More woe for Hartley, Scots as Lions squad for NZ announced
By STEVE DOUGLAS
Apr. 19, 2017
Another hotly anticipated squad announcement for the British and Irish Lions threw up familiar tales of woe for England captain Dylan Hartley and Scottish rugby on Wednesday.
England supplied 16 players to an enlarged 41-man party for the toughest assignment in world rugby — winning a test series in New Zealand — but there was no room for its captain.
For the 2013 Lions tour of Australia, Hartley was withdrawn from the squad after being handed a long ban for verbally abusing a match official. Four years on and now a test captain, the hooker was judged on his playing abilities alone but was overlooked in favor of three rivals — Ireland's Rory Best, Wales' Ken Owens and Jamie George, Hartley's understudy for England.
"There was a genuine discussion about what Dylan could bring to the party," Lions coach Warren Gatland said Wednesday after the squad was announced in central London. "He's very unlucky."
Hartley, who recently led the English to a record-equaling 18 straight test wins, became the third England captain in succession to miss out on Lions selection, after Steve Borthwick in 2009 and Chris Robshsaw in 2013.
"Head down, keep grafting," the New Zealand-born Hartley reacted in a Twitter post. Instead of playing in his home country, Hartley will now captain his adopted nation in its summer tour of Argentina.
If there was heartache for Hartley, there was set to be uproar in Scotland.
Despite winning three games in the Six Nations for their performance in more than a decade and moving up to fifth in the world rankings, the Scots had only two representatives in the Lions squad — fullback Stuart Hogg and winger Tommy Seymour.
There was no Scottish forward in a touring party for first time since 1908. Scotland hasn't had more than three players in a Lions squad in each of the last five tours.
More was expected this time after wins over Wales and Ireland in the Six Nations. In the end, Wales — a country coached by Gatland — had 12 players in the Lions squad and Ireland had 11.
"Scotland beat Ireland and Wales in 6N yet we get 2 and they get 23 players!! (hashtag)strange," tweeted former Scotland and Lions player Andy Nicol.
The theme of continuity extended to Gatland's choice of captain.
Sam Warburton was given the ultimate honor in British and Irish rugby for the second straight tour, having led the Lions in Australia for its 2-1 series win. The Wales flanker will be the second player to captain the Lions twice, after England great Martin Johnson (1997, 2001).
Warburton, who was Gatland's captain for Wales from 2011-16, found out he was being retained in the role when he got a phone call from Gatland as he sat in his car at a supermarket waiting for his girlfriend to return with the shopping.
"It was the pinnacle of my career," Warburton said about the 2013 captaincy, "but this is another step up because it's New Zealand."
Warburton said he would be "100 percent" fit for the start of the tour, despite sustaining a knee-ligament injury while playing for Cardiff Blues on April 7. That ruled him out for six weeks, and the Lions' tour opener is on June 3 against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei.
The squad was heavy on power in both the forwards and at center, a sign of the approach the Lions are expected to take under Gatland for what is set to be a grueling tour featuring 10 matches and culminating in a three-tests series.
Three surprise inclusions were Wales No. 8 Ross Moriarty, Ireland center Jared Payne and New Zealand-born England center Ben Te'o, while England prop Kyle Sinckler got the call even though all of his eight test appearances have come off the bench.
There was no room for three key players for England: lock Joe Launchbury, flyhalf George Ford or fullback Mike Brown. Launchbury was particularly unlucky to miss out, with Lions especially strong in the second row with Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis and Iain Henderson.
In the 2013 tour, nine players were summoned as injury cover so all is not lost for those who missed out.
The Lions have won just one series in 11 trips to New Zealand, 2-1 in 1971, and were demolished 3-0 on their last visit in 2005 by a rampant All Blacks side led by Dan Carter. New Zealand, the current world champion and top-ranked team, hasn't lost a three-test series since 1994.
"We are very happy with the quality we have in the squad," said Gatland, who has been involved in the selection process for the past three Lions squads. "Probably the hardest one we've had. But looking back, we think it's the strongest squad."
Forwards (22): Rory Best (Ireland), Dan Cole (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Joe Marler (England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Ross Moriarty (Wales), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Peter O'Mahony (Ireland), Ken Owens (Wales), Kyle Sinckler (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Billy Vunipola (England), Sam Warburton (Wales, captain).
Backs (19): Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Conor Murray (Ireland), George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Jared Payne (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Ben Te'o (England), Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Liam Williams,(Wales), Ben Youngs (England).
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80