako Vunipola
  • Jack Mcgrath
  • Joe Marler

Hookers

  • Rory Best
  • Jamie George
  • Ken Owens

Tight Head Props

  • Tadh Furlong
  • Dan Cole
  • Kyle Sinckler

Second Row

  • Alun Wyn Jones
  • Maro Itoje (also covers 6)
  • George Kruis
  • Iain Henderson
  • Courtney Lawes (also covers 6)

Flankers

  • Peter O’Mahony (6)
  • C J Stander (6)
  • Sean O’Brien (7)
  • Justin Tipuric (7)
  • Sam Warburton (6/7)

No. 8

  • Taulupe Faletau
  • Billy Vunipola
  • Ross Moriarty

Scrum Half

  • Conor Murray
  • Rhys Webb
  • Ben Youngs

Fly Half

  • Jonny Sexton
  • Dan Biggar
  • Owen Farrell (also covers inside centre)

Centres

  • Ben Te’o
  • Robbie Henshaw
  • Jonathan Davies
  • Jonathan Joseph
  • Jared Payne (also covers fullback)

Wing

  • Elliot Daly (also covers centre and full back)
  • George North (can also cover centre)
  • Jack Nowell (can also cover centre)
  • Tommy Seymour

Full Back

  • Stuart Hogg
  • Leigh Halfpenny
  • Anthony Watson (also covers wing)
  • Liam Williams (also covers wing)

 

The Captain

Sam Warburton has been chosen to lead this Lions squad.  I think this is a bit strange as the Captain should be a certainty to start and I’m not sure Warburton is.  He played the Six Nations at Blindside (due to Tipuric being the better Openside) and was petty good there, but then so was Stander, and O’Mahony has shown how good he is there for Ireland and Munster.

In addition, he only seemed to find good international form again after being relieved of the Wales captaincy.  I would have gone for Rory Best.  Just saying.

Unlucky to miss out

Joe Launchbury – Probably the player of the Six Nations with 2 Man-of-the-match performances and 3 other fine outings.  I’m not sure what else he could have done to be on the plane.

Dylan Hartley – As the Captain for England’s great run of form you might expect him to be included, but he rarely impressed on the pitch and can still be a bit of a liability at times.

James Haskell – Was in fine form through most of England’s recent run of wins, but his injury ruled him out of several key games and he didn’t find his best form at the end of the Six Nations

Chris Robshaw – Another stalwart of the England side who was unlucky enough to get injured at the wrong moment and miss the Six Nations.  Some strong performances for Harlequins since his return have not been enough to force his way in.  Robshaw is one player I would definitely have taken on the tour – the amount of work he gets through in a game is phenomenal.

Garry Ringrose – Performed well for a young player in the absence of Ireland’s more experienced centres.  Not a long way behind Payne and Henshaw now.

Jonny Gray – Great form for club and country.  He started the Six Nations brilliantly but was fairly anonymous as Scotland were crushed by England and that may be the game that ruined his chances. Lock is probably the strongest position with Launchbury also missing out after probably being the player of the Six Nations.

Tim Visser – A good solid Six Nations for Visser – he was solid in defence and took his chances well.

Hamish Watson – A wrecking ball with a low centre of gravity, Watson always seemed to make a few more metres than he any right to make, and was good at the breakdown.  Gatland must have decided he has enough specialist opensides with his Welsh contingent.

The Bolter

There isn’t one which is a bit of a disappointment in a squad so large.

Possible Starting Lineup

Based on knowing that Gatland like his Welsh players and his big hitters.

  1. MacGrath (M. Vunipola)
  2. Best (George)
  3. Furlong (Sinckler)
  4. AWJ
  5. Itoje (Kruis)
  6. Warburton
  7. Tipuric
  8. B. Vunipola (Faletau)
  9. Murray (Webb)
  10. Sexton (Farrell)
  11. Daly
  12. Te’o
  13. Henshaw
  14. North
  15. Hogg (Watson)

Bench

  1. M. Vunipola
  2. George
  3. Sinckler
  4. Kruis
  5. Faletau
  6. Webb
  7. Farrell
  8. Williams

Verdict

It’s a very strong squad.  A few players who have missed out can feel unlucky, but to include any of them Gatland would have had to get rid of another quality player.

Quite a few players from England (2014) and Ireland (2016) have experience in beating the All Blacks, though none of them have done so in New Zealand.

It will be a hard series and the Lions will do well to come away with any wins, but The All Blacks aren’t quite as fear inducing as they were in 2015, despite still being head and shoulders above all other international teams.