MONTHS of speculation will be brought to an end today when John Spencer, the British & Irish Lions tour manager, announces the playing squad for this summer’s three-Test tour to New Zealand.
Head coach Warren Gatland and his assistants held their final selection meeting yesterday and are thought to have picked a squad of around 38. While many of the successful candidates will have had an inkling that they are to be chosen, officially no player other than the captain knows of his inclusion until Spencer’s announcement at noon.8 Sam Warburton, the 28-year-old Welsh flanker, is set to be named as skipper for the second tour running, emulating the achievement of England lock Martin Johnson, who led the tourists in 1997 and 2001.
Warburton is currently out of action with knee-ligament damage and will remain sidelined for the next month or so, but should be match-fit by the time of the first game of the tour, against the New Zealand Barbarians on June 3.
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The Tests themselves are on June 24 in Auckland, July 1 in Wellington and July back in Auckland.
Scotland’s main hopes for selection are full-back Stuart Hogg and winger Sean Maitland, both of whom were on the Lions’ 2013 tour to Australia, along with winger Tommy Seymour.
Hogg is seen as a certainty thanks to his counter-attacking skills, composure under the high ball and long-range kicking ability, but Maitland and Seymour could be up against each other for one of the wing places.
Having grown up in New Zealand and attended Hamilton Boys’ High School, Gatland’s alma mater, Maitland is far more of a known quantity to the head coach. Other Scots in contention for a place are Hamish Watson and Duncan Taylor, but it would be a considerable surprise if as many as five members of Vern Cotter’s Six Nations Championship squad were named. Not since the 1997 tour to South Africa have as many Scots been named in the original squad: in 2001, 2009 and 2013 there were three, while in 2005 there were only two. Among those high-profile players in risk of missing out are England duo Joe Launchbury and Dylan Hartley. Welshman Alun Wyn Jones and England’s Maro Itoje are among the locks likely to be preferred to Launchbury, while Hartley’s hopes of being one of the three hookers who tour could be dashed by Ireland’s Rory Best, Ken Owens of Wales and England’s Jamie George.