London, United Kingdom, Apr 19 – Sam Warburton will captain the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand but there was no place in the 41-man squad announced Wednesday for England skipper Dylan Hartley.
Wales back-row Warburton, 28, who skippered the combined side on their victorious 2013 tour of Australia, becomes just the second man after England great Martin Johnson (1997 and 2001) to lead the Lions on two tours.
In contrast, New Zealand-born hooker Hartley is the biggest casualty and the third successive England skipper to miss out on Lions selection after Steve Borthwick and Chris Robshaw.
New Zealand-born Lions coach Warren Gatland — who called it “the toughest tour” — gave surprise call-ups to Ireland fullback Jared Payne — also born in New Zealand — England wing Jack Nowell and Wales back-row Ross Moriarty.
Warburton stood down from the Wales captaincy this season and is currently out with a knee injury.
But he is expected to be fit before the squad departs on May 29 for a tour that will feature a three-Test series against world champions New Zealand.
“I had a dinner with all the other former captains last night when it sunk in, the enormity,” said Warburton at a news conference after the squad was announced.
“I found out last Thursday when Gats called. I was in a supermarket car park and didn’t believe him at first.”
Warburton was the skipper and Gatland, again on secondment from his job as Wales boss, the coach when the Lions won 2-1 in Australia four years ago.
“Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain,” said Gatland.
“We believe that Sam’s experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain.”
While Hartley was left out, rival England hooker Jamie George was included, along with Ireland captain Rory Best and Wales’s Ken Owens.
In the backs, New Zealand-born Ben Te’o, the England centre, provides a powerful midfield option, with Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton set to orchestrate the attack.
Hartley was not the only notable England omission, with in-form lock Joe Launchbury also missing out.
During the Six Nations Launchbury deputised for injured lock George Kruis, who was selected by Gatland after recently returning for Saracens.
The reigning English and European club champions, London side Saracens had six players in the Lions squad.
Six Nations champions England had the largest national contingent, with 16 players in an unusually large 41-man squad.
Wales had 12 and Ireland 11 with Scotland’s two representatives fullback Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour.
– ‘Toughest tour’ –
“There’s been healthy debate about the squad and now that it’s been announced we need to get behind it 100 percent and get excited about travelling to New Zealand,” said Gatland.
“There’s competition for places and there will be players fighting for Test spots with no clear number one, number two or number three in certain positions.”
He added: “That’s what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad going to New Zealand.
“We know how tough it will be –- this is the toughest tour.”
Gatland’s squad will be aiming to become just the second Lions party to win a Test series in New Zealand, with the combined side’s lone series success against the All Blacks coming in 1971 — when tour manager John Spencer, the former England international, was in the squad.
They begin their 10-match tour against a Provincial Union side in Whangarei on June 3, with the first of three Tests against the All Blacks in Auckland on June 24.
“In previous tours the midweek games tended to be a little easier, but when you look at the quality of the opposition we’re facing in midweek (which includes all five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises) it’s going to be hugely challenging,” said Gatland.
“That’s why we’ve taken a few extra players than we did in 2013, we just needed to make sure we have the depth and quality in the squad to make sure we can handle the quality of the sides we’re coming up against.”