Sunday 17 December 2017

Lions call for Earls and Best

Munster's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Gavin Mairs and Cian Tracey

Ireland captain Rory Best is set to benefit from Dylan Hartley's omission from the Lions squad which will be named in London at midday today.

Warren Gatland and his backroom team held a final selection meeting yesterday before confirming their touring party to New Zealand and Best is in line to be included.

Hartley, 31, will become the latest high-profile omission from Eddie Jones's squad despite England having suffered just one defeat in 19 Tests since the Australian replaced Stuart Lancaster in the wake of the 2015 World Cup disaster.

Gatland is poised to name Best, Ken Owens and Jamie George, Hartley's deputy in the England squad, as the three hookers.

Keith Earls has emerged as a potential Irish bolter as he looks to go on his second tour after appearing in South Africa in 2009.

The Limerick native faces stiff competition but he may be given the nod ahead of his Munster team-mate Simon Zebo.


With Joe Launchbury surprisingly being overlooked, Donnacha Ryan and Iain Henderson's performances against England last month when Gatland was in Dublin are understood to have tipped the balance in the Irish pair's favour.

Injury concerns over Sam Warburton, the Wales flanker who will be named as captain for the second successive tour, and Alun Wyn Jones, are expected to mean that Gatland will name the Ireland second-row duo.

Garry Ringrose is likely to miss out as Gatland instead opts for experience in the form of Jamie Roberts, who is no longer first-choice with Wales.

Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong will ensure that the entire Ireland front-row will be included but Cian Healy is expected to have to make do with a place on the standby list.

The back-row trio of Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander and Seán O'Brien will make the cut, as will half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton as well as Robbie Henshaw, which could bring Ireland's representation to 12.

Gatland is likely name up to 40 players, just four fewer than Clive Woodward took to New Zealand on the ill-fated 2005 trip.

Scotland's disappointing finish to their Six Nations campaign after a hugely promising start, however, is expected to mean that Vern Cotter's side will contribute just one player, full-back Stuart Hogg.

England, despite the detrimental impact of their defeat by Ireland in Dublin, are still expected to provide the largest contingent of players of the four home unions, with 15 likely to be named in Gatland's squad, including rookies Kyle Sinckler, the Harlequins prop, and Ben Te'o, the Worcester centre.

As well as Hartley, five other starters from England's Six Nations-winning side would miss out: George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Mike Brown, Joe Launchbury and James Haskell. Chris Robshaw, who sat out the Six Nations with a shoulder injury but is now fit again, will also not be picked.

But while Hartley will miss out, George will be included, and England will also provide the bulk of the front five, with Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole joining Sinckler among the six props, along with Ireland's duo Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong. George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes will be named along the locks.

The back-row, which has been the most ferociously competitive area of all, is expected to be dominated by Ireland and Wales, with Seán O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony (left), CJ Stander, Warburton and Justin Tipuric making up the flankers.

Billy Vunipola, of Saracens and England, and his Wales counterpart Taulupe Faletau, will be the two No 8s.

There are expected to be few surprises at fly-half, with Ireland's Jonathan Sexton in pole position for the starting place in the Test side, and Wales's Dan Biggar also making the cut. The centre position is one of the more intriguing aspects of the selection.

Definitely in are England's Owen Farrell, who will also cover fly-half, Ben Te'o and Elliot Daly.

Roberts, who started for Wales against Australia and Japan in the autumn Tests but who has been restricted for six appearances from the bench since then, is destined for a surprise call-up along with compatriot Jonathan Davies and Ireland's Robbie Henshaw.

Halfpenny, despite an underwhelming Six Nations campaign, is a loyal lieutenant of Gatland and he will be joined in the back-three positions by Hogg, Welsh pair George North and Liam Williams, England's Anthony Watson and Nowell, and possibly Munster winger Earls.

"It will be the strongest Lions squad ever to leave these shores," Lions tour manager John Spencer said. "It has been a difficult process. You have to consider whether the player is world-class. You have to consider whether he would be a good tourist in other personality aspects.

"The considerations that I have experienced have been extremely fair and thorough and very detailed. I absolutely and fundamentally believe we can win the series.

"That is our sole objective at this stage and we are not contemplating any other alternative." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Probable Lions Squad for New Zealand tour

Back three: Hogg, Halfpenny, North, Nowell, Watson, Williams, Earls

Centres: Daly, Henshaw, Te'o, Davies, Roberts

Fly-halves: Sexton, Farrell, Biggar

Scrum-halves: Murray, Youngs, Webb

Props: Marler, Vunipola, McGrath, Furlong, Sinckler, Cole

Hookers: Best, Owens, George

Locks: Itoje, Kruis, Lawes, AW Jones, Ryan, Henderson

Flankers: O'Brien, O'Mahony, Stander, Warburton, Tipuric

No 8: Vunipola, Faletau

Irish Independent

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