British & Irish Lions

The Big Surprises in the British and Irish Lions Squad

The Big Surprises in the British and Irish Lions Squad

Once everyone had stopped spitting tea at their TV and venting their spleen on Twitter, the Isles settled down to look at the British and Irish Lions squad.

Hartley - even Gatland doesn't like him

Hartley – even Gatland doesn’t like him

With 37 squad places you are never going to get unanimous approval. However, within the list were some names that caused enough rancour to rival cancelling summer, footie, beer and the grilling of meats all in one go.

Much like the man himself when he gets his photo taken, there was a sharp intake of breath when Matt Stevens’ name was read out on stage by Lions manager Andy Irvine. Few expected the Saracen to be named – especially since he retired from international rugby last year – but he has toured with the Lions before. Perhaps he is there to lend support to young loose-head and fellow Saracen Mako Vunipola who has been a bit-part player with England but is impressive with ball in hand.

While their inclusion caused a few scratched loaves though, the exclusion of Rory Best was fury-inducing for those inside and outside Ireland alike. He was considered a nailed-on Lion while Dylan Hartley was not getting a look in for England. Many also questioned whether Warren Gatland, a man who had previously tried to needle Hartley in public, liked him or loathed him. In the end it is probably true to say there are elements of both, but he respects Hartley enough to take him on tour instead of Best, alongside the young Tom Youngs who has kept him off England’s chariot.

Elsewhere the move to leave out England’s Chris Robshaw had some venomously posting online, while others grinned and thanked Dan Lydiate that the Rose-covered captain was left out. The age old debate about out-and-out sevens, out-and-in sevens or even jackals, fetchers and scarecrows (or whatever the kids call them) runs on, but Robshaw is left standing.

In the backline there were few left-field selections. Sean Maitland has only been in Scotland for six months yet he is now a British and Irish Lion. However, with the spots available and Gatland setting his mind on which numbers were going where there were no selections pulled from the depths of the coach’s backside.

Nevertheless, what it means tactically is still up for interpretation.

Robshaw - right up until the announcement

Robshaw – right up until the announcement

The decision to pick two 10s only means that there will be a long, hard slog for both Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton over the 12 games. Rumours are circling like drunken goldfish that the baby of the tour Stuart Hogg will be an auxiliary fly-half starting some of the earlier games to prove his worth. This is bold, if a little worrying for the Scots who have seen one of their most talented products in years becoming a slave to fortune; the chimp in the cosmetics testing department of the Lions.

Despite this, though, there are two hardy ball-crashing nines, two fly-halves who are abrasive for playmakers, reliable, trusty centres who also crash and the obligatory beefy pack. With several elephantine wingers and full-backs with anti-aircraft weapons in their boots this is very much a Warren Gatland team.

What does that mean? Well, with the Lions one can get caught up in the romance. Like piss-heads chasing curry, Northern rugby people can look for Barbarians-style running at all costs. This, it must be said, would play into Australians hands. They want a loose Lions. Test victory is the most important thing and so this will be avoided by Gatland. He wants momentum and bumping rugby so that the whole team can move forward quickly and violently.

This is a squad with violent and hefty efficiency at its core. Success depends on whether the players realise that and pull together.

The Squad

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).

British & Irish Lions

Alan Dymock is a student in Scotland working towards a masters in journalism. Formerly contracted to Edinburgh Rugby he has played rugby in some far flung places like Dubai, Canada and Germany. He has also played against the likes of David Pocock and Danny Cipriani, but thankfully he likes enjoying rugby now... Follow Alan on twitter @AlanDymock

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