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British & Irish Lions
Warburton named Lions captain
ESPN Staff
April 30, 2013
Wales' Sam Warburton reflects on being chosen to lead the Lions to Australia
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Wales' Sam Warburton has been named British & Irish Lions captain for this summer's tour of Hong Kong and Australia.

Lions: The winners and losers

England captain Chris Robshaw did not make the grade © Getty Images
  • Winners:
  • Sean Maitland - the Kiwi-born winger only made his Scotland bow earlier this year but he has done enough to see off the challenge of compatriot Tim Visser and Ireland's Simon Zebo - both widely tipped for selection.
  • Dylan Hartley - The Saints hooker may have lost his England place to Tom Youngs but Warren Gatland clearly still rates him - despite what he might have said in public in the past.
  • Jamie Heaslip - The Ireland No.8 has been well below his best for much of the season but offered a timely reminder of his class in Leinster's recent Challenge Cup semi-final triumph.
  • Richie Gray - The Scotland lock has struggled for form and fitness for much of the season and failed to hit his usual heights in the Six Nations but still claims a seat on the place.
  • Matt Stevens - The Saracens prop retired from international rugby last year but the Lions selectors have seen enough on the domestic stage to give him the nod with his versatility also a huge asset.
  • Losers:
  • Chris Robshaw - The England captain has been a consistent performer all season long and came agonisingly close to steering his side to a Six Nations Grand Slam. He is also a key cog in a Quins side that is challenging for honours once again but it is clearly not enough for some.
  • Rory Best - The Ireland hooker had already been pencilled into the Lions' Test XV by many but a drop in form during the Six Nations appears to have put paid to his tour chances.
  • Greig Laidlaw - The Scotland scrum-half was another tipped by countless pundits to lay claim to a place on tour given his form and ability to cover fly-half. But the Lions appear willing to take the risk.
  • Simon Zebo - The Ireland winger is clearly destined for a bright future - going by his fancy footwork in the Six Nations - but he suffers as a result of strength in depth when it comes to his position.
  • Danny Care - The England scrum-half has pushed compatriot Ben Youngs throughout this season but one will head to Australia while the other will have to settle for a tour to Argentina.

There are no places among the 37-man squad for England skipper Chris Robshaw or Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson with the latter having turned down the offer of a place but agreed to be on stand-by in case of injuries. But head coach Warren Gatland handed surprise call-ups to Scotland wing Sean Maitland, England prop Mako Vunipola and 2005 Lions tourist Matt Stevens who retired from international rugby last year.

Gatland appointed Warburton as Wales skipper in 2011 and he went on to steer his country to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and a Six Nations Grand Slam the following year. Wales made it back-to-back championship victories earlier this year with Warburton losing his place and the captaincy through injury. He turned down the chance to lead his country again on his return to form and fitness in favour of concentrating on his own game but Gatland clearly has no concerns about his ability to lead.

Warburton admitted he had known about the news for some time, saying: "Warren gave me a call, it's been nine or 10 days since I found out and the biggest secret I've had to keep. It's unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it's an unbelievable honour.

"Obviously it's going to be new for me and I'm going to learn along the way. I can't sit here and say I know what's going to happen because I don't. There's a good Welsh contingent of leaders who I can rely on and there are other experienced players in the squad who can help me along the way. It's an experience I really can't wait to begin. I'm really looking forward to it now and will just keep doing what I do for Wales because I guess that's what Warren has picked me for."

Gatland said: "In the last two or three years he's been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere. I have a huge amount of respect for Sam, he's an absolute professional and he leads from the front."

Warburton, the first Welsh skipper since the Lions' tour of New Zealand in 1977, will lead a squad comprising 14 of his compatriots while England provide 10 members of Gatland's squad, one more than in South Africa four years ago. There are nine Irishmen in the travelling squad but there was no place for Ulster hooker Rory Best, with England's Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs selected along with Wales' Richard Hibbard. Scotland provide three players - the New Zealand-born wing Maitland, lock Richie Gray and fullback Stuart Hogg - with captain Kelly Brown among those to miss out.

Robshaw becomes the third England captain of the professional era to be overlooked by the Lions, following Phil de Glanville in 1997 and Steve Borthwick four years ago. He appears to be the biggest casualty having led England to within one win of the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam this season

Gatland admitted it had been tough to leave out the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson. "There was a robust debate about the squad and there were healthy discussions for every position," he said. "Some real quality players have missed out. We had a thorough process and it's been tough."

But he did offer hope to those left out, however, saying: "If you look at previous tours six to eight players get injured and there will be a group of back-up players who can be called upon."

Gatland's squad is split into 16 backs and 21 forwards and four weeks today the party will leave for Hong Kong where they open the 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1. "We pretty much finalised the squad last night - the management assembled yesterday afternoon," Gatland said.

"There was some robust debate and I know there will be some disappointed players. There were some really healthy discussions in every position. We've looked at performances over the last few weeks and players who have come back from injury, but the benchmark was the Six Nations.

"Ideally you'd like to pick everyone but we've had a thorough process and we feel like we have an incredibly talented squad with a lot of depth in a lot of positions. All 37 of these players should go to Hong Kong and Australia with the ambition of making the Test side."

Comment

Tour manager Andy Irvine congratulates captain Sam Warburton © Getty Images
  • The wait is over. The British & Irish Lions squad to tackle Australia later this year has been named and the wealth of talent in their ranks should give Australia a few sleepless nights in the coming months.
  • Wales pushed the Wallabies desperately close Down Under last year and having since underlined their superiority with another Six Nations title it is no surprise that they dominate coach Warren Gatland selection. Add in the finest that the rest of the Home Nations have to offer and you have a squad more than capable of claiming a first series triumph since 1997.
  • Sam Warburton may been seen as a gamble by some having toured with the Lions before but he has shown in recent years he is formidable captain, a leader or men who has a CV to trump his rivals - including a World Cup semi-final and a Grand Slam - a strong bond and understanding with Gatland that will a huge asset on what will be a gruelling tour.

    Graham Jenkins

British & Irish Lions squad:

Fullbacks: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales, Cardiff Blues), Stuart Hogg (Scotland, Glasgow Warriors), Rob Kearney (Ireland, Leinster)

Wings: Tommy Bowe (Ireland, Ulster), Alex Cuthbert (Wales, Cardiff Blues), Sean Maitland (Scotland, Glasgow Warriors), George North (Wales, Scarlets)

Centres: Jonathan Davies (Wales, Scarlets), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland, Leinster), Jamie Roberts (Wales, Cardiff Blues), Manusamoa Tuilagi (England, Leicester Tigers)

Fly-halves: Owen Farrell (England, Saracens), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland, Leinster)

Scrum-halves: Conor Murray (Ireland, Munster), Mike Phillips (Wales, Bayonne), Ben Youngs (England, Leicester Tigers)

Props: Dan Cole (England, Leicester Tigers), Cian Healy (Ireland, Leinster), Gethin Jenkins (Wales, Toulon), Adam Jones (Wales, Ospreys), Matt Stevens (England, Saracens), Mako Vunipola (England, Saracens)

Hookers: Dylan Hartley (England, Northampton Saints), Richard Hibbard (Wales, Ospreys), Tom Youngs (England, Leicester Tigers)

Second rows: Ian Evans (Wales, Ospreys), Richie Gray (Scotland, Sale Sharks), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, Ospreys), Paul O'Connell (Ireland, Munster), Geoff Parling (England, Leicester Tigers)

Back rows: Tom Croft (England, Leicester Tigers), Toby Faletau (Wales, Newport Gwent Dragons), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland, Leinster), Dan Lydiate (Wales, Newport Gwent Dragons), Sean O'Brien (Ireland, Leinster), Justin Tipuric (Wales, Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Wales, Cardiff Blues)

Lions boss Warren Gatland poses with captain Sam Warburton following the squad announcement © Getty Images
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