After the big announcement of yesterday, an even bigger one today. Governments last 5 years, sometimes less. A Lion is for life.
“You’ll meet each other in the street in 30 years time and there will just be a look, and you’ll know just how special some days in your life are…..and on that field sometime today all it will be between you will be a look.” (Ian McGeechan, 1997)
The rumours were true. Sam Warburton retains his position as captain despite not being entirely secure of his place in the Welsh starting XV let alone a Lions Test jersey, and there is no place on the plane for Dylan Hartley despite skippering England to their second consecutive 6 Nations title.
Both decisions are understandable. Gatland clearly has a good working relationship with his captain and was keen to keep consistency from the successful tour of Australia in 2013. And Hartley is up against stiff competition at hooker and has his foibles.
I was born in England, my passport says British, but every four years when you cut me I bleed red, white, blue and green. At one point during a previous tour I declared that I wanted Welsh scrum half Mike Phillips to be my Daddy (I now realise this was wrong on many levels). So I think I can say without fear of bias that the squad of 41 seems unduly Welsh-centric.
Major omissions, less understandable than Hartley, include Joe Launchbury who had a superb 6 Nations and at the age of 26 seems to be developing into a world class lock. It is simply unfeasible that he couldn’t have made a positive impact somewhere on the ten-match tour that starts on 3 June. And Scottish heads will be scratching at the inclusion of only 2 players from their much improved squad.
But squad selection will be a distant afterthought come June and entirely forgotten by July if we emerge victorious from the sternest test a Lion can face. The bookies rate our chances of a series win at 7/2, but they have been known to get it wrong on the big occasion, not least the last two times the country went to the polls, so there is hope.
Top 5 Lions Moments
5) Jason Leonard lays down the law before the first game of the 1997 tour to South Africa:
4) After losing the 1st Test to Australia in 1989, the Lions decide to mix it up a bit. Robert Jones steps on his opposite number and then Finlay Calder and Mike Teague join in:
3) Johnny Sexton secures the series win in 2013 with a finely worked try (watch from 3:25):
2) McGeechan gives his teamtalk before the 2nd Test in South Africa 1997:
1) The 2001 midweek side overturn a half time deficit and lacklustre display against the ACT Brumbies to keep pride and the unbeaten Australian tour record intact (watch from 6:21):