Jonathan Joseph was included in the Lions squad for New Zealand after Warren Gatland decided a player who has caused Wales so much torment on his watch could not be overlooked.
Joseph was thought to have missed out due to Gatland’s preference for the muscular gainline threat in midfield that has earned Ben Te’o, Robbie Henshaw, and Jonathan Davies selection for the 10-fixture tour that culminates in three Tests against the All Blacks.
But by opting for an expanded 41-man squad, Gatland was able to make room for England’s rapid outside centre with dazzling footwork.
It was the havoc caused by Joseph against his Wales teams in the past that persuaded Gatland not to add him to a list of big-name English omissions that include Dylan Hartley, George Ford, Joe Launchbury, Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw.
“We decided on a number of positions yesterday (Tuesday). We had a good discussion about the midfield and I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out,” Gatland said.
“He has his points of difference of footwork and speed and the lines he ran against Scotland in the Six Nations were outstanding.
“He’s got some weaknesses but when I look at it from a Welsh perspective, he’s the one player who causes us so many problems when we play England because of his footwork and pace.”
Launchbury was another to slip out of contention in the ferociously competitive second row position despite emerging as England’s stand-out performer during the Six Nations, winning two man of the match awards.
Former Lions skipper Brian O’Driscoll reckons the big losers are English duo Dylan Hartley and Joe Launchbury — but the Leinster man believes Wasps lock Launchbury shouldn’t be booking his holidays just yet.
O’Driscoll — who captained the 2005 Tour to New Zealand, where he was injured in the first test — also told BT Sport’s Facebook page that the size of the squad (41 players) is a surprise. “It’s only three less than Clive Woodward brought 12 years ago and he has hatcheted him for that,” he said.
But he agreed: “I think you will need a squad that size. The standout omissions are Dylan Hartley, people talked about him as a possible Lions captain and then he doesn’t make the squad, and the second one, in a very competitive second row, is not seeing Joe Launchbury in there. It’s a very attritional position, so if I was Joe Launchbury, I wouldn’t be putting my feet up just yet.”
Scottish fans are fuming that after three Six Nations wins, they only got two places in the Lions squad. “Beat Ireland, beat Wales, would I feel hard done by if I was Scottish? I would. “Not having either of the Gray brothers, there was talk of Hamish Watson maybe being included, WP Nel probably would have been included in the tighthead group if he had been fit. Another person who could feel hard done by is Finn Russell.”
Wasps say they are “gobsmacked” after Launchbury was left out. Director of rugby Dai Young was “mystified” and found it difficult to understand the lock’s omission.
“Two man of the matches in the Six Nations, up for Player of the Six Nations as well as being nominated England Player of the Season by his team-mates, and still he doesn’t get on the plane. As well as that, he’s captain of the team sitting at the top of the Aviva Premiership at this moment in time, so it’s very hard to understand how Launchers isn’t on that plane and very hard to understand what more he could have done.
“I’m not going to knock any of the other players, they are all quality players and there are always quality players who miss out, but it has put a bit of sombre mood around the camp today, because everyone feels for Joe.”
One of the surprise picks was Harlequins tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler who has eight England caps to his name so far, making a name for himself as one of Eddie Jones’ ‘finishers’. The 24-year-old expressed his shock with a simple tweet that said, “Wow”.
Ross Moriarty revealed how he checked Twitter for updates and admitted his shock at receiving a Lions call-up.
The Gloucester and Wales flanker said: “Obviously it’s a shock to me, I only found out an hour ago, but I’m truly over the moon. It’s not really sunk in yet.
“I was listening on my phone, and checking Twitter whilst out for lunch down in Bill’s, at the (Gloucester) Quays, and as the names were going on, it was getting longer and longer, and I really didn’t expect to get named.
“When it came, I was just so shocked. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said the club are proud to have six of their players selected for the summer tour. Previous Lions tourists Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola will be joined by Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola.
McCall said: “All six of the players still have a huge role to play in some massive games for Saracens in the upcoming weeks, I know that they’ll be raring to go in club colours before they jet off Down Under.
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