British and Irish Lions tour future not in danger despite schedule concerns, insists RFU chief Ian Ritchie

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  • 1/41

    Loosehead prop: Joe Marler (England)

    Age: 26

    International caps: 51

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Marler flourished in Mako Vunipola’s absence and kept the Saracens prop out of the England side once he had returned to fitness. The Quins front-row has come of age this season.

  • 2/41

    Loosehead prop: Jack McGrath (Ireland)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 41

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: McGrath has ousted Cian Healy in the Irish side and proved pivotal to disrupting the English scrum in the Six Nations encounter in Dublin last month. Has also helped Leinster reach the European semi-finals.

  • 3/41

    Loosehead prop: Mako Vunipola (England)

    Age: 26

    International caps: 42

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: Vunipola looked a certainty on the plane before he suffered a knee injury earlier in the season, but he has returned to full fitness with Saracens and has been one of the standout performers in their return to form since the Six Nations.

  • 4/41

    Hooker: Rory Best (Ireland)

    Age: 34

    International caps: 104

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: He will head to New Zealand as the oldest member of the Lions squad, though he is yet to play in a Test match while on tour. The Ireland skipper benefitted from Dylan Hartley’s ban in 2013 to tour with the Lions, captaining them in the loss to the Brumbies, but his experience will be valuable to a relatively fresh front-row.

  • 5/41

    Hooker: Jamie George (England)

    Age: 26

    International caps: 17

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Probably the form hooker in Europe who can do as good a job from the start of the match as he can do off the replacements’ bench, as he has done so often for England. His only weakness will be that he has never played the All Blacks’ senior side.

  • 6/41

    Hooker: Ken Owens (Wales)

    Age: 30

    International caps: 50

    Lions caps: 2

    Why he’s on the plane: The Scarlets hooker enjoyed a strong Six Nations despite Wales’s struggles, and his physicality at the breakdown will do him well in New Zealand.

  • 7/41

    Tighthead prop: Dan Cole (England)

    Age: 29

    International caps: 74

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: The most consistent tighthead in the squad who will offer past experience, current form and the fitness to last 80 minutes if needed. Cole could well force his way into the test side.

  • 8/41

    Tighthead prop: Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 16

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Enjoyed a brilliant Six Nations tournament along with a purple patch for Leinster, and he is simply a rock in the scrum that even the All Blacks will find difficult to budge.

  • 9/41

    Tighthead prop: Kyle Sinckler (England)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 8

    Lions caps:0

    Why he’s on the plane: He is yet to start a Test for England but that has not stopped his reputation bagging him a spot on the plane to New Zealand. Will add power and pace with the ball, and plenty of character in the changing room that can go a long way to making a difference on a seven-week tour.

  • 10/41

    Lock: Iain Henderson (Ireland)

    Age: 25

    International caps: 32

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: The forgotten man of Irish rugby provided a timely reminder of why he is rated so highly by helping plot the downfall of England. His versatility will come in handy for the tour where injuries will take their toll, given he can cover lock as well as the back-row.

  • 11/41

    Lock: Maro Itoje (England)

    Age: 22

    International caps: 12

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Will head to New Zealand with a target on his back after proving the form player in Europe over the last 18 months. A supremely talented individual with freakish athleticism, who can also make his presence felt at blindside flanker.

  • 12/41

    Lock: Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

    Age: 31

    International caps: 110

    Lions caps: 6

    Why he’s on the plane: A veteran of two Lions tours already but still only 31 years old, Jones offer everything in terms of leadership, aggression, control and outright ability. Will provide support for captain Sam Warburton, and memorably skippered the 2013 side to victory in the decisive third Test.

  • 13/41

    Lock: George Kruis (England)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 20

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: He hasn’t played a game since January but such is his talent in the lineout and his importance to the Saracens and England cause over the last two years that Gatland gave him every chance to prove his fitness. Should get the Lions lineout firing on all cylinders with England coach Steve Borthwick also heading to New Zealand.

  • 14/41

    Lock: Courtney Lawes (England)

    Age: 28

    International caps: 58

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Beat England second-row colleague Joe Launchbury to a place in the squad after hitting the form of his life. It’s harsh on the Wasps captain, but Lawes can offer more physicality carrying the ball and a bone-crunching tackle few can equal.

  • 15/41

    Flanker: Sean O’Brien (Ireland)

    Age: 30

    International caps: 49

    Lions caps: 2

    Why he’s on the plane: One of those who will not shirk responsibility in going toe-to-toe with the All Blacks, O’Brien is an immensely powerful flanker who can be a nuisance at the breakdown. Could well prove Gatland’s impact replacement in the Tests.

  • 16/41

    Flanker: Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 40

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: For two reasons. The first is guiding Munster through a hugely emotional season that has seen them reach the European Champions Cup last four, the second is for his man of the match display at the Aviva Stadium to shoot down England.

  • 17/41

    Flanker: CJ Stander (Ireland)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 15

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: The South African-born back-row may have been playing against the Lions had fate taken a different path, but instead he will head to New Zealand as one of the form players in Europe. Likely to be used as No 8 cover, but could bag himself a starting role on the blindside.

  • 18/41

    Flanker: Justin Tipuric (Wales)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 51

    Lions caps: 1

    Why he’s on the plane: The closest thing the Lions have to a natural openside, and offers the pace of an outside centre to help him to the breakdown. Could well be used in tandem with Warburton if Gatland chooses to stick with what he knows best.

  • 19/41

    Flanker: Sam Warburton (Wales)

    Age: 28

    International caps: 74

    Lions caps: 2

    Why he’s on the plane: Emulates Martin Johnson as a two-time Lions captain, and should have enough time to regain his fitness after suffering a six-week knee injury. Flourished at blindside for Wales in the Six Nations but could find himself back in the No 7 shirt.

  • 20/41

    No 8: Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

    Age: 26

    International caps: 66

    Lions caps: 1

    Why he’s on the plane: What he failed to show in the Six Nations, he has delivered at Bath, and a brilliant performance at Twickenham to help see off Leicester Tigers provided a reminder of why he will push Billy Vunipola hard for the starting jersey.

  • 21/41

    No 8: Ross Moriarty (Wales)

    Age: 23

    International caps: 17

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane:
    Another surprise name but his form in the Six Nations was stunning as he kept Faletau out of the Wales side. He completes an incredibly powerful back row selection.

  • 22/41

    No 8: Billy Vunipola (England)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 34

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: He will be crucial to the Lions’ hopes as he goes up against All Blacks’ skipper Kieran Read. When at his best he can be unstoppable, and looks to be back to full fitness after recovering from a knee injury early in the year.

  • 23/41

    Scrum-half: Conor Murray (Ireland)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 57

    Lions caps: 2

    Why he’s on the plane: Has struggled with injury of late but when fit he offers so many options from scrum-half. An accurate passer who has a telepathic understanding with Jonathan Sexton, his box-kicks are accurate and he is also a smart runner.

  • 24/41

    Scrum-half: Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

    Age: 31

    International caps: 58

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Ben Youngs’ withdrawal from the squad after his sister-in-law and wife of older brother, Tom, learned she was terminally ill left Gatland needing another scrum-half. After returning from the ankle injury he suffered during the Six Nations, Laidlaw was next in line for Gatland, with the Lions coach taking no time at all to call-up the Scotland captain to the squad.

  • 25/41

    Scrum-half: Rhys Webb (Wales)

    Age: 28

    International caps: 28

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: The most dangerous No 9 in the squad who has the ability to change a game in a heartbeat. Another who excelled during the Six Nations, and while he needs to keep calm and not give away needless penalties during the tour, he should prove a useful impact off the bench.

  • 26/41

    Fly-half: Dan Biggar (Wales)

    Age: 27

    International caps: 56

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Perhaps a surprise inclusion ahead of George Ford and Finn Russell, Biggar gets the nod thanks to the trust Gatland has in his big-game temperament and his reliability with the boot, both from hand and the tee.

  • 27/41

    Fly-half: Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

    Age: 31

    International caps: 66

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: One of the Lions’ key players in 2013 and crucial to both the Leinster and Ireland cause, Sexton provided a timely reminder of why he’s so important to this squad during the Six Nations with three wonderful performances.

  • 28/41

    Centre: Jonathan Davies (Wales)

    Age: 29

    International caps: 64

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: Davies was always likely to make the squad thanks to his contribution in 2013, and while he has not quite matched those levels with his recent form, he is still a powerful unit that can be a handful for the defence to stop.

  • 29/41

    Centre: Owen Farrell (England)

    Age: 25

    International caps: 52

    Lions caps: 1

    Why he’s on the plane: They don’t come more dependable than Farrell, who is adept at playing in both the 10 and 12 shirt at a world class standard. Could line up alongside Sexton in the Test side, but also has the ability to oust him completely.

  • 30/41

    Centre: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)

    Age: 23

    International caps: 29

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Has quickly developed into one of Ireland’s most influential players thanks to his defensive doggedness and smart understanding of the play in front of him. Well in the mix for a starting Test spot.

  • 31/41

    Centre: Jonathan Joseph (England)

    Age: 25

    International caps: 33

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane:
    He wasn’t expected to be named in the squad but Gatland admitted he and his coaches were still arguing about personnel with less than 24 hours to go. He has the X factor that no other centres on the tour have.

  • 32/41

    Centre: Jared Payne (Ireland)

    Age: 31

    International caps: 20

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: A real surprise but given Gatland’s fondness for Kiwi-born players in this squad. A powerful runner and did well alongside Henshaw. He was also part of the group of Irish players who has a Test victory over New Zealand under their belts.

    AFP/

  • 33/41

    Centre: Ben Te’o (England)

    Age: 30

    International caps: 8

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: The New Zealand-born Samoan rugby league international who at 30 years old has just eight international rugby union caps to his name. Hardly the recipe for Lions selection, but Gatland has clearly been impressed by his direct running and impact from the replacements for England.

  • 34/41

    Wing: Elliot Daly (England)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 13

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: One of the most exciting talents heading out on the tour who offers versatility across the back line, out-and-out gas and a 60m boot that will keep the opposition honest. Daly is also a lovely runner to watch in full flight, and will prove a useful tourist when the inevitable injuries arrive.

  • 35/41

    Wing: George North (Wales)

    Age: 25

    International caps: 69

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: A Lions player through and through who has already delivered his fair share of memorable moments from the 2013 tour. He rediscovered his form for Wales in the Six Nations, and is a threat from anywhere on the wing that can really scare the All Blacks.

  • 36/41

    Wing: Jack Nowell (England)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 23

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Another interesting choice from Gatland, but there is no doubting what Nowell offers the Lions. A tough line-breaker who is equally adept at finishing off tries, as his 11 scores for England demonstrate, and he has taken full advantage of the final few weeks to impress with the Exeter Chiefs.

  • 37/41

    Wing: Tommy Seymour (Scotland)

    Age: 28

    International caps: 36

    Lions caps: 0
    Why he’s on the plane: Has shown his lethal finishing for Scotland after breaking into the side four years ago and is one who has gone slightly under the radar, doing all the basics to a very high level with Glasgow, to cement his place on the plane.

  • 38/41

    Wing: Anthony Watson (England)

    Age: 23

    International caps: 26

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Looked to be one of the more likely Test starters back at the start of the year, but injuries have severely hampered him to the point he will have doubted his place in the squad completely. A return to fitness just in time to participate in the demolition of Scotland before bagging two tries for Bath against Leicester provided Gatland with a timely reminder of his talents.

  • 39/41

    Full-back: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)

    Age: 28

    International caps: 71

    Lions caps: 3

    Why he’s on the plane: Halfpenny was brilliant in the 2013 series and put 49 points past the Wallabies in just three Tests. His form has dipped over the past year, but Gatland clearly trusts the Toulon star and he also brings a reliability with the boot from 60m.

  • 40/41

    Full-back: Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

    Age: 24

    International caps: 53

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: One of the most dazzling runners on world rugby who can produce miracles is given a yard of space. He will be tested in the air, but can inflict fear among the New Zealand defence. Toured in 2013 but was left out of the Tests.

  • 41/41

    Full-back: Liam Williams (Wales)

    Age: 26

    International caps: 43

    Lions caps: 0

    Why he’s on the plane: Williams is rapid when given the chance to break and has forced his way into the Wales side, albeit on the wing. Likely to be used more as a full-back in New Zealand, but his reliability under the high ball and desire to come in-field to get involved will interest Gatland.



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