The 2013 Lions squad, it has finally been announced. Warren Gatland and Andy Irvine told the press at Syon Park on the 30th April at 11am GMT and we now know the names of 21 forwards and 16 backs who will face the Wallabies in a three test series this summer.
We’ll discuss some of the interesting inclusions and omissions right here on Commentary Box Sports, so keep reading to learn more about the makeup of this years squad.
First things first, here’s the squad:
Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow & Scotland)
Rob Kearney (Leinster & Ireland)
Tommy Bowe (Ulster & Ireland)
Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
Sean Maitland (Glasgow & Scotland)
George North (Scarlets & Wales)
Jonathan Davies (Scarlets & Wales)
Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland)
Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
Manu Tuilagi (Leicester & England)
Owen Farrell (Saracens & England)
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster & Ireland)
Conor Murray (Munster & Ireland)
Mike Phillips (Bayonne & Wales)
Ben Youngs (Leicester & England)
Dan Cole (Leicester & England)
Cian Healy (Leinster & Ireland)
Gethin Jenkins (Toulon & Wales)
Adam Jones (Ospreys & Wales)
Matt Stevens (Saracens & England)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens & England)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton & England)
Richard Hibbard (Ospreys & Wales)
Tom Youngs (Leicester & England)
Ian Evans (Ospreys & Wales)
Richie Gray (Sale & Scotland)
Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys & Wales)
Paul O’Connell (Munster & Ireland)
Geoff Parling (Leicester & England)
Tom Croft (Leicester & England)
Toby Faletau (Dragons & Wales)
Jamie Heaslip (Leinster & Ireland)
Dan Lydiate (Dragons & Wales)
Sean O’Brien (Leinster & Ireland)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys & Wales)
Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues & Wales)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Warren Gatland has opted to install flanker Sam Warburton as the captain for the forthcoming tour of Australia. His name had been mooted along with a few others; most notably Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, but in the end the closeness of Warburton’s relationship with Gatland meant that the Welshman got the nod.
Gatland indicated that the reason for this choice was that Sam was one of the most likely players to feature in the starting XV of the test side. This could indicate that the other specialist 7 Justin Tipuric may have to be content with a place on the bench during the tests, unless of course he can force his way into the coaches thinking.
Is it a good choice? Well, Warburton has struggled with form and injury over the last 15 or so months, but was back to his best as Wales thumped England on March 16th. My own personal view is that I’d rather Warburton focused on his personal game, as at present, Tipuric is a better player. However, I can understand that there weren’t too many other options and I’m relatively happy with Warburton as a leader.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising selection came in the form of the Saracens prop Matt Stevens. Stevens retired from international rugby a year ago, and had only been mentioned in dispatches, so it’s slightly odd to see him selected for a tour of this magnitude.
Staying in the front row, it’s highly surprising to see English hooker Tom Youngs picked along with his deputy Dylan Hartley. In my opinion, Rory Best and Ken Owens both deserved to go ahead of those two.
Moving through the pack, both Richie Gray and Dan Lydiate are potentially risky picks given that they have both been injured for long stretches, but when they are on song they can both be formidable players, so it’s easy to understand why they’ve been included.
There are two other backrowers that are lucky to be included in my opinion: Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip. There’s no doubt that Croft is a good rugby player – he’s lightning fast and his height makes him a shrewd lineout operator – but for me he just doesn’t possess the work rate required for a place in a Gatland backrow. Warren Gatland believes in physicality and graft, and it surprises me to see a flanker selected who seems to spend more time out on the wing than in the ruck.
To be blunt, it beggars belief that Irish skipper Jamie Heaslip has been selected after a dreadful season. Johnnie Beattie and Ben Morgan would both be better options, and Lions fans will have to pray that the Welsh 8 Toby Faletau stays fit for the duration of the tour.
The backline pretty much picked itself, but I am slightly surprised to see Ulsterman Tommy Bowe picked after being injured for the majority of the season.
One of the major talking points immediately after the squad announcement was the absence of a certain Jonny Wilkinson. Gatland has opted to take just 2 specialist 10’s and despite his Heineken Cup master class last week Wilkinson doesn’t feature. However, Gatland clarified that he had enquired as to Wilkinson’s availability and was told that Jonny was not available due to concerns over whether his body could stand up to the rigours of the tour.
English captain Chris Robshaw also misses out, which is highly surprising given his impressive performances in this year’s Six Nations. Robshaw puts his body on the line, and I can’t help but feel that Gatland and his coaching team have picked a few players who have a tendency to shirk their physical obligations more than they should.
As a Lions fan, I am generally happy with the squad. There are no huge surprises, and it’s clear that Gatland is putting together a team to win the arm-wrestle against a skilful Wallaby side. As much as we’d all like to see an open, running game between the Lions and the Wallabies, I think it’s quite clear from this selection that Gatland is opting for brawns rather than brains. I just hope it’s going to be enough.