The last time the Lions toured the shores of Australia they came home with their tails between their legs, having lost against the soon to be crowned world champions two games to one. Twelve years later they have selected a side full of exciting young players who are desperate to prove to the world that European rugby can front up to the Southern Hemisphere giants of Australia.
Coach Warren Gatland was always going to favour his Welsh players and has chosen a team that is made up of 15 Welsh, 11 English, 9 Irish and 3 Scottish. The side boasts a total of 1465 international caps. The key is his choice of Captain Sam Warburton who has 38 caps for his country and lead his team to a third place finish in the 2011 Rugby World Cup as well as secure the 2013 Six Nations Championship.
The Squad of 38 is split into 22 forwards and 16 backs.
Forwards (International Caps):
Props: Dan Cole (40), Cian Healy (39), Gethin Jenkins (98), Adam Jones (88), Matt Stevens (39), Mako Vunipola (9)
Hookers: Dylan Hartley (43), Richard Hibbard (23), Tom Youngs(8)
Locks: Ian Evans (30), Richie Gray (31), Alun-Wyn Jones (70), Paul O’Connell (85), Geoff Parling (13)
Back Rows: Tom Croft (36), Toby Faletau (26), Jamie Heaslip (57), Dan Lydiate (27), Sean O’Brien (27), Justin Tipuric (15), Sam Warburton (38) (capt)
TOTAL FORWARD CAPS: 842
Backs (International Caps):
Scrum-halves: Conor Murray (19), Mike Phillips (77), Ben Youngs (33)
Fly-halves: Owen Farrell (16), Jonathan Sexton (36)
Centres: Jonathan Davies (36), Brian O’Driscoll (125), Jamie Roberts (53), Manu Tuilagi (19)
Wings: Tommy Bowe (51), Alex Cuthbert (18), Sean Maitland (5), George North (31)
Fullbacks: Leigh Halfpenny (43), Stuart Hogg (15), Rob Kearney (46)
TOTAL BACK CAPS: 623
A bit of a shock selection is that of Matt Stevens, England prop who has retired from international rugby – one would think there would be better options in the front row, Scotland’s Ewan Murray comes to mind. Stevens has had a good season, but there are others that are still hungry for international rugby.
The hooker selections were rather puzzling with Dylan Hartley, Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs making up the core. One wonders how two Englishmen get selected when players like Scotlands Ross Ford and Irelands Rory Best missing out completely.
It is also interesting to note that Gatland only selected two fly halves, Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell for this demanding tour. While no other names necisarily spring to mind when thinking of world class no.10’s, history shows us that it is wise to have someone who can play no.10 available on tour in case there is injury to the starter. With the amount of running rugby undoubtedly about to be played, injury and fatigue will take its tole in the back line.
The Lions first warm up game is on the 1st of June against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. They then begin their assault on Australian soil on June the 5th where they take on the Western Force in Perth. Their first of three test matches take place in Brisbane on the 22nd of June.