England stars to miss Lions tour? Gatland’s five biggest headaches

9:00 AM GMT

The British & Irish Lions coaches meet on Tuesday afternoon to finalise selection and then on Wednesday, at midday in a small corner of west London, tour manager John Spencer will read out the players chosen by Warren Gatland to represent the Lions in New Zealand.

Here we look at the five potential selection headaches for Gatland ahead of the announcement.

Will big name England players miss out?

Jonathan Joseph in action for England during the Six Nations. Warren Little/Getty Images

The England camp was staying tight-lipped, but reports on Monday from the BBC and Telegraph suggest a number of Eddie Jones’ high-profile players will miss out on selection. There’s still expected to be a large England contingent in New Zealand but those reports suggest George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown are all out in the cold.

Confirmation will come on Wednesday but if Ford and Joseph miss out, then it points towards Gatland selecting physicality and bulldozing ability over more subtle options. If Ford’s out, then Wales No.10 Dan Biggar will go. Similarly, if Joseph is left out then it opens the door for Ben Te’o to emerge as a potential bolter.

Will there be a bolter?

Donnacha Ryan takes on George Ford. Clive Mason/Getty Images

In 2009 Keith Earls was the surprise inclusion and in 2013 it was veteran prop Matt Stevens. 2017? Brian O’Driscoll has tipped Ireland’s veteran lock Donnacha Ryan to make a late charge into the squad, but the ambiguity in the back three offers someone from outside those who featured in the Six Nations a chance to gatecrash the party.

Chris Ashton, Denny Solomona and Christian Wade all fit the bolter tag, with all three yet to feature under Eddie Jones. The trio are all superb finishers, and have the ability to create a try from nothing, but it would be a surprise if any are named on Wednesday.

Instead, the closest thing the Lions will probably have to a bolter will be Harlequins’ Kyle Sinckler, who has eight England caps from the bench, or cross-code centre Te’o.

Do you risk giving the captaincy to the injured Sam Warburton?

Sam Warburton was injured in Blues’ match against Ulster on April 7. Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The six-week time-frame on Warburton’s latest injury means he will be fit again, albeit with a lack of battle-hardened game time, in late May. That prognosis means he should be chomping at the bit to run out against the NZ Barbarians team on June 3.

But this latest injury is worrying and it bears more than just a passing resemblance to what happened before the 2013 tour. Also, Warburton’s form improved in the Six Nations without the Wales captaincy.

Despite factors offering Gatland a cautionary tale, Warburton is still the red-hot favourite to be crowned Lions captain on Wednesday. The other options, including his injured Wales teammate Alun Wyn Jones, all boast impressive captaincy credentials but Warburton’s knowledge of leading the Lions combined with Gatland’s admiration for him means he will more than likely be named skipper.

Do you take Dylan Hartley?

Dylan Hartley has captained England to back-to-back Six Nations titles. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Hooker is a real problem position for Gatland. Though they have international captains in Dylan Hartley and Rory Best, Jamie George is the only one who can come close to rivalling the brilliant Dane Coles. Then there are Wales’ Ken Owens, Scotland’s Fraser Brown and even Richard Hibbard who all pack a punch.

Hartley’s leadership skills and captaincy experience should see him travel — both are key traits for the midweek games — but George, unlike with England, goes as first choice hooker.

Where does Owen Farrell fit in?

Owen Farrell is one of England’s three vice-captains under Eddie Jones. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Farrell has to start against the All Blacks; that’s as much of a guarantee as Line of Duty offering a cliff-hanger at the end of every episode. But does he go as fly-half or a centre option?

The format for the announcement sees Spencer read out the players, position-by-position, starting with the fullbacks. Farrell will either be included as a centre or fly-half. It’s only mere semantics in the announcement, but if he is categorised as a centre then it offers Gatland the chance to take an extra No.10. If he is named in the fly-half bracket alongside Jonathan Sexton, like he was in 2013, then Gatland may look to a part-time No.10 to slot in as third choice, like he did with Hogg four years ago.

The placing of Farrell will be fascinating and an early sign of the Test 10-12-13 taking shape. O’Driscoll told ESPN that his first choice combination is Sexton-Farrell-Henshaw. If Farrell’s name appears among the centres, then that takes another step forward to becoming a reality.

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England stars to miss Lions tour? Gatland’s five biggest headaches

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