There was perhaps little surprise in former Wales coach Warren Gatland naming Sam Warburton as his Lions captain (Image | MSN)

There was perhaps little surprise in former Wales coach Warren Gatland naming Sam Warburton as his Lions captain (Image | MSN)

In June 2013, the cream of home nations rugby union talent will travel to Australia for a tour that culminates in a three-match test series after a warm-up series against the country’s club sides. At midday today, on April 30th, 2013, the full squad was announced in London by tour manager Andy Irvine and head coach Warren Gatland.

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

No surprises here, with the trio all having been in form in the Six Nations. Halfpenny and Kearney have both skill and experience, while Hogg adds his fiery pace into the mix. Halfpenny should take up goal-kicking duty for the team.

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

Bowe secures a spot despite injury in recent months, having impressed on the 2009 tour, while New Zealand-born Maitland has experience in southern-hemisphere club rugby. North and Cuthbert were both in fine form in the Six Nations. Powerful Scotland wing Tim Visser is unlucky to miss out on a spot.

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

Roberts and O’Driscoll return from the 2009 squad, where Roberts was named player of the series for the lions. The Irishman will travel for the fourth time, while Davies and Tuilagi have been among the best attacking threats in the northern hemisphere lately.

There was no fairytale call-up for fly-half Jonny Wilkinson after the Toulon exile reportedly declined Gatland's invitation (Image | PA)

There was no fairytale call-up for fly-half Jonny Wilkinson after the Toulon exile reportedly declined Gatland’s invitation (Image | PA)

Fly Halves: Owen Farrell (England), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland).

Farrell showed maturity beyond his years in the spring to cement his place as one of the best fly halves in Europe. Sexton went off injured in the first Six Nations match but returns here on merit, while there is no room for outside shots Jonny Wilkinson and Rhys Priestland. However, only two fly halves for ten matches means they may well end up with a late call.

Scrum Halves: Mike Phillips (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), Conor Murray (Ireland).

Phillips has been comfortably the best scrum half in Europe for a few years now, and is another 2009 veteran. Youngs and Murray showed promise in the Six Nations, and will hope to make the most of their opportunities for playing time down under.

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

The props have mostly been selected on form, in particular Jones and Jenkins whose scrummaging was a key factor in leading Wales to the title this year. Cole and Vunipola were equally impressive, while 2005 Lion Stevens is something of a surprise choice having not played internationally since 2008, and even somewhat controversial after serving a two-year drugs ban.

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

Hartley and Youngs add to the already strong English contingent in the front row, both being called up following good club and international form recently. Hibbard was inspirational at times for Wales, while Ireland’s Rory Best will count himself unlucky not to travel after a strong campaign.

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

Jones, Evans and Gray have all been playing consistently for a number of years now, and should provide plenty of muscle to the pack. Parling has proved himself well since his return to international rugby in 2012, although Joe Launchbury has arguably been playing better of late. 2009 captain O’Connell is another surprise pick, having been replaced in the Ireland side by Donnacha Ryan.

England captain Chris Robshaw was almost universally sympathised with in the rugby press after not making the cut (Image | via Belfast Telegraph)

England captain Chris Robshaw was almost universally sympathised with in the rugby press after not making the cut (Image | via Belfast Telegraph)

Back Rows: Toby Faletau (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Tom Croft (England), Sam Warburton (Wales, Captain).

Faletau and Heaslip will travel as number eights, both standing well above their competitors lately. Choosing flankers from the wealth of talent was always going to be hard for Gatland, and England captain Chris Robshaw is edged out by three Wales players. Lydiate returns from injury to join the in-form Tipuric and O’Brien, 2009 Lion Tom Croft, and Warburton, who will lead the side after captaining Wales to successive Six Nations titles.

Ultimately, it looks as though Gatland has taken the risk of picking form over experience against southern hemisphere sides, going against the grain of previous Lions sides. This could prove telling in the face of fierce home support and the depth of talent available in the current crop of Australians. Add to that the fact that a Lions tour side hasn’t won a test series since 1997 and the odds are stacked against this year’s squad.

The tour will start with a warm up game against a Barbarians side in Hong Kong, before the Lions face the Australian Super Rugby clubs – Western Force, Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs, ACT Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels – and a New South Wales and Queensland representative XV. The three tests will take place on June 22nd, June 29th and July 6th in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney respectively.

Prediction: Australia to win the series 2-1, due to a lack of southern hemisphere in the Lions squad and the fact that Welsh players, who have consistently been outplayed by the Wallabies, will probably make up most of the starting lineup.

Have your say | Tweet the author | @timgreenwood2

Back to Rugby

Twitter | @armchairpundit2

Facebook | The Armchair Pundits

————–

Interested in writing for The Armchair Pundits?

We are always on the lookout for aspiring journalists, click here for details on how you can start contributing.

Advertisements