x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jonny Wilkinson not in Sam Warburton-led British and Irish Lions squad

No place for established English players such as Chris Robshaw in squad bound for Hong Kong and Australia.

Sam Warburton will be joined by 14 other Welshmen in the British and Irish Lions squad. Philippe Lopez / AFP
Sam Warburton will be joined by 14 other Welshmen in the British and Irish Lions squad. Philippe Lopez / AFP

Wales player Sam Warburton has been named British and Irish Lions captain for this summer's tour of Hong Kong and Australia.

There are no places among the 37-man squad announced by Lions manager Andy Irvine in London today for England skipper Chris Robshaw or 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson.

But head coach Warren Gatland handed surprise call-ups to Scotland wing Sean Maitland, England prop Mako Vunipola and 2005 Lions tourist Matt Stevens.

Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, at 24 the youngest Welsh Lions captain in history, will lead a squad comprising 14 of his compatriots.

Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals – Wales' best performance for 24 years – and a Six Nations Grand Slam five months later.

After being injured for the opening part of this season's Six Nations, he returned to deliver a man of the match display against Scotland and then starred when Wales inflicted a record 30-3 defeat on England to win the title.

While Wales are celebrating their largest Lions contingent since 16 players travelled to New Zealand 36 years ago, England provide 10 members of Gatland's squad, one more than in South Africa four years ago.

Stevens, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban, retired from England duty after the 2011 Rugby World Cup but has been included as one of three tight-head options.

There are nine Irishmen in the travelling squad but there was no place for Ulster hooker Rory Best, with England's Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs selected along with Wales' Richard Hibbard.

Scotland provide three players – the New Zealand-born wing Maitland, lock Richie Gray and full-back Stuart Hogg.

Warburton admitted he had known about the news for some time, saying: "Warren gave me a call, it's been nine or 10 days since I found out and the biggest secret I've had to keep.

"It's unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it's an unbelievable honour."

Gatland said: "In the last two or three years he's been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Sam, he's an absolute professional and he leads from the front."

Gatland admitted it had been tough to leave out the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson.

"There was a robust debate about the squad and there were healthy discussions for every position," he said.

"Some real quality players have missed out. We had a thorough process and it's been tough."

He did offer hope to those left out, however, saying: "If you look at previous tours six to eight players get injured and there will be a group of back-up players who can be called upon."

Much of Gatland's squad was as expected, spearheaded by the likes of Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll, who is on his fourth successive Lions tour, 2009 captain Paul O'Connell and Wales prop Adam Jones.

But there are also opportunities for a new generation of Lions, players such as Wales trio George North, Alex Cuthbert and Justin Tipuric, England pair Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell and Ireland prop Cian Healy.

Gatland's squad is split into 16 backs and 21 forwards and four weeks today the party will leave for Hong Kong where they open the 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1.

The Lions then head to Australia with the first of three Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22.

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