English left out in cold as Welsh stars queue up to be the Lion kings

By Ian Stafford


It was 80 minutes that would change the shape of the British and Irish Lions and transform an English-dominated group of players intent on winning a first series for 16 years into a squad jam-packed full of Welshmen determined finally to beat Australia.

As England ran out in Cardiff last month just one game away from the Grand Slam, the make-up of the Lions squad of 38 players had a decidedly white tinge to it.

Far from certain: Chris Robshaw could miss out

Far from certain: Chris Robshaw could miss out

Eighty minutes later, not only was the Slam and the title gone, but also English dreams of leading the Lions to glory Down Under.

An English Grand Slam would have made it impossible even for a Lions management headed by Welsh head coach Warren Gatland and his trusty lieutenant, Rob Howley, to ignore, but the 30-3 thrashing meted out to them by Wales has had crucial connotations way beyond the Six Nations.


Props: Adam Jones (Wal); Gethin Jenkins (Wal); Dan Cole (Eng); Cian Healey (Ire); Mike Ross (Ire); Ryan Grant (Sco).

Hookers: Rory Best (Ire); + two from Tom Youngs (Eng); Dylan Hartley (Eng); Richard Hibbard (Wal).

Locks: Alun Wyn Jones (Wal); Ian Evans (Wal);
Paul O’Connell (Ire); Geoff Parling (Eng);
Richie Gray (Sco).

Back Row: Sam Warburton (Wal), Justin Tipuric (Wal); Dan Lydiate (Wal); Tom Croft (Eng); Sean O’Brien (Ire); Toby Faletau (Wal) + 1 from Chris Robshaw (Eng); Jamie Heaslip (Ire); Tom Wood (Eng); Ryan Jones (Wal);
Ben Morgan (Eng).

Scrum-Halves: Mike Phillips (Wal); Ben Youngs (Eng); Danny Care (Eng).

Fly-Halves: Jonny Sexton (Ire); Owen Farrell (Eng) and possibly one from Dan Biggar (Wal) and Jonny Wilkinson (Eng).

Centres: Jamie Roberts (Wal); Jonathan Davies (Wal); Brian O’Driscoll (Ire); Manu Tuilagi (Eng) and possibly either Brad Barritt (Eng) or Billy Twelvetrees (Eng).

Wings: George North (Wal); Alex Cuthbert (Wal), Tommy Bowe (Ire) + possibly 1 from Simon Zebo (Ire), Sean Maitland (Sco) or Chris Ashton (Eng).

Full-Backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wal); Rob Kearney (Ire); Stuart Hogg (Sco).

After four Tests, at least a dozen Englishmen would have been making plans for a summer in Australia - and that included Chris Robshaw as a strong contender as captain.

After five, that number has been reduced to no more than nine and very possibly fewer, which is no better than the likely contingent from an Irish team who finished fifth.

England captain Robshaw is far from likely to be one of them after he and his English back row were exposed by Wales's specialists.

Others who could miss out are rival hookers Tom Youngs or Dylan Hartley, wing Chris Ashton, Joe Launchbury and Mako Vunipola.

Scotland could provide as few as three players, who will feel overshadowed by the army of Welsh players - as many as 16 - from those who added the Six Nations title to the familiarity they already hold as advantages with Lions coach Gatland and his No 2.

A squad of 38 players has been pencilled in for a tour which could see the Lions winning their first Test series since victory in South Africa in 1997, with all but four or five places agreed.

The weekend's European semi-finals, featuring potential Lions playing for Saracens, Toulon and Leinster, will play a key part in final deliberations thrashed out tomorrow in London before Tuesday's squad announcement.

These talks will focus on confirming the captain, with Sam Warburton likely to see off the claims of Brian O'Driscoll, plus the final berths on offer at hooker, in the back row, in the pivotal No 10 jersey, the centres and the back three.

The likely choice of Warburton proves what a major shift in fortunes the Six Nations produced.

He began as Wales captain but they crashed at home to Ireland in their opening game.

Injury then forced him to miss the win in France and, on his return, he was named on the bench in Italy.

But a man-of-thematch display against Scotland and another worldclass performance versus England saw his stock rise dramatically.

Something that could count against his captaincy claim was his request not to lead Wales in their final win over England.

With regular captain Ryan Jones injured, Howley opted for Gethin Jenkins after 'mutually agreeing' with Warburton not to promote him.

Warburton said at the time: 'I quite enjoyed not having the responsibilities a captain has, especially before the game. I could sit down in the changing room and focus on myself.'

Despite some impressive efforts from relative Test newcomers in the Six Nations, Gatland will plump for Test and, in particular, Lions experience, which is why Tom Croft, who scored two tries in the first Lions Test against South Africa in 2009, will be pressing hard for a place in the starting XV.

Likewise Paul O'Connell, the 2009 Lions captain, will be named despite missing the whole of the Six Nations through injury and, quite possibly, Tommy Bowe, who was also injured.

Likely to make the trip: Paul O'Connell

Likely to make the trip: Paul O'Connell

The coaches, with England's Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell in charge of the pack and defence to add to Gatland, Howley and kicking coach Neil Jenkins, believe the Australian trip will be physically intense, which is why 21 forwards and 17 backs look likely to be selected.

With the first Test in Brisbane less than eight weeks away, Gatland and Co will need to move fast to gel this Lions squad, but with so many Welshmen involved - and right now a possible nine of them looking good for the Test starting XV - his job will be made that much easier.

The trick will be keeping the few English, Irish and Scots happy amid the mass of Welshmen against a Wallaby team who beat Wales in all three home Tests last summer and who are ironing out their player issues to suggest that they will be ready and waiting on June 22.

The question is, will the Lions?


The comments below have not been moderated.

Remember at the start of the Six Nations, the media was saying it should be an all England Lions squad. They simply could not score tries. I agree it should be a team made up of British and Irish passport holders. It is the British and Irish Lions, right?

Click to rate     Rating   13

Why they are considering Farrell, he is NOT good enough, maybe next time.

Click to rate     Rating   8

Why on earth aren't players like Delon and Seffon Armitage being considered?

Click to rate     Rating   11

Northumberland, United Kingdom, 28/4/2013 20:06. You actually appear not to like rugby so why post, or are you doing impressions of Victor Meldrew?

Click to rate     Rating   13

Has the Head coach got a British Passport ? just like the UK the whole thing is a sham, its time it was all scrapped so we can go our own way.

Click to rate     Rating   22

Northumbrian , Northumberland, United Kingdom, 28/4/2013 10:31 My young 6 year old son often came out with that type of nonsense. However he is now all grown up. lol

Click to rate     Rating   19

Who cares the whole thing is a sham anyway.

Click to rate     Rating   44

All squad members should hold either a British or Irish passport. It would be an insult if any players without one were picked.

Click to rate     Rating   33
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