Warburton leads Lions but no place for Wilkinson
- Published: 30/04/2013 at 05:49 PM
- Online news:
Wales star Sam Warburton was named Tuesday as captain of the 2013 British and Irish squad for the tour of Australia but there was no place for England great Jonny Wilkinson.
Wales' captain Sam Warburton smiles during the official launch of the 2013 Six Nations tournament at the Hurlingham Club in London, on January 23, 2013. British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has announced that Warburton will captain the side on their tour of Australia in June and July.
At 24, Warburton became the youngest Welsh Lions tour captain in Lions history, but both England captain Chris Robshaw and 2003 World Cup-winning star Wilkinson were left out of coach Warren Gatland's 37-man squad.
"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," Warburton told a news conference in London.
"It's unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it's an unbelievable honour.
Gatland added: "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."
The New Zealander said leaving the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson out had been tough but said injuries could yet lead to late call-ups for those omitted from the original squad.
"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."
Ireland great and 2005 Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll was included, with the centre chosen for his fourth successive tour with the combined side.
Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals only to be sent off in a narrow defeat by France in Auckland.
After he missed the early part of the current European season through injury, Warburton starred against Scotland and in the record 30-3 thrashing of England that saw Wales secure the Six Nations title.
But his leadership credentials were called into question after he appeared to want to concentrate on his own game during the Championship.
Gatland, seconded from Wales to coach the Lions, selected 15 Welshmen in his squad -- Wales's largest Lions representation in 36 years when Welsh fly-half great Phil Bennett was the appointed captain for a losing tour of New Zealand.
England provided 10 players including prop Matt Stevens, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban and retired from England duty after the 2011 World Cup.
They also supplied brothers in scrum-half Ben Youngs and hooker Tom Youngs -- the first brothers in a Lions squad since England's Rory and Tony Underwood and Scotland's Gavin and Scott Hastings all toured New Zealand in 1993.
Gatland included only two recognised fly-halves in Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell -- both of whom Wilkinson, speaking after kicking all of Toulon's points in their 24-12 European Cup semi-final win over Farrell's Saracens at Twickenham on Sunday, said should be chosen ahead of him.
There were nine Ireland players selected by Gatland, himself a former Ireland coach but, surprisingly there was no place for hooker Rory Best.
Scotland had three players in the Lions squad, including New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland, the cousin of Australian 'bad boy' Quade Cooper, although scrum-half/fly-half Greig Laidlaw was left out.
The Lions will be looking for their first series win since defeating South Africa in 1997.
As well as his squad, Gatland's coaching party had a strong Welsh influence with Rob Howley, currently in caretaker charge of the Six Nations champions and kicking specialist Neil Jenkins -- both former Lions -- among his assistants.
Also in the backroom staff were England's Graham Rowntree (forwards coach) and defence chief Andy Farrell, Owen's father, whose inclusion came at the expense of Gatland's long-time assistant Shaun Edwards.
A squad of 16 backs and 21 forwards -- with Warburton one of 25 first-time Lions -- is set to leave four weeks on Tuesday for Hong Kong where they begin their 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1.
The Lions play the first of three Tests against the Wallabies on June 22.
This will be the Lions' first tour of Australia since a side coached by Gatland's compatriot Graham Henry, New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning supremo, lost a three-Test series 2-1.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency