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Warren Gatland selects his Pride

The waiting is finally over, Andy Irvine announced the 37 man 2013 British and Irish Lions squad to a packed Syon House today, with more than a few surprises included.

As had been expected, Sam Warburton was announced as the Lions captain however beyond that there was plenty left to leave the assembled media audibly gasping at points.

Some of the controversial selections were expected, such as the exclusion of England and Scotland captains Chris Robshaw and Kelly Brown, however the absence of Rory Best was rather less expected.

Selected ahead of him at hooker were the English duo of Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs, with Wales’ Richard Hibbard also joining the party. Youngs’ elder brother Ben is included at scrum half and they become the first set of brothers to tour with the Lions since the Underwood and Hastings brothers in 1993.

There were surprises on either side of the hooking berth also, with Saracens’ Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens included alongside the expected quartet of Dan Cole, Adam Jones, Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins. It had been rumoured that Stevens and Vunipola were in the frame but it was not expected that both would make the cut, with Ryan Grant particularly unlucky to miss out.

Jenkins was always a favourite to tour but there were concerns that he would be unavailable to depart with the tour squad due to his commitments with Toulon, however Gatland was unequivocal that Jenkins had ‘assured me he is available for to tour’, suggesting that the Welsh prop will be with the squad when they depart for Hong Kong.

In the second row there are few surprises, 2009 captain makes the cut alongside the Welsh duo of Ian Evans and Alun Wyn Jones. England’s Geoff Parling also makes the cut with Richie Gray also included, one of just three Scots.

Gray tours after assurances that he is over his injury troubles, as does Dan Lydiate in the back row. Lydiate has been nursing himself back to full fitness with the Dragons but has done enough to ensure a place on the tour.

The Welsh flanker is joined in the back row by three of his compatriots, Toby Faletau, Justin Tipuric and of course captain Sam Warburton.

Warburton becomes the youngest Lions captain, at 24 years and 244 days old, since Ireland’s Robin Thompson in 1955. He is also only the fourth Welshman to captain the Lions, after Arthur Harding in 1908, Phil Bennett in 1977 and of course the successful 1971 Lions captain John Dawes.

Warburton will be joined by another national captain, Jamie Heaslip, in the back row along with England’s Tom Croft and Heaslip’s Irish compatriot Sean O’Brien.

The scrum half position is much as expected, with Conor Murray just pipping Greig Laidlaw and Danny Care to the third slot behind Ben Youngs and Mike Phillips after some impressive performances for Munster.

Fly Half was an area that had sparked much debate leading up to the announcement and continued to do so long after the announcement was made. Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell were the chosen pair but it was the name of one Jonny Wilkinson that will make the headlines.

Wilkinson, it was revealed, had been sounded out yesterday about the possibility of being a part of the squad but had turned down the offer, saying that he did not think his body was up to it and that his commitments to Toulon may not allow him to link up in time.

It poses an interesting question as to what the squad would have looked like had Wilkinson said yes, would Owen Farrell still be there for instance or would they have sacrificed one of the wingers, but it is, frankly, just guesswork.

In the centres things are as almost everyone predicted with the Welsh pair of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies both selected alongside Manu Tuilagi and the old warrior himself, Brian O’Driscoll. Rumours that Billy Twelvetrees may have made his way into the squad proved to be unfounded.

The back three was always likely to be an area with a lot of opinions and so it proved; Simon Zebo was left at home along with Tim Visser and Craig Gilroy, while England find themselves without any representation in the back three for as long as this writer can remember.

In contrast to England though, Scotland have their first outside backs included since Alan Tait in 1997. Both Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg have been selected, with both earning rave reviews from Warren Gatland.

Hogg looks likely to have a busy tour after the Lions staff revealed that he is likely to be providing cover for an awful lot of positions in the backline, more of which will be revealed later.

The Welsh trio of Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Alex Cuthbert were all included as expected, they are joined by Ireland’s Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe, with Bowe clearly proving his fitness enough to the Lions coaches.

In all then there are fifteen Welshmen, ten Englishmen, nine Irishmen and just three Scots, a fairly accurate reflection of the form of each side of the last few years.

2013 British and Irish Lions Squad

Full Backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales & Cardiff Blues), Stuart Hogg (Scotland & Glasgow Warriors), Rob Kearney (Ireland & Leinster) 

Wings: Tommy Bowe (Ireland & Ulster), Alex Cuthbert (Wales & Cardiff Blues), Sean Maitland (Scotland & Glasgow Warriors), George North (Wales & Scarlets) 

Centres: Jonathan Davies (Wales & Scarlets) Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland & Leinster), Jamie Roberts (Wales & Cardiff Blues), Manusamoa Tuilagi (England & Leicester Tigers) 

Fly Halves: Owen Farrell (England & Saracens), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland & Leinster) 

Scrum Halves: Conor Murray (Ireland & Munster), Mike Phillips (Wales & Bayonne), Ben Youngs (England & Leicester Tigers) 

Props: Dan Cole (England & Leicester Tigers), Cian Healy (Ireland & Leinster), Gethin Jenkins (Wales & Toulon), Adam Jones (Wales & Ospreys), Matt Stevens (England & Saracens), Mako Vunipola (England & Saracens) 

Hookers: Dylan Hartley (England & Northampton Saints), Richard Hibbard (Wales & Ospreys), Tom Youngs (England & Leicester Tigers) 

Locks: Ian Evans (Wales & Ospreys), Richie Gray (Scotland & Sale Sharks), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales & Ospreys), Paul O’Connell (Ireland & Munster), Geoff Parling (England & Leicester Tigers) 

Back Row: Tom Croft (England & Leicester Tigers), Toby Faletau (Wales & Dragons), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland & Leinster), Dan Lydiate (Wales & Dragons), Sean O’Brien (Ireland & Leinster), Justin Tipuric (Wales & Ospreys), Sam Warburton, captain (Wales & Cardiff Blues)

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