British and Irish Lions Squad 2017: Warburton to lead Gatland’s Fellowship to New Zealand
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The Lions Tour will take place between June 3rd and July 9th with ten gruelling games, three of which come against the current and seemingly eternal number one team and World Cup winners, New Zealand.
It will be a long tour, and Warren Gatland has stressed that this is a squad about “depth” and “exuberance”, with younger players favoured in the hope they can recover more quickly.
There are some issues with the squad, though, that fans and critics have focused on. The squad contains an impressive - some say over-generous - number of Welsh players, who total 12 of the 41. This has led to some accusations of favouritism, with Warren Gatland’s role as Wales coach perhaps impacting on his decisions, but the accusation quickly falls short when one considers that the Lions squad of 2013 contained 15 Welsh players.
Some have been quick to question the role of Sam Warburton leading the team and not Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales captain, or even Dylan Hartley, omitted from the squad altogether. But, whilst Warburton maybe very well known for his costly red card against France in 2011 or his recent decision to step down as Wales captain, he is one of the best flankers in the world despite a recent dip in form.
Furthermore, in a squad with hot-head-footballer-esque players such as Jonathan Sexton, Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell you need a captain as experienced as Warburton who will now lead the Lions for a second time, equalling Martin Johnson’s record.
Experienced leaders are crucial, especially in a squad that contains so many players who could easily return in four years for the next tour. This extends to the backroom staff. Gatland’s decision to select Andy Farrell and Steve Borthwick as coaches is further evidence this is not a Wales squad, but the best squad for the job.
With only two Scotland players selected, despite their team making the biggest splash at this year’s Six Nations, it seems unfair they have not been rewarded. But Gatland, whilst accepting there were many debates and perhaps some unfortunate players, has stressed this is the right team to take on the All Blacks. Irish players thus play a key role in this squad, being the only Northern Hemisphere team to defeat them recently; their experience is a valuable attribute.
England’s players are largely young - Eddie Jones’ eye for youth has been important in Gatland’s squad, but the team showed its limitations in the Six Nations. Thus the balance in this squad between Wales, Ireland and England tempers the flaws each side showed in the tournament.
Overall, this tour is shaping up to be - at the very least - exciting. And at most? Breathtaking. A series win is what this team deserves and a failure to obtain it will be another step back in the battle between North and South to 'rule them all' in the rugby world rankings.