The Lions squad was always going to divide opinion and so it was the case as Warren Gatland revealed his 39-man group with Sam Warburton named as captain ahead of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell – who are both included.
Many had tipped O’Connell to lead the squad after captaining the side in 2009, but it appears Gatland looked to Wales’ success this year and his relationship with their skipper as a deciding factor.
“The benchmark for us was the Six Nations,” Gatland explained in the aftermath of the announcement and this was certainly evident with 15 Welsh players selected.
Whether England’s collapse against Wales in the Grand Slam decider influenced his decision to exclude Chris Robshaw remains unclear but with ten English players selected it could have simply boiled down to a question of squad balance.
Jonny Wilkinson’s impressive showing for Toulon against Saracens may have seen him talked up as a shock late inclusion but while the former England man is a reserve, Owen Farrell makes the squad.
Alarm bells were ringing following the 21-year-old’s indifferent display for Sarries against the French side and the pressure will be on here with Gatland selecting just two fly-halfs in his group.
The most contentious selection in the squad is arguably that of Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley over the more experienced Rory Best.
Hartley has struggled for Northampton this term and will need to up his game if the Lions are to live up to their billing as favourites to defeat Australia in the series at 8/13.
And while the majority of the squad follows the pre-announcement expectations, there were some raised eyebrows over the inclusion of Matt Stevens despite his England retirement.
“We’ve had a thorough process. It’s been tough, robust, but we feel we have an incredibly talented squad with depth in all positions, ” Gatland said.
With the Lions on at 4/6 to claim the first test on June 22nd, the proof will be in the pudding.
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