The Lions squad for the Australia tour, starting in June, was announced yesterday afternoon with Sam Warburton named as captain, the fifth youngest to ever captain a Lions side at the age of just 24.
Out of the 37 in the squad a total of 24 will be pulling on the lion encrusted shirt for the first time, some of whom Michael Owen, former Wales rugby captain feel are more than capable of proving their place in the squad.
“There are some wonderful young players involved, such as Toby Faletau and Mako Vunipola,” Owen said on the back row forward and the prop respectively. “Mako Vunipola is something special indeed and I can see him returning as they latest star player in world rugby.”
As Warren Gatland has spent a lot of time with Warburton, working with him during the grand slam in the six nations last year and defending the title this year, Owen feels his choice is very dignified.
“It is great news that Sam Warburton has been made captain, head coach Warren Gatland has a huge amount of faith in him,” Owen said. “Sam is coming back to his best form, showing his class in his performances on and off the field and he will be inspired by the honour of the armband, I expect a huge series from him.”
As with any announcement on the Lions squad there is often a few players that may feel they could have made it into the set-up; Chris Robshaw and Billy Twelvetrees are just two of the names being thrown about who could have easily made the cut.
But with injuries almost a certainty in Rugby any player who was regarded as close to getting in the squad by Gatland will be sitting on the fence praying for a phone call.
One player who won’t be waiting for that phone call is Jonny Wilkinson who omitted himself from the squad after questions were asked if he could return after he was put up against the young Owen Farrell on the weekend and came out on top.
Wilkinson’s omission also means Gatland stuck to his guns when announcing he won’t be picking anyone based in France like the contingent playing for Wilkinson’s Toulon for example, with the exception of Gethin Jenkins who is flying home to Wales this summer and reassured Gatland he would be available for the squad.
With a strong Welsh contingent in the tour party it’s very easy to make the assumption that Gatland has taken the easy road and taken the players he knows well over others that may have, arguably, earned a place in the squad, but with Wales making the bronze final match in the 2011 World Cup; winning the grand slam last year and recently winning the six nations, Owen suggests there is no cause for concern.
“As a nation they have had the most success of all the home nations in recent years which alone justify the selections,” Owen says with passion for his countries manager. “Aside from that, Gatland has the experience from the 2009 Tour to South Africa to rely on. They got it right on that trip in terms of creating an environment for the players to gel and perform. I don’t see any reason why this will be any different and it promises to be an outstanding affair.”