“I must admit that I did show my surprise to the television in front of me on at least one occasion.”
Former British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has admitted that several selections in this year’s squad took him by surprise.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland is certainly not afraid to make big decisions, and showed that again on Thursday afternoon as his 37-man squad for this year’s tour to South Africa was announced.
Two-time Lions captain Warburton was writing in The Times about his surprise at certain selections, particularly in the back row where Jack Conan and Sam Simmonds were named ahead of several more experienced internationals.
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Sam Warburton on the Lions selection.
“I must admit that I did show my surprise to the television in front of me on at least one occasion,” Warburton said.
“I think it must have been a close call between Conan and Josh Navidi (who can play anywhere across the back row including number eight), and Conan’s greater game-time of late must have held sway because I know how much Gatland rates Navidi.
“Sam Underhill must be another affected because of his lack of game-time. I’m pretty sure that if they had been fully fit throughout this year, and especially the Six Nations, Gatland would have loved to have them in his squad.”
‘Gatland has been ruthless.’
There were also a number of big calls made in the centres, as experienced two-time Lions tourist Jonathan Davies missed out, as well as in-form outside-centres Garry Ringrose and Henry Slade.
While Robbie Henshaw was expected to be named in the squad, Chris Harris and Bundee Aki’s inclusion came as a surprise, as well as Elliot Daly, who can play in several backline positions.
The former Wales captain admitted that he wouldn’t have predicted Gatland’s choices at centre, but acknowledged that the competition for places in the squad was fierce.
“I would never have envisaged a squad missing all of Jonathan Davies, Henry Slade and Garry Ringrose, but I suppose all of them will look at it and realise that they probably have not done quite enough,” Warburton commented.
“Gatland has been ruthless in that respect, as he has with Sexton at fly-half.”
While there is almost always late additions to Lions squads on account of injuries to originally selected players, it’s safe to say that a number of expected tourists will not be travelling to South Africa this summer.