SYON PARK, LONDON — Warren Gatland still had two names up his sleeve who had fallen through the cracks of feverish speculation about the make-up of his 41-man British & Irish Lions squad.
Ireland’s Jared Payne and Wales’ Ross Moriarty were the surprise inclusions, and despite the bumper squad, vast experience from across the British Isles will be left waiting for others’ misfortune to get a late place on the plane to New Zealand.
Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, George Ford, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell are all mainstays for their countries but will head off on summer tours, keeping half an eye on events in New Zealand.
Warren Gatland has announced his British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer, with Wales back row Sam Warburton confirmed as captain.
Sam Warburton is the reluctant skipper, but the right man to lead the Lions. Tom Hamilton, with the help of Tom Shanklin, looks at why Warren Gatland has handed Warburton the captaincy.
Head coach Warren Gatland and his coaching team give their reaction to the British & Irish squad announcement ahead of the summer tour to New Zealand.
In total, Gatland has turned to 16 Englishmen, 11 Irish players, 12 from Wales and just two from Scotland — a tally matching the pair who travelled to Australia in 2013. Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg were the lucky two; others can feel aggrieved.
Moriarty and Payne personify this squad: versatile, powerful and an ability to play across game plans. Moriarty, who has 17 Wales caps, can play across the back-row and possesses soft hands alongside his obvious ballast. His performance against England — one of the showings of this year’s Six Nations — saw his stock rocket. Gatland took notice, as would have the other coaches, and now he is in the party.
With Payne, he knows first hand what it takes to beat the All Blacks, having been a key figure in that memorable win for Ireland in Chicago. That knowledge, that self-belief is essential alongside his ability to play across fullback and in the centres.
This is a big squad, built on power and an ability to run through the All Blacks, as well as around them. They will be the giants who will be looking to chop down the New Zealanders at source; give the Kiwis an inch and they will take a try.
Ross Moriarty in action for Wales against England. Paul Jenkins/Action Plus via Getty Images
But they are expecting an attritional time. In 2013, nine players were called up outside of the original 37-man squad. This explains the extra four taken this time around, to ensure there is always a competitive number for training despite the toil.
“We just needed to make sure we have the depth and quality in the squad to make sure we can handle the quality of the sides we’re coming up against,” was Gatland’s message at the unveiling of the squad.
With Sam Warburton confirmed as captain, there are a number of leaders in the squad for him to call upon. Alun Wyn Jones, who is on his third Lions tour, and Rory Best skippered Wales and Ireland respectively in the Six Nations. Sixteen toured in 2013 and they know what it takes to win a series. Gatland always spoke of the need for continuity from 2013 — he certainly has that among the backroom staff and squad.
But at the heart of this squad is power. Ben Te’o, who has just eight England caps, exemplifies this, as do Moriarty, the Vunipola brothers, George North and Jamie George. They will be tasked with causing havoc in the New Zealand ranks.
Wednesday marked the first defining moment for Gatland as Lions coach in this journey. As Sir Clive Woodward found out in 2005, a heavy defeat on New Zealand soil can cast a shadow over other career achievements.
Gatland will know the pressure and size of the task that awaits him, but he will be going with arguably the biggest touring party ever assembled under the famous badge, and according to the coach, it is the strongest he has ever been involved with.
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Gatland picks giants to cut down Kiwis
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