After weeks of fervent speculation and seemingly never-ending build-up, the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad was finally revealed on Wednesday (19 April) at a crowded Hilton London Syon Park Hotel.
In keeping with tradition, tour manager John Spencer reeled off one-by-one the names of the players who will head to New Zealand this summer as returning Kiwi head coach Warren Gatland, who oversaw a 3-1 victory over Australia in 2013, attempts to mastermind what would be only a second series triumph over the fearsome All Blacks.
Gatland has opted for a large squad of 41 led by Wales flanker Sam Warburton, who follows Martin Johnson as only the second man in history to skipper two Lions tours.
16 players have been drawn from the England squad that sealed their second successive Six Nations title in March, while 12 hail from Wales and 11 from Ireland. Controversially, only two Scots have been deemed worthy of inclusion.
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As is frequently the case with the Lions, many of the pre-emptive "leaks" proved to be nothing more than red herrings and rumours continued to swirl right up until the official announcement.
With the touring party now confirmed, IBTimes UK looks at the key omissions made by Gatland ahead of a gruelling 10-match itinerary that includes matches against the New Zealand Barbarians and the Maori All Blacks in addition to meetings with all five of the country's Super Rugby franchises and, most importantly, three Tests against Steve Hansen's reigning world champions in Auckland and Wellington.
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Although it did not come as a shock, Hartley was still unquestionably the headline exclusion. The Rotorua-born hooker defied misgivings about his awful disciplinary record to lead England with aplomb during their hugely successful start to life under Eddie Jones, but has still been overlooked in favour of Ken Owens, Rory Best and even his own international understudy in Jamie George.
This will be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Hartley, who, after initially being selected, missed that memorable 2013 trip down under after being handed an 11-week suspension for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the Aviva Premiership final. After Steve Borthwick and Chris Robshaw, he is the third consecutive England captain to be left at home. The presence of the former and Graham Rowntree on Gatland's coaching staff does not seem to have boosted his case.
With reports that fleet-footed Bath centre Jonathan Joseph was set to controversially miss the cut proving to be false, Launchbury is arguably the England hopeful who can feel most hard done by.
Despite being nominated alongside fellow countrymen Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell for Six Nations Player of the Year honours, the towering Wasps lock is simply a casualty of the incredibly fierce competition for places in the second row.
Robshaw, George Ford, James Haskell, Danny Care, Jonny May and Mike Brown are among the other Red Rose contingent left disappointed. Jones, it is worth noting, is due to announce his squad for June's two-test series against Argentina tomorrow (20 April).
Social media was abuzz with centre debate last night after it was claimed that veteran bulldozer Roberts was set for a shock third call-up. With the exceptionally nimble Joseph's place also in serious doubt at that time, many were quick to bemoan Gatland's continued preference for an abrasive and highly physical style of play knows as "Warrenball" that is unlikely to cut the mustard against a team of New Zealand's undisputed calibre.
Roberts has certainly been there and got the T-shirt as far as the Lions are concerned, winning Player of the Series in South Africa in 2009 and playing a pivotal role in Australia four years ago. However, despite overwhelming suggestions to the contrary, that journey will go no further. Surely the correct decision given that he began all five of Wales' Six Nations matches from the replacements' bench and has hardly been in stellar form for Harlequins.
British and Irish Lions fixtures [8:35am BST kick-off time unless otherwise stated]
Saturday 3 June: Provincial Union XV - Toll Stadium, Whanharei
Wednesday 7 June – Blues – Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday 10 June – Crusaders – AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Tuesday 13 June – Highlanders – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday 17 June – New Zealand Maori – International Stadium, Rotorua
Tuesday 20 June – Chiefs– Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday 24 June – New Zealand– First Test, Eden Park, Auckland
Tuesday 27 June – Hurricanes – Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 1 July – New Zealand – Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 8 July – New Zealand – Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland
Backed by Brian O'Driscoll for a seat on the plane due to his valuable versatility and unshakeable fighting spirit, Ringrose entered the Lions conversation after impressing for Ireland in the autumn/Six Nations and starring for Pro12 leaders Leinster in Europe.
However, the 22-year-old appears to have been pipped to the post by bolter Ben Te'o and teammate Jared Payne.
Jamie Heaslip and Simon Zebo certainly rank as other sizable Irish absentees.
More than two Scots
Rugby enthusiasts north of the border will be exasperated that, in an extended squad of 40+, room was found for only two Scottish representatives. This is despite Vern Cotter's time in charge of the national side ending with victories over Ireland and Wales during a best Six Nations showing since 2006.
While Stuart Hogg should claim the 15 jersey as his own, Glasgow wing Tommy Seymour's spot on tour was far from guaranteed. Hamish Watson, Finn Russell and Duncan Taylor are just three of Scotland's in-form crop that must have considered themselves in with a genuine chance of selection.
Like Launchbury, the dismissal of Gray brothers Richie and Jonny just serves to further highlight the strength of those second-row options. This is the first Lions tour since 1908 that has not contained at least one Scottish forward.
British and Irish Lions 2017 squad
Forwards: Rory Best, Dan Cole, Taulupe Faletau, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Ross Moriarty, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Sam Warburton.
Backs: Dan Biggar, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Joseph, Conor Murray, George North, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Tommy Seymour, Johnny Sexton, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Ben Youngs.
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