Red rage: Scotland fans have been angered by the Welsh influence within the Lions party. Pic: Getty Images.

Warren Gatland’s Red Dozen Is Astonishing – Especially For Scots

The Lions squad has a thicker band of red than most Wales fans would have guessed – and more than was deserved, according to Robin Davey. The Scots, he says, have been short-changed with their thin blue line.

 

Warren Gatland may be taking a jumbo-sized 41-man Lions squad to New Zealand this summer, but how on earth have Wales managed to get 12 players on to the plane?

A mediocre autumn series last year was followed by an unsuccessful Six Nations campaign which ended with Wales finishing in a lowly fifth position, only the hapless Italians below them in the table.

On that basis most people expected no more than seven or eight Welsh players to make the Lions squad, even more so since they were well beaten on tour Down Under last summer into the bargain.

I doubt even the wildest optimist would have expected as many as 12 players to make Gatland’s cut.

Pretty much nailed on were George North, Liam Williams, Rhys Webb, Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton, even though Faletau played little part in the Six Nations after suffering ankle and knee problems.

That leaves the choice of Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, Dan Biggar and Ross Moriarty as the bonus. Sure, a case could be made out for all of them, but how many truly expected them to be in the Lions squad? Precious few I’d suggest.

Moriarty is the real wild card, but what makes the round dozen an even more remarkable number is the fact that Ireland provide one less player than Wales and Scotland have a paltry two in the squad.

The Scots, in particular, must feel mighty aggrieved for they beat Wales in the Six Nations, though they were thrashed by England. And Ireland, though defeated by Wales, ended up with a notable victory over England having beaten the All Blacks in the autumn as well.

Gatland has probably strengthened the cause for Scottish independence after this selection, with only Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour making even such a large squad.

Several more, particularly lock Richie Gray and wing Sean Maitland, could justifiably have been included while among the Irish to count themselves unlucky are Simon Zebo, Keith Earls and Jamie Heaslip.

England provide the largest contingent of players with 16, and rightly so considering they were just one win away from breaking the world record for consecutive wins. But many still believe Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury and James Haskell should have made the squad as well.

It’s not just among the players where Wales have come off well, of course, for apart from Gatland as coach, Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins are among the support staff.

Again that’s not bad considering where they ended up in the Six Nations, though it has to be said coaches like Eddie Jones, Joe Schmidt and Gregor Townsend all ruled themselves out.

One area, though, where there will be few dissenters anywhere is the choice of captain. Sam Warburton becomes the first Welshman to coach the Lions on successive tours.

He is out with a knee injury at the moment, but he is expected to be fit in time for the tour, and he found out about his selection via a call on his mobile in a supermarket car park out shopping with his wife, though even then he thought it was a Cardiff Blues teammate winding him up and he turned his phone off.

Nevertheless, it’s an honour well deserved, it has to be said, and the fact that such rugby greats as Sir Ian McGeechan, Sir Clive Woodward and Brian O’Driscoll had all suggested the role should be Warburton’s is more than enough of a recommendation.

But between now and lift-off for New Zealand, a lot of rugby has to be played including domestic finals just one week before the first match.

That seems crazy, while no less a figure than Sir Graham Henry has labelled the itinerary suicidal.

More of that another day. For now Wales must be grateful that lady luck appears to be shining down brightly on them.

 

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