#Lions tours are like no other. They are such a unique experience for players, coaches and fans. With the British & Irish Lions recording just three tour victories since 1974, and the four individual nations being able to more than hold their own in the professional era, the Lions' significance is waning. With victory secured in Australia four years ago, there is a glimmer of optimism this summer met with the realism that the British & Irish side will be facing number one ranked and double reigning World Champions New Zealand. With Ireland defeating the All Blacks last autumn and England losing just once since Eddie Jones took over at the start of 2016, the Lions may just have the weapons to hurt the world champs this summer..
Coach Warren Gatland has now named his squad in perhaps one of the most competitive selections we’ve ever seen. The Scots will be disappointed that after a very strong Six Nations that only two of their internationals get a call-up, but such is the strength of British & Irish #Rugby at the moments, many others will be disappointed.
41 men on route to New Zealand: who's made the cut?
In the pack, it’s the name that isn’t there that stands out. England captain Dylan Hartley has lifted two Six Nations trophies in a row, including a Grand Slam and 17 successive victories on the spin. A slightly disappointing Six Nations campaign from a personal point of view saw hooker Hartley subbed off for Jamie George in all five matches, with Saracens’ man George looking lively.
New Zealand-born Hartley would have relished going back to his homeland, and he game himself a great chance in outplaying George when his Northampton met Saracens at the weekend, but it wasn’t enough.
You could argue that Warren Gatland had nine world class second rows to choose from, so four were always going to miss out on a trip to New Zealand. Despite being England’s best player in their triumphant Six Nations campaign, Joe Launchbury misses out in favour of George Kruis, who has only recently returned from a broken leg. The big hitting Courtney Lawes wasn’t favoured by many, but he has surprisingly leapfrogged Scottish brothers Richie and Jonny Gray, with Ireland’s Iain Henderson nudging out compatriot Devin Toner. Ross Moriarty is the shock selection in the back row with Gatland selecting eight loose forwards, which seems surprising given locks Henderson, Lawes and Maro Itoje can all play as a blindside flanker..
Things do get more straightforward in the back-line, with only a handful of names not quite justifying their selection. Dan Biggar is sensational on his day, but this has been balanced out with some very average performances since the World Cup. His reputation for being a big name player perhaps gives him the edge over the off-the-cuff Finn Russell. Leigh Halfpenny has seen a serious dip in form since an injury just before the 2015 World Cup, with even his usual reliable kicking game not up to standard. The Welsh full-back perhaps gets in on reputation, with the never say die Mike Brown the unfortunate man to miss out.
Horses for courses and plenty of versatility
Ireland’s Jared Payne and England’s Ben Te’o will bring some local knowledge with both centres having grown up in New Zealand. Being able to combat their running game will be crucial, and these typical southern hemisphere mould players may continue their rise and compete for a test spot. It was reported that the fleet-footed Jonathan Joseph was going to miss out, but the England centre makes the squad, meaning six centres will be on the plane, plus 10/12 hybrid Owen Farrell and utility man Elliot Daly.
The Lions will have six warm-up fixtures against some of the best Kiwi Super Rugby sides to get in shape for the first test on 24 June. Gatland will want to try a few combinations to see what can crack the Kiwi defence, meaning that the squad members will have just three weeks of game time to secure a test jersey. They will be up against it this summer, but if the Lions take the game to the All Blacks, they could roar once again. #AllBlacks