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Warren Gatland names his official 2021 British and Irish Lions squad

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has unveiled his 2021 Lions pick for their tour to South Africa, choosing 11 English players, 10 Welsh, 8 Irish and 8 Scottish in a selection that will be skippered by Alun Wyn Jones of Wales, the most capped Test rugby player of all time, who found out on Sunday that he would be getting the role.

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Following months of speculation, Gatland finally whittled down his options to 37, one player more than the anticipated 36, to take on the Springboks in July and his party will include a bolter in the guise of England’s Sam Simmonds, who has been unwanted by Eddie Jones for quite some time. Last October’s double-winning Exeter No8 was last capped in March 2018.

Recent Six Nations title winners Wales will surely be bemused by how they were not the dominant country in the four-nation selection, their ten picks eclipsed by England who finished fifth in the championship. The dominant country every four years had tended to be the team that won that particular year’s championship.    

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For the 2017 trip to New Zealand, a year when England had retained their Six Nations title, 41 players were originally chosen to tour and the breakdown of that squad was 16 England, 12 Wales, 11 Ireland, 2 Scotland. Four years prior to that, when Wales were back-to-back Six Nations championship, the initial 37-man squad was made up of 15 Wales, 10 England, 9 Ireland, 3 Scotland.

Sixteen different clubs were recognised in the 2021 squad with Saracens emerging as the team with the biggest representation in garnering 5 picks to 4 each for Exeter, Leinster and Scarlets. Edinburgh had 3, Northampton, Gloucester, Munster, Glasgow, Bath and Ospreys 2 apiece, while Cardiff, Connacht, Racing, Sale and Ulster had 1 player each included. 

“It was stressful,” said Gatland about his latest Lions squad selection. “In all my time in coaching this was the hardest, most challenging squad that I have ever been involved in to pick because it is trying to get a balance and understanding what that is.

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“We have seen so many different squads by people and at the end of the day selection is just a matter of opinion and we have got to try and do the best job we can as coaches to put the right squad together that we think can go down there and win a series.  

“It hasn’t been an easy decision. We had a meeting yesterday [Wednesday], it was about four hours and we looked at all our options and we added an extra name. The squad was initially going to be 36 but we have gone to 37 just to try and cover all our bases.

“It was really, really tough and I just need to assure people no decision was taken lightly. It was really thoroughly discussed a lot of the positions and the options trying to get that balance right… some really tough calls.”    

Positional flexibility will be important in South Africa. Gatland mentioned how tighthead Andrew Porter can provide cover at loosehead and while Tadhg Beirne and Courtney Lawes were officially listed as second rows, Owen Farrell as out-half and Elliot Daly as a centre in the announcement, their ability to play elsewhere is viewed as invaluable by management.

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While the 37 players named below will be thrilled with their selection, especially Irish duo Bundee Aki and Jack Conan who had featured in little or none of the pre-selection speculation, there were some big-name casualties including Kyle Sinckler, James Ryan, Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Johnny Sexton, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Jonathan Davies and Manu Tuilagi. 

2021 LIONS SQUAD FOR SOUTH AFRICA (37)
LOOSEHEAD (3): Wyn Jones (Wales/Scarlets), Rory Sutherland (Scotland/Edinburgh), Mako Vunipola (England/Saracens);
HOOKER (3): Luke Cowan-Dickie (England/Exeter), Jamie George (England/Saracens), Ken Owens (Wales/Scarlets);
TIGHTHEAD (3): Zander Fagerson (Scotland/Glasgow), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland/Leinster), Andrew Porter (Ireland/Leinster);
SECOND ROW (6): Tadhg Beirne (Ireland/Munster), Iain Henderson (Ireland/Ulster), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Maro Itoje (England/Saracens), Courtney Lawes (England/Northampton), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales/Ospreys);
BACK ROW (6): Jack Conan (Ireland/Leinster), Tom Curry (England/Sale), Sam Simmonds (England/Exeter), Justin Tipuric (Wales/Ospreys), Hamish Watson (Scotland/Edinburgh), Taulupe Faletau (Wales/Bath);
SCRUM-HALF (3): Gareth Davies (Wales/Scarlets), Conor Murray (Ireland/Munster), Ali Price (Scotland/Glasgow);
OUT-HALF (3): Dan Biggar (Wales/Northampton), Owen Farrell (England/Saracens), Finn Russell (Scotland/Racing);
CENTRE (4): Bundee Aki (Ireland/Connacht), Elliot Daly (England/Saracens), Chris Harris (Scotland/Gloucester), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland/Leinster);
WING (4): Josh Adams (Wales/Cardiff), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales/Gloucester), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland/Edinburgh), Anthony Watson (England/Bath);
FULL-BACK (2): Stuart Hogg (Scotland/Exeter), Liam Williams (Wales/Scarlets).

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Warren Gatland names his official 2021 British and Irish Lions squad

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