Head coach Warren Gatland has named nine Irish players in the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer’s tour of Hong Kong and Australia.
Brian O'Driscoll (his fourth successive Lions tour), Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien were all included.
Dreams do come true....— jamie heaslip (@jamieheaslip) April 30, 2013
Wales star Sam Warburton has been named as captain.
There are no places among the 38-man squad announced by Lions manager Andy Irvine in London today for Ireland's Rory Best, or England's Chris Robshaw and Jonny Wilkinson.
Scotland wing Sean Maitland, England prop Mako Vunipola and 2005 Lions tourist Matt Stevens were handed surprise call-ups.
Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, at 24 the youngest Welsh Lions captain in history, will lead a squad comprising 14 of his compatriots.
Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals – Wales’ best performance for 24 years – and a Six Nations Grand Slam five months later.
After being injured for the opening part of this season’s Six Nations, he returned to deliver a man of the match display against Scotland and then starred when Wales inflicted a record 30-3 defeat on England to win the title.
While Wales are celebrating their largest Lions contingent since 16 players travelled to New Zealand 36 years ago, England provide 10 members of Gatland’s squad, one more than in South Africa four years ago.
Stevens, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban, retired from England duty after the 2011 Rugby World Cup but has been included as one of three tight-head options.
There are nine Irishmen in the travelling squad but there was no place for Ulster hooker Best, with England’s Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs selected along with Wales’ Richard Hibbard.
Scotland provide three players – the New Zealand-born wing Maitland, lock Richie Gray and full-back Stuart Hogg.
Warburton admitted he had known about the news for some time, saying: “Warren gave me a call, it's been nine or 10 days since I found out and the biggest secret I've had to keep.
“It’s unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it’s an unbelievable honour.”
Gatland said: “In the last two or three years he’s been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere.
“I have a huge amount of respect for Sam, he’s an absolute professional and he leads from the front.”
Gatland admitted it had been tough to leave out the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson.
“There was a robust debate about the squad and there were healthy discussions for every position,” he said.
“Some real quality players have missed out. We had a thorough process and it’s been tough.”
He did offer hope to those left out, however, saying: “If you look at previous tours six to eight players get injured and there will be a group of back-up players who can be called upon.”
Much of Gatland's squad was as expected, spearheaded by the likes of Ireland centre O'Driscoll, 2009 captain Paul O'Connell and Wales prop Adam Jones.
But there are also opportunities for a new generation of Lions, players such as Wales trio George North, Alex Cuthbert and Justin Tipuric, England pair Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell and Ireland prop Cian Healy.
Gatland’s squad is split into 16 backs and 21 forwards and four weeks today the party will leave for Hong Kong where they open the 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1.
The Lions then head to Australia with the first of three Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22.
Full-backs: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues and Wales), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), Rob Kearney (Leinster and Ireland).
Wings: Tommy Bowe (Ulster and Ireland), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues and Wales), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), George North (Scarlets and Wales).
Centres: Jonathan Davies (Scarlets and Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster and Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues and Wales), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester and England).
Fly-halves: Owen Farrell (Saracens and England), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster and Ireland).
Scrum-halves: Conor Murray (Munster and Ireland), Mike Phillips (Bayonne and Wales), Ben Youngs (Leicester and England).
Props: Dan Cole (Leicester and England), Cian Healy (Leinster and Ireland), Gethin Jenkins (Toulon and Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys and Wales), Matt Stevens (Saracens and England), Mako Vunipola (Saracens and England).
Hookers: Dylan Hartley (Northampton and England), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys and Wales), Tom Youngs (Leicester and England).
Second rows: Ian Evans (Ospreys and Wales), Richie Gray (Sale and Scotland), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys and Wales), Paul O’Connell (Munster and Ireland), Geoff Parling (Leicester and England).
Back-rowers: Tom Croft (Leicester and England), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster and Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales), Sean O’Brien (Leinster and Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys and Wales), Sam Warburton (capt, Cardiff Blues and Wales).