Reuters

Sam Warburton to captain Lions on New Zealand tour

Warburton to captain Lions on New Zealand tour
By Reuters

19/04/2017 at 21:32

Wales flanker Sam Warburton was confirmed as captain of the British and Irish Lions for the second time on Wednesday but, as widely predicted, there was no place in the squad to tour New Zealand for England captain Dylan Hartley.

Warburton, 28, joins England's Martin Johnson as the only men to have led the Lions twice, having skippered them on the successful 2013 tour of Australia.

Hartley misses out despite leading England to successive Six Nations titles, with his understudy Jamie George preferred at hooker alongside Rory Best and Ken Owens.

Coach Warren Gatland's 41-man squad included a few surprises, not least England centre Jonathan Joseph, who had been widely predicted in local media to have missed out.

Fellow England centre and rugby league convert Ben Te'o was also in, as was Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler, who has yet to start a test for England, and winger Jack Nowell, who has struggled to nail down a starting place under Eddie Jones.

England forward Maro Itoje is the youngest member of the squad at 22.

Ross Moriarty, impressive at number eight for Wales in the Six Nations, was a surprise addition, as was Ireland's New Zealand-born utility back Jared Payne.

In the squad there are 16 Englishmen, 12 from Wales, 11 Irish and two Scots - fullback Stuart Hogg and winger Tommy Seymour. Scotland have not had a Lions test starter since prop Tom Smith in 2001.

"There's been healthy debate about the squad and now that it's been announced we need to get it behind it 100 per cent and get excited about travelling to New Zealand," Gatland told reporters.

"There's competition for places and there will be players fighting for test spots with no clear number one, number two or number three in certain positions. That's what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad going to New Zealand."

Gatland, a New Zealander who led the Lions to success in Australia four years ago, said there were no illusions about the task ahead.

"This is the toughest tour. In previous tours the midweek games tended to be a little easier, but when you look at the quality of the opposition we're facing in midweek it's going to be hugely challenging," he added.

"That's why we've taken a few extra players than we did in 2013, 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."

Warburton is currently out injured, and stood down from the Wales captaincy this year, but said he would be 100 percent fit.

"Even the 2013 tour hasn’t sunk in,’ said the flanker.

"I had a dinner with all the other former captains last night when it sunk in the enormity, I found out last Thursday when Gats called. I was in a supermarket carpark and didn’t believe him at first.

"I only saw the squad list at 11.55. The quality of players is incredible. It gives me as captain a massive amount of confidence going into the tour."

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