Alun Wyn Jones led the Lions to victory in the third Test against Australia in 2013. Pic: Getty Images.
Warren Gatland has revealed he never considered leaving Alun Wyn Jones out of his Lions squad – even though the Wales forward may not play again this season.
Jones is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and Ospreys coach Steve Tandy has said his skipper could miss their remaining two Guinness Pro12 matches as well as the play-offs if they get there.
Jones has not played since suffering the injury against France in the last weekend of the Six Nations five weeks ago.
Gatland has said he will need to see evidence that all injured players in his 41-man squad will be ready for the first match of the tour to New Zealand on June 3, but insisted: “We weren’t going to leave out Alun Wyn Jones or Maro Itoje. They were nailed on for us.”
Gatland saw enough in Jones during his Six Nations displays against England and Ireland to recognise he had to take him on a third Lions trip.
It was also the game between Wales and England that convinced Gatland to pick England centre Jonathan Joseph.
“We had a good discussion about the midfield and I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out,” Gatland said.
“He has his points of difference of footwork and speed and the lines he ran against Scotland in the Six Nations were outstanding.
“He’s got some weaknesses but when I look at it from a Welsh perspective, he’s the one player who causes us so many problems when we play England because of his footwork and pace.”
It was the havoc caused by Joseph against his Wales teams in the past that persuaded Gatland not to add him to a list of big-name English omissions that include Dylan Hartley, George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw.
One month after England were crowned RBS 6 Nations champions for a second successive year, they were rewarded by supplying the largest portion of the Lions squad numbering 16 players.
Yet there are some significant absentees, the most notable of which sees their captain Hartley overlooked in favour of his international understudy Jamie George, who travels as one of three hookers alongside Rory Best and Ken Owens despite never having started a Test.
“We couldn’t leave Jamie out. There’s a potential for him to keep improving. He’s done a good job coming off the bench and is playing well for Saracens,” Gatland said.
“We felt there’s continued improvement in him as a player and that Rory and Ken had great Six Nations.
“There was always going to be a tough call and someone was always going to be disappointed.”
Launchbury was another to slip out of contention in the ferociously competitive second row position despite emerging as England’s stand-out performer during the Six Nations, winning two man of the match awards.
Jonny and Richie Gray were missing from Scotland’s sparse two-man contingent, while Donnacha Ryan was also absent, George Kruis, Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson and Jones the preferred options.
Ultimately it came down to a straight choice between Launchbury or his England team-mate Lawes with Wasps director of rugby Dai Young “mystified” by the call to leave out his club captain.
“Again, it’s the same thing. Joe is unlucky and we had a discussion about the second-rows,” Gatland said.
“We discussed the differences between Courtney and Joe. They’re different players and if we’d left out Courtney we’d be asked the same questions.”
Owen Farrell is present as one of three fly-halves alongside Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar and Gatland believes the kicking tee is a department in which the Lions should be able to master over the All Blacks.
“We’ve got four or five of the world’s best goal kickers going with us and if we’re going to have an edge somewhere it could be in that area.
“Beauden Barrett is not kicking at the moment, his brother is for the Hurricanes and it may be the difference.”
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