Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad for the British & Irish Lions’ tour to New Zealand this summer has everything you would expect: strength in depth, surprise inclusions and some shock omissions.
Here’s what Gatland and his coaching staff had to say about the selection criteria, why certain players were chosen and what they can expect from facing the All Blacks on their own turf.
On Lions captain Sam Warburton: “When I asked him, he said ‘outstanding, I’d love to.’ And that was enough for me. One of his best qualities is it’s not about Sam Warburton — it’s about the team. It’s about putting the team first.”
On the All Blacks: “It’s not just a rugby culture — it’s the culture of the nation. Every game is going to feel like a final. For the Lions, it’s going to be very intense. We’ve got to earn a little bit of respect from the New Zealand public. We have a few bridges to mend from 2005.”
On the possibility of facing his son Bryn: “The great thing is we’ll have both been involved in a Lions game — the bad thing is that only one of us will win.”
Sam Warburton poses for the cameras having been named British & Irish Lions captain. Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images
On being given the captaincy: “I said yes straight away — it was an easy decision. I didn’t feel comfortable being the Welsh captain for the Six Nation. I didn’t feel I was playing the best rugby. Now I’m really pleased with my form and the way I’m playing. So when they asked me this time around, it was an easy decision to say yes.”
On his injury: “I have an ongoing joke with the physios, because I pick up similar injuries. So I can always diagnose myself on the pitch. I pretty much knew exactly what I did, as I’ve done it about four times in the past eight years. But I knew this time it wasn’t as bad.”
Rob Howley has been chosen as a coach for the British & Irish Lions tour. David Rogers/Getty Images
On the challenge of picking the backs: There could’ve been 15 players that we’ve left out that could’ve gone on the plane to New Zealand.
Howley on how many points you need to beat New Zealand: I said to Johnny Sexton in 2013 that we’ll need two tries to beat Australia. I don’t think two tries will be enough against New Zealand. Conditions will dictate play though obviously in their winter.
Howley on Biggar’s selection: He has that competitive edge. He played particularly well in the Championship, was outstanding against England. You look at the 9-10 combinations too, Ireland, Wales and England. The natural combination gives an edge in selection.
Howley on Farrell: We have selected him as a 10. Its something we are mindful of, he’s very effective as a 10 for Saracens. He can play at 12 quite comfortably at international level.
From left to right: Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley, Steve Borthwick, Neil Jenkins, Andy Farrell, head coach Warren Gatland and tour manager John Spencer. Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images
On whether he has a preferred kicker in mind: “You’ve got seven goal kickers there who can do the job. They’re world class goal kickers but, at this moment in time, I’ve not got a No. 1 goal kicker in mind.”
On the injury worries surrounding Jonathan Sexton: “He’s had a few bumps. It’s probably a fraction of a concern. But he’s a world class player, hopefully he can keep fit and enjoy the whole tour.”
On New Zealand’s danger man Beauden Barrett: “He sees things incredibly quickly. His all round game is outstanding. As a rugby player, based at this moment in time, he’s one of the best in the world.”
Sam Warburton is the reluctant skipper, but the right man to lead the Lions. Tom Hamilton, with the help of Tom Shanklin, looks at why Warren Gatland has handed Warburton the captaincy.
Warren Gatland managed to keep two bolters up his sleeve in Jared Payne and Ross Moriarty and both personify this Lions squad: versatile and powerful.
Warren Gatland has announced his British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer, with Wales back row Sam Warburton confirmed as captain.
On Dylan Hartley’s omission: “It’s one of those positions where we are absolutely spoilt for choice with the options we have. We discussed at length about it. Dylan has been a tremendous leader for England in the last period of time and is playing well, but the key for us was getting the right mix of players. The three we have come we believe give us the right mix of strengths. Jamie’s set piece and his running game, Ken Owens’ form in the Six Nations was tremendous, Rory Best’s competitiveness, his leadership his work at the set piece. So we believe the three we’ve picked have the mix we need for what we want to do in New Zealand.”
On Joe Launchbury/Donnacha Ryan omission: “Courtney Lawes is playing some of the best rugby of his career, the athleticism and work rate of Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Henderson, the lineout ability for George Kruis. We believe in that we’ve got the strength of the players there that we believe are what we need to do down in New Zealand.”
Andy Farrell toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2013 acting as defence coach. David Rogers/Getty Images
On beating the All Blacks: “You’ve got to be at your best. I’ve coached plenty of times against them and lost. You’ve got be able to roll with the punches because you know they’re going to have a purple patch. They’re the world’s best side and have been for a number of years and rightly so. They’re the world’s best as well at taking setbacks, staying calm and getting back continuity of play again. In the two games I’ve been lucky enough to be successful against them they have been a common denominator.”
On Jared Payne’s inclusion: Back in Ireland, we all know how important he is to galvanizing a backline together and how he’s able to perform in big games is super important to a squad like this.”
On the inclusion of Kyle Sinckler: “Energetic, angry young man. I like the way he plays the game. He’s got a very abrasive edge in his game — but we need to keep it the right way. We need him doing the right things and not to get distracted. He is exactly the type of player we need to take to beat the All Blacks.”
On the hookers: “It took some picking, the hooker slots. We had some big deliberations and it took until yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon to pick. All three have undeniable form going into this tour. It was a tough one, but you can’t argue with their form.”
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