Warburton leads Lions on toughest mission
Sam Warburton was named captain of the British and Irish Lions for the second time on Wednesday as coach Warren Gatland unveiled a bumper 41-man squad.
LONDON - Sam Warburton was named captain of the British and Irish Lions for the second time on Wednesday as coach Warren Gatland unveiled a bumper 41-man squad for the 10-match tour of New Zealand that he described as the biggest challenge in rugby.
Wales flanker Warburton, 28, joins England's Martin Johnson as the only men to have led the Lions twice, even after standing down from the Wales captaincy this year. He also skippered them on the successful 2013 tour of Australia.
The squad was short on surprises. One was the inclusion of England centre Jonathan Joseph, who British media thought would miss out.
Fellow England centre and rugby league convert Ben Te'o was also in, as was Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler, who has yet to start a test for England.
Ross Moriarty, impressive at number eight for Wales in the Six Nations, said he was "shocked and delighted" to be selected, while Ireland's New Zealand-born utility back Jared Payne was another unexpected inclusion.
The tour includes three Tests against the world number one All Blacks.
The squad includes 16 Englishmen, 12 from Wales, 11 Irish and two Scots - fullback Stuart Hogg and winger Tommy Seymour. Scotland have not had a Lions test starter since prop Tom Smith in 2001.
The squad is only three fewer than Clive Woodward took on the ill-fated 2005 New Zealand campaign. There was no place for Dylan Hartley, who led England to successive Six Nations titles, with his understudy Jamie George preferred at hooker alongside Rory Best and Ken Owens.
Owen Farrell was included as a flyhalf, alongside Dan Biggar and Jonathan Sexton, whose Ireland halfback partner Conor Murray faces a fight to overcome a nerve injury to take his place alongside Rhys Webb and Ben Youngs in the battle for the number nine jersey.
"There is 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," Gatland told reporters. "That's what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad going to New Zealand."
The New Zealander, who led the Lions to success in Australia four years ago, said there were no illusions about the task ahead as he seeks to emulate the class of 1971 as the only Lions team to win a series against the All Blacks.
Two of the three tests take place at Auckland's Eden Park where the hosts are unbeaten since rugby turned professional in 1995, winning 36 games in a row.
"This is the toughest tour. 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 it's going to be hugely challenging," he said.
"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."
Warburton is currently out injured but said he would be fit in time.
"I found out last Thursday when Gats called. I was in a supermarket car park and didn’t believe him at first," he said.