So there we have it the touring party (barring injury) for the British Lions 2013 has been named by Head Coach, Warren Gatland as below:-
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).
But how will they get on down under.
The last time the Lions headed to Australia in 2001, it was also led by a New Zealander (then Graham Henry), who was previously the coach of Wales. It started well with a fantastic victory in Brisbane, but as they do the Aussies fought back and won the series 2-1, it was all a bit hazy for me as I had just had a tooth out under sedation so originally I thought it was a dream – but then reality struck!!!!!!!
So what about the squad – well the make up from the nations is as follows – 15 from Wales, 10 from England, 9 from Ireland and 3 from Scotland. Understandably after their Six Nations triumph the Welsh have the most players and it is thought that the backbone of the test side will come from the dragon nation. However as has been said by a number of previous Lions, its all about the team, individuals are weeded out. Furthermore some players do freeze under the pressure whereas others thrive and I would imagine (injuries aside) no one will be able to name the correct 15 for the First Test in Brisbane come the 22nd June.
Now omissions of note – well no Jonny Wilkinson – a shock for me at the time, but when spoken to about this Gatland explained that he had contacted Jonny and the England and Lion great could not give assurances that he would be able to last the full tour citing physical issues, especially as he is very likely to miss the start of the tour due to club commitments. A shame but he had the opportunity though I do note there are only two fly halves in the squad so I have a feeling that if called upon in an emergency Mr W may yet make it onto his third Lions tour.
Other omissions that may get people talking is that of England captain, Chris Robshaw. He was fantastic for the Red Rose in the Six Nations, bar the thrashing from the Welsh in the final crucial game – though the whole team were poor and Wales were magnificent so he is not solely to blame. The back row positions are amazingly strong within the home nations – just look at the names in the touring party, Croft, Tipuric, O’Brien, Heaslip, Lydiate, Faletau and the Captain Sam Warburton (more on him later). One of Wales’ top performers in the Six Nations, Ryan Jones has not even made the cut, partly due to injury, but also Scotland’s Kelly Brown a stalwart for club and country. But again, injuries are common on Lions tours so all is not lost. There is also the name of Rory best off the tour list, a shock to a lot of the experts. Gatland commented that this was the hardest decision he had to make (Dylan Harley, Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs are the three hookers selected), maybes age was a factor as he was the oldest of the three (only by a year) and his form has been sketchy over the season, but again if injuries come about what a player to call upon.
Now onto the captaincy, bookies stopped taking money on Sam Warburton a few days before the announcement. On the face of it, it seems like an obvious appointment, what with Gatland being Wales coach during their most recent successful years and Warburton his captain. However the flanker has had an indifferent last 12 months, with the Welsh team suffering a string of defeats which culminated in him losing the Welsh captaincy during the Six Nations, though there were mitigating circumstances such as injury and the fact that Gatland was not actually coaching the Wales team at that time as he was preparing for this Lions tour. I would have had BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) as mine, but I ain’t a top rugby coach and Gatland himself has said that selection comes down to opinions, they can be wrong but when your head is on the line, picking a man who he has worked with and trusts implicitly is a justifiable choice in my opinion.
So what are your thoughts in regards to the 2013 Lions – will they prevail in Australia. There is pressure as the last Lions tour win was 16 years ago in South Africa – can this vintage do the bizzo. The touring party has been named, the itinerary is in place with an extremely tough initial test in Hong Kong against the Barbarians – roll on June 1st I say. COME ON THE LIONS – get ARRRRRR.