WARREN GATLAND has delivered a blunt verdict on Ryan Jones’ omission from the Lions squad, declaring: “There is no favouritism.”
A total of 13 Wales players will feature in the Lions’ South Africa-bound tour party. But Ospreys forward Jones, who led Wales to the RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam a year ago, is not among them.
He joins fellow Six Nations skippers Mike Blair (Scotland) and Steve Borthwick (England) in missing out on the 10-match trip.
The political fall-out could be considerable in Wales, especially as Lions forwards supremo Gatland runs the national side.
But no-nonsense New Zealander Gatland said: “There is no favouritism. Selection is not about captains or countries. The squad has been picked on form and he is not playing well enough at the moment.
“I hope he will take his disappointment on the chin and I am sure he will continue to work hard.”
While Jones is left to reflect on where it all went wrong, six of his Ospreys colleagues – Tommy Bowe, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams, Mike Phillips, Adam Jones and Alun-Wyn Jones – will make the trip.
But Heineken Cup semi-finalists Cardiff Blues matched that figure, as Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams and Andy Powell all gained selection.
As for Jones’ omission, Wales attack coach and Lions assistant Rob Howley added: “The last three or four weeks, Ryan will admit he has not been playing to his potential.”
For wing wizard and 2008 World Player of the Year Williams, though, there was cause for relief following a poor campaign when he failed to hit last season’s heights.
Gatland revealed it had been a close call whether Williams made the final cut, despite his Welsh record of 46 Test tries. Speculation was rife he might even fail to make the Lions cut but Lions assistant and Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards underlined Williams’ match-winning ability.
“He is a player who has done it in the white-hot environment of Test rugby,” said Edwards. Shane Williams can be a thorn in South Africa’s side.”
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