The Big Surprises in the British and Irish Lions Squad
British & Irish Lions

The Big Surprises in the British and Irish Lions Squad

The Big Surprises in the British and Irish Lions Squad

Once everyone had stopped spitting tea at their TV and venting their spleen on Twitter, the Isles settled down to look at the British and Irish Lions squad.

Hartley - even Gatland doesn't like him

Hartley – even Gatland doesn’t like him

With 37 squad places you are never going to get unanimous approval. However, within the list were some names that caused enough rancour to rival cancelling summer, footie, beer and the grilling of meats all in one go.

Much like the man himself when he gets his photo taken, there was a sharp intake of breath when Matt Stevens’ name was read out on stage by Lions manager Andy Irvine. Few expected the Saracen to be named – especially since he retired from international rugby last year – but he has toured with the Lions before. Perhaps he is there to lend support to young loose-head and fellow Saracen Mako Vunipola who has been a bit-part player with England but is impressive with ball in hand.

While their inclusion caused a few scratched loaves though, the exclusion of Rory Best was fury-inducing for those inside and outside Ireland alike. He was considered a nailed-on Lion while Dylan Hartley was not getting a look in for England. Many also questioned whether Warren Gatland, a man who had previously tried to needle Hartley in public, liked him or loathed him. In the end it is probably true to say there are elements of both, but he respects Hartley enough to take him on tour instead of Best, alongside the young Tom Youngs who has kept him off England’s chariot.

Elsewhere the move to leave out England’s Chris Robshaw had some venomously posting online, while others grinned and thanked Dan Lydiate that the Rose-covered captain was left out. The age old debate about out-and-out sevens, out-and-in sevens or even jackals, fetchers and scarecrows (or whatever the kids call them) runs on, but Robshaw is left standing.

In the backline there were few left-field selections. Sean Maitland has only been in Scotland for six months yet he is now a British and Irish Lion. However, with the spots available and Gatland setting his mind on which numbers were going where there were no selections pulled from the depths of the coach’s backside.

Nevertheless, what it means tactically is still up for interpretation.

Robshaw - right up until the announcement

Robshaw – right up until the announcement

The decision to pick two 10s only means that there will be a long, hard slog for both Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton over the 12 games. Rumours are circling like drunken goldfish that the baby of the tour Stuart Hogg will be an auxiliary fly-half starting some of the earlier games to prove his worth. This is bold, if a little worrying for the Scots who have seen one of their most talented products in years becoming a slave to fortune; the chimp in the cosmetics testing department of the Lions.

Despite this, though, there are two hardy ball-crashing nines, two fly-halves who are abrasive for playmakers, reliable, trusty centres who also crash and the obligatory beefy pack. With several elephantine wingers and full-backs with anti-aircraft weapons in their boots this is very much a Warren Gatland team.

What does that mean? Well, with the Lions one can get caught up in the romance. Like piss-heads chasing curry, Northern rugby people can look for Barbarians-style running at all costs. This, it must be said, would play into Australians hands. They want a loose Lions. Test victory is the most important thing and so this will be avoided by Gatland. He wants momentum and bumping rugby so that the whole team can move forward quickly and violently.

This is a squad with violent and hefty efficiency at its core. Success depends on whether the players realise that and pull together.

The Squad

Backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Rob Kearney (Ireland), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Sean Maitland (Scotland), George North (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Owen Farrell (England), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Mike Phillips (Wales), Ben Youngs (England).

Forwards: Dan Cole (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Matt Stevens (England), Mako Vunipola (England), Dylan Hartley (England), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Tom Youngs (England), Ian Evans (Wales), Richie Gray (Scotland), Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales), Paul O’Connell (Ireland), Geoff Parling (England), Tom Croft (England), Toby Faletau (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Sam Warburton (Wales).

  • ooaahh

    Looks weak at 2 and 5/8 to me. Two key positions. Not so strong at 8 either

    • Graeme

      I wouldn’t say 5/8th is weak at all. No depth, but Sexton is good and Farrel a pretty handy backup.

    • Canuckruck

      A James Hook kind of utilitarian player who also regularly plays fly half for his club (Perpignan) might have made some sense in this selection.

  • Roscoe Tims

    Looks like a ‘horses for courses’ selection to play in Australia. Doesn’t surprise me that Robshaw is missing. He’s a little like how (former NZ cricketer) Bob Cunis was described, neither one thing or another…

    Is this the team Robbie Deans would have selected? Big, non-ball playing inside centres to crash it up the middle. Use a non-specialist to back up other selections, especially at five eighth (Hogg)? I’d have taken a utility – Wilko or Flood maybe. Perhaps Wilko will end up there anyway if there are injuries, seeing he was unavailable for the HK match?

    Stevens in, no Best, no Brown etc. I guess it’s all debatable. Sounds like Stevens is very lucky but by all accounts he’ll be their ‘entertainments and morale’ officer.

    Interesting that there are four Welsh loose forwards and a Kilted Kiwi. Hartley’s a Kiwi too and very abrasive. I can picture him being involved in quite a few scrapes. Plenty of talking points but to me their test XV, which you can easily pick, will be mighty tough.

    • Who?

      Yeah, I thought, Hartley?! Then thought, “Gatland wanted another Kiwi, to go with himself and Maitland…” And of course he’s joined by Manusamoa Tuilagi, Toby Foletau and Mako Vunipola, to ensure it’s not a British and Irish Lions, but a Commonwealth Lions. Yeah, I know they’re all playing their Rugby over there, but still…

      • Piggy

        I don’t think we’d win much of an argument on that, sport like life is multicultural in nature…
        Genia from PNG, QC from the Waikato, Digby from Wellington, Timani from Tonga, etc…

        • Who?

          I know, but it’s nice that we’re not the only ones who can be accused of poaching anymore. And hey – our guys chose to move here. Maitland went there because he wasn’t getting opportunity, Foletau went there because his dad played club back in the shamateur days, Tuilagi plays for England because he was an illegal immigrant… I don’t think we’ve done anything quite like that.

        • Reds man

          Let’s hope Timani isn’t picked!

      • pagey

        Foletau, Tuilagi and Vunipola all grew up in Britain.

    • Graeme

      Robshaw probably can feel a bit unlucky not to be in the 37. But some of his selection seemed to be predicated on him being the Lions captain, even though he was probably not good enough to make the run-on 15.

    • Canuckruck

      Matt Stevens has played some very good rugby this year….

  • cantab

    Ha…Maitland…crazy stuff.

  • Graeme

    Wales 15
    England 10
    Ireland 9
    Scotland 2
    New Zealand 1

    • kiwilad

      You are forgetting the coach

  • Best thing about this squad? No Chris Ashton :) not because he is that good or anything, just because he is an unlikable arrogant dic#head

    Surprised Warburton got the nod for captaincy.. isn’t it his first tour?? Strange, especially when we have little fear over him or his welsh mates who we know and have beaten well so often. When he is giving a talk i can imagine O’Connell and co could be thinking ”what do you know?”

    He is a good player no doubt but Smith/Gill/Hooper should be able to handle him and i cant help but think giving the captaincy to an iconic figure like O’Driscoll would have been better in inspiring the Lions, considering he has beaten us before and toured here back in 01. His try for the Lions was fantastic

    Ridiculous that Rory Best was omitted in place of Dylan Hartley!! Good for us of course and only two 10’s selected also.. interesting (foolish)? Maybe the Wilkinson ”my bodies not up to it” is all a ruse?

    We should take them! 2-1 series win!

  • Luke_Baird

    Gee there is no creativity in those centre selections, and if I were a betting man, it will be 12. Roberts. 13. O’Driscoll. This idea that the Lions’ power will be used to roll over us holds no weight; Roberts hasen’t been effective since, arguable 2 years ago, and he;s been injury proned ever since. O’Driscoll, too, is a shadow of his former self, and since that one pass he gave to Zebo in the 6Nations, has been gloated over. I would’ve brought 12trees and Barrett over Roberts and Tuilagi.

    Mako Vunipola is definitely left field but I can see Gatland’s logic behind picking a backup dynamic prop for Healy, but Stevens as well?

    Gray out of form, would have taken Charteris for his form against us last year, or Launchbury.

    Robshaw’s omission is fine by me, because he’s really a 6.5 and a very average one at that.

    Tom Croft and Dan Lydiate? What is Warren thinking

  • jo

    Two Tongans, two Maoris, two South Africans, and a Samoan walk into a
    bar, and the barman says, “well done on your selection for the British
    & Irish Lions tour to OZ lads”.

British & Irish Lions

Alan Dymock is a student in Scotland working towards a masters in journalism. Formerly contracted to Edinburgh Rugby he has played rugby in some far flung places like Dubai, Canada and Germany. He has also played against the likes of David Pocock and Danny Cipriani, but thankfully he likes enjoying rugby now... Follow Alan on twitter @AlanDymock

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