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Lions squad: The key talking points with 37-man tour team confirmed

Sam Simmonds, the Exeter number eight and current European player of the year, has been picked by Warren Gatland despite being consistently overlooked by England since winning the last of his seven caps in 2018.

He is joined in the squad by fellow bolters Bundee Aki of Ireland and Scotland’s Chris Harris, with Manu Tuilagi left out as he approaches his comeback from an achilles injury.

The 37-strong group is led by Jones, the 35-year-old Ospreys forward who captained Wales to the Six Nations title in March.

Here is a closer look at some of the key talking points following the announcement…

Warren and Eddie think very differently

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There is no doubting that both Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones are unashamedly their own men, and don’t mind upsetting people.

In successive Lions selections, Gatland has shown that he does not rarely care much for who Jones thinks are the best players in England. Last time it was Jamie George over Dylan Hartley, this time it’s Sam Simmonds over Billy Vunipola. Jones does not tend to put much stock in Premiership form, whereas Gatland clearly does.

Throw in Kyle Sinckler – a left-field selection last time, left out now he’s established – and Elliot Daly being listed as a centre when Jones generally picks him as a full-back, and you are reminded that they see the game in a very different way.

11 English, 10 Welsh, and eight apiece from Ireland and Scotland makes for a beautifully balanced squad, nationality wise. And in terms of Lions experience, 19 do, 18 don’t.

Scotland having a couple of voices at the selection table will no doubt have helped get their best showing for 36 years, but not as much as wins in Twickenham and Paris this year.

The home nations are very evenly-matched: in the 2020 Six Nations, England finished first and Wales fifth; in 2021, Wales were first and England fifth. The makeup of Gatland’s squad reflects that.

The selection of Daly was a reminder that a player who can cover three positions, with a booming left boot, is a pretty handy addition to the touring party (especially with two games played at altitude) – even after some patchy form. Daly is one of six genuine goalkickers among the 17 backs selected.

Ability to cover positions was clearly a bonus. Four of the six locks could potentially play blindside – and indeed who would bet against Tadhg Beirne starting at No6 in the Tests? – while Andrew Porter covers both sides of the scrum. Simmonds is another who could pop up in different positions.

You could make a case that four centres Gatland left out – Jonathan Davies, Garry Ringrose, Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi – are just as good as those he selected: Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki and Chris Harris.

South Africa pick big, powerful centres and Aki’s grunt and Harris’s defensive excellence are there to fight fire with fire. In the backline at least, where Duhan van der Merwe gets the nod over Jonny May, Gatland has largely gone for solidity over silk. “Back in 2009 we played pretty well in the lead-up but the physicality they brought to the first Test was something we weren’t quite ready for,” said Gatland.

Up front it’s slightly different, while there is still plenty of power (and one more forward selected than expected), the back-row is full of mobile runners with great footwork, like Simmonds, Taulupe Faletau and Jack Conan, as opposed to the lumping carriers South Africa possess.

Lots of rugby to play before First Test

It is still 11 weeks until the first Test of the tour. There is a lot of rugby to play – both on tour and before. Wisely, Gatland was careful not to speak too much about those who have missed out – some of them will pop up yet.


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