Nine Irish named in Lions squad to be led by Warburton

No place for Rory Best, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony or Mike Ross in Warren Gatland’s touring squad bound for Australia

Nine Irish will join Wales flanker and Lions captain Sam Warburton for this summer's tour of Hong Kong and Australia. Ten English have been selected, with three Scots - Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Kiwi Sean Maitland - also included.

There are no places among the 37-man squad announced by Lions manager Andy Irvine in London today for England skipper Chris Robshaw or Jonny Wilkinson, who effecively ruled himself out, according to head coach Warren Gatland.

“He wasn’t available,” Gatland told reporters. “He said he really appreciated the call but that he was committed to Toulon and would not be able to travel with the squad.”

His absence means it will be a straight shootout between Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell for the number 10 jersey come Test time, a battle the Irishman is favourite to win.


The most notable Irish absentees are hooker Rory Best, wing Simon Zebo, prop Mike Ross, flanker Peter O'Mahony and lock Donnacha Ryan.

"You'd have to feel sorry for Rory Best and Simon Zebo, but Gatland has obviously gone for not just the Six Nations form, but the form of the past few weeks as well," said Irish Times columist and former Ireland international Alan Quinlan this afternoon. "It's incredible to think that someone like Chris Robshaw was going into the last game of the Six Nations as a possible Lions captain and now he's not even on the plane."

Gatland made a few surprise calls, most notably with the New Zealand-born pair of Scotland wing Maitland and England prop Mako Vunipola, and 2005 Lions tourist Matt Stevens of Saracens. The latter, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban, retired from England duty after the 2011 Rugby World Cup but has been included as one of three tighthead options at the expense, perhaps, of Ireland's Ross.

Maitland qualifies for Scotland through his Glaswegian grandparents, who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1960s, and he would appear to have seen off the challenge of Munster's Zebo, one who was strongly fancied to make Gatland's final cut.

“We spent a long time selecting this squad and there were some close calls with a lot of competition for places,” said Gatland today. “But ultimately we chose the players who will give us the best chance of a Test series victory.

“A Lions Tour to Australia only comes around once every 12 years and we believe we have the right balance in the squad to be successful. We have a tremendous challenge in front of us but I know the players will be dedicated to the adventure and task ahead.”

Jamie Heaslip at number eight is the only original Six Nations captain from this year's tournament to receive a call-up. Gethin Jenkins, who ended the campaign as Welsh skipper, is named, but the man he succeeded, Ryan Jones, has been omitted.

Cardiff Blues backrow Warburton is, at 24, the youngest Welsh Lions captain in history. Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals — their best performance for 24 years. After being injured for the opening part of this season's Six Nations, he returned to deliver a man-of-the-match display against Scotland and then starred when Wales inflicted a record 30-3 defeat on England to win the title.

While Wales are celebrating their largest Lions contingent since 16 players travelled to New Zealand 36 years ago, England's representation of 10 is one more than in South Africa four years ago. Ireland had a record 14 players selected for the that tour.

Much of the squad was as expected, however, spearheaded by the likes of Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll, who is on his fourth successive Lions tour, 2009 captain Paul O'Connell and Wales prop Adam Jones. But there are also opportunities for a new generation of Lions, players such as Ireland prop Cian Healy and outhalf Jonathan Sexton, the Wales trio of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Justin Tipuric, and England pair Manu Tuilagi and Farrell.

The 16 backs and 21 forwards will leave four weeks from today for Hong Kong, where they open the 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1st. The Lions then head to Australia with the first of three Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22nd.

Lions squad

Fullbacks (3):Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Rob Kearney (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland).

Wings (4): George North (Wales), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Sean Maitland (Scotland).

Centres (4):Jamie Roberts (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), Manu Tuilagi (England).

Outhalves (2): Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Owen Farrell (England).

Scrumhalves (3):Mike Phillips (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), Conor Murray (Ireland).

Props (6): Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Cian Healy (Ireland), Mako Vunipola (England), Adam Jones (Wales), Dan Cole (England), Matt Stevens (England).

Hookers (3):Richard Hibbard (Wales), Tom Youngs (England), Dylan Hartley (England).

Locks (5): Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Paul O'Connell (Ireland), Ian Evans (Wales), Geoff Parling (England), Richie Gray (Scotland)

Flankers (5): Sam Warburton (capt) (Wales), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Seán O'Brien (Ireland), Tom Croft (England)

Number eights (2):Toby Felatau (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)


Wales - 15

England - 10

Ireland - 9

Scotland - 3

Lions Tour Schedule

Sat Jun 1st: BARBARIANS, Hong Kong Stadium

Wed Jun 5th: WESTERN FORCE, Patersons Stadium

Sat Jun 8th: QUEENSLAND REDS, Suncorp Stadium

Tue Jun 11th: COMB NSW-QLD COUNTRY, Hunter Stadium

Sat Jun 15th: NSW WARATAHS, Allianz Stadium

Tue Jun 18th: ACT BRUMBIES, Canberra Stadium

Sat Jun 22nd: AUSTRALIA, Suncorp Stadium

Tue Jun 25th: MELBOURNE, AAMI Park

Sat Jun 29th: AUSTRALIA, Etihad Stadium

Sat Jul 6th: AUSTRALIA, ANZ Stadium