Wales set for Lions share?
Tue, 30 Apr 2013 07:21
Wales are set to have their largest share of a British and Irish Lions squad in nearly 40 years when coach Warren Gatland unveils his tour party for Australia.
Cardiff Blues flank Sam Warburton led Wales to a World Cup semifinal two years ago only to be sent-off in a heart-breaking defeat by France in Auckland.
If he has in fact seen off leadership challenges from former Lions captain and Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll, as well as the likes of England skipper Chris Robshaw, who may yet miss out completely such is the competition for back-row places, Warburton would be Wales' youngest Lions' tour captain at the age of 24.
Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales could have at least 15 players in what is set to be a 38-man squad.
The last Welshman to lead the Lions from the outset of a tour was fly-half Phil Bennett in New Zealand in 1977, with the stand-off one of 16 players from the principality in a squad beaten 3-1 in a four-Test series by the All Blacks.
One intriguing aspect of the build-up to Gatland's announcement is the difficulty pundits and fans alike have had in naming players guaranteed to start in the Test side.
If the identity of the likely loose trio has provoked most debate, front-row combinations have also been much discussed although it appears that England's Dan Cole, Ireland's Cian Healy, Wales' Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones have all done enough to warrant selection.
Behind the scrum, unless Gatland completely changes his previously stated policy, it appears there will be no third Lions tour for Jonny Wilkinson despite the England World Cup-winner's flyhalf masterclass when kicking all of Toulon's points in a 24-12 European Cup semifinal win at Twickenham on Sunday over a Saracens side featuring current Red Rose No.10 Owen Farrell.
But immediately after the match, the 33-year-old Wilkinson was the first to say the likes of Farrell and Ireland's Jonathan Sexton should be selected ahead of him.
Gatland has indicated he won't pick French-based players for the Lions as he wants all his squad to depart together ahead of the tour opener against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 - when Wilkinson could be required by Toulon if they qualify for France's domestic Top 14 final on the same day.
The Lions will be seeking a first series win since triumphing in South Africa in 1997, having lost 2-1 on their last visit to Australia 12 years ago when Gatland's fellow New Zealander Graham Henry, the man behind the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup victory, was in charge of the combined side.
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