Warren Gatland agonised until the 11th hour over his British and Irish Lions selection before insisting that England centre Jonathan Joseph had to be included in his squad to travel to New Zealand. He also fought to take one of the biggest Lions parties ever assembled – 41 players, four more than originally planned – at an extra cost of more than £600,000.
Gatland told his coaching team that there was no way he could leave out Joseph because of the problems the 25-year-old Bath centre caused when playing against his Wales side in the Six Nations.
Rookie Ireland centre Garry Ringrose came agonisingly close to selection for the tour but Joseph got the nod.
It is understood that the make-up of the Lions midfield dominated the final three-hour selection meeting on Tuesday, during which the decision was also taken to leave out England captain Dylan Hartley and Wasps lock Joe Launchbury and include surprise selections Jared Payne, the Irish centre and full-back, Ross Moriarty, the Wales flanker, and Tommy Seymour, the Scotland wing.
“We had a good discussion about the midfield and one of the things I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out,” said Gatland, who received special dispensation from the Lions board to expand his squad.
“He’s a point of difference – his footwork, his speed, the lines he ran against Scotland 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.
“Garry Ringrose was very unlucky to miss out. He’s had a good Six Nations and he’ll learn from that. Andy Farrell thinks that in six months’ time, he’s someone that’s going to be incredibly special.”
The decision to omit Launchbury, who won two man-of-the-match awards for England during their Six Nations title win, left his director of rugby at Wasps, Dai Young “mystified”. Launchbury’s England colleague, Courtney Lawes was picked.
Gatland defended his selection. “We just discussed the differences between Courtney [Lawes] and Joe,” Gatland added. “I understand about Joe, and the disappointment that’s obviously going to be there. But it was a tough call.”
The decision to omit Hartley was another tight call, with Ireland captain Rory Best, Hartley’s England understudy, Jamie George, and Wales hooker Ken Owen named instead.
England, as expected after back-to-back Six Nations wins, provide the largest contingent with 16 tourists. There will be 12 Welsh and 11 Irish players, but only two Scots, full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour, despite the country recording victories over Ireland and Wales in the Six Nations. That decision provoked an angry reaction north of the border.
Gatland, however, insisted that nationality of the players did not come into the equation and denied that the lack of a Scottish presence in the coaching team had an impact on what is thought to be their lowest representation since the tour of New Zealand and Australia in 1930.
“We understand they are going to be disappointed but it wasn’t about what nation you come from,” Gatland added. “We put together what we thought was the strongest possible squad.”
The simplest decision for Gatland, it seems, was his captain, with Sam Warburton becoming the first since Martin Johnson to lead successive Lions tours. Warburton, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury, said on Wednesday that he expected to be fully fit before the start of the tour.
“One of the things I admire about Sam is that it’s not about Sam Warburton, it’s about the team first, and he’d be the first one to understand that if someone is better than him in the No 7 position, whether it’s Sean [O’Brien] or Justin [Tipuric] or whoever else, and we picked him over Sam, then Sam would understand that,” said Gatland.
The decision to take 41 players – just three fewer that Sir Clive Woodward’s ill-fated tour of 2005 – was based upon the demands that will be placed on the squad at the start of the tour, given that a large number of players could be involved in the Premiership and Pro12 finals just a week before the first match, and the quality of the opposition of the tour matches.
There are also injury concerns about Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray, who is struggling with a shoulder/neck nerve injury and has been told he must play before the end of the season to guarantee his place. Alun Wyn Jones, the Wales lock, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, is expected to return for the Ospreys in the next couple of weeks.
Gatland draws confidence about the squad’s chances of success from Ireland’s victory over New Zealand in Chicago last November, which showed “some of those world-class players are human, make some mistakes, show some frailties” and the competition for places in his own squad.
He also wants to ensure his squad will be prepared for the unique culture in New Zealand, which he feels teams at the 2011 World Cup failed to come to grips with, by watching three New Zealand films before they depart.
“I’ve said it to the staff as well; go and watch Hunt for Wilderpeople, or there’s Whale Rider or another called Boy,” Gatland added. “It kind of gives you an understanding of New Zealand humour, New Zealand culture a little bit.
“If we go there prepared and we understand our opposition, then that little bit of a percentage of what it’s going to be like to travel in New Zealand – hopefully we’re going to arrive with a better understanding of the country, of the culture of the people that we’re going to.”
Gatland believes his side could have the edge on the basis of possessing “four or five of the world’s best goal kickers”, the power of their front five and impact off the bench. “You’re trying to find areas where you’re going to have an advantage and New Zealand always feel that their difference is their tight five and their ability in terms of ball handling,” he said.
“We feel we’ve got a tight five that can match them, we feel we’ve got a tight five who are going to be excellent at the set-piece, but also have the ability to get around the park and have good hands and strong ball-carrying ability. The other thing is the ability to match them off the bench, and we feel we’ve got the players who can come off the bench and have a massive impact, too.”
Great reaction at Sarries...
Check out the applause when Jamie George's name is read out
— Petrus du Plessis (@PetrusduPlessis) April 19, 2017
Scottish reaction to Lions squad
This is priceless...
— Phil Goodlad (@bbcgoodlad) April 19, 2017
Stat of the day!
This is the first time since 1908 that Scotland haven't had a Lion in the pack.
Borthwick on Hartley omission...
"It's one of those positions where we are spoiled for choice considering the options we have. We discussed it at length.
"Dylan has been a tremendous leader for England, and playing well, but the key for us was getting the right mix of players and the three we've come to we believe give us the right mix, from Jamie's set-piece and running game, Ken Owens's form in the Six Nations was tremendous and Rory Best's competitiveness and leadership."
There are 25 first-time tourists with Kyle Sinckler and Jamie George never having made an international start and Ben Te'o only having started once.
Two Scots - fair or foul?
Here's our man Daniel Schofield:
Scots will cry foul that two players – Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour – does not do justice to their Six Nations victories against Ireland and Wales, who each have double-figure representations.
It would be a real shame if Scottish supporters come to feel disenfranchised by the Lions but in fairness there was no real standout omission.
Jonny Gray and Finn Russell are both unlucky but no more so than say Joe Launchbury and George Ford. Had he been fit then tighthead prop WP Nel would surely have been included.
Player reactions - "Wow"
— Kyle Sinckler (@KyleSinckler) April 19, 2017
It's all mad...
— Anthony Watson (@anthonywatson_) April 19, 2017
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) April 19, 2017
— Adam Jones (@adamjones3) April 19, 2017
— Jonathan Davies OBE (@JiffyRugby) April 19, 2017
Your British & Irish Lions squad 2017
Worcester celebrate Te'o inclusion
— Tom Biggs (@tombiggs11) April 19, 2017
Gatland on competition for places...
"There's competition for places and there will be players fighting for Test spots with no clear number one, number two or number three in certain positions.
"That's what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad going to New Zealand. But we know how tough it will be - this is the toughest tour.
"In previous tours the midweek games tended to be a little easier, but when you look at the quality of the opposition we're facing in midweek, it's going to be hugely challenging.
"That's why we've taken a few extra players than we did in 2013. We just needed to make sure we have the depth and quality in the squad to make sure we can handle the quality of the sides we're coming up against."
Gatland on his squad selections...
"I think there's been healthy debate about the squad. It's an incredible traditional team and we want everyone to be supportive and behind the team."
Warburton on his fitness...
"I will 100 per cent be fit for the start of the tour."
Warburton on being named captain...
"I found out in the supermarket car park. It was a surprise. I didn't see myself as too much of a contender. I thought it would come from the captains of the Home Nations.
"I didn't want to go in as the cashier loves rugby so my wife went in to get some bread and milk. I genuinely didn't know but he asked me last Thursday.
"I think I hung up on Gats first because the boys from Cardiff Blues have been winding me up for weeks."
Lions squad nationalities compared
How Warren Gatland's 2017 squad compares to the make-up of recent Lions line-ups.
Captain: Sam Warburton (Wales)
Coach: Warren Gatland (Wales coach, nationality New Zealand)
Original squad: England 10 players, Ireland 9, Scotland 3, Wales 15.
Test selection: England 20 appearances/9 starts, Ireland 14/11, Scotland 1/0, Wales 29/25.
Wales' back-to-back Six Nations champions - Grand Slam winners in 2012 - provided 15 of the 37-man squad and more than half of the players in the starting line-ups under their established coach and captain. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny was the chief inspiration for a 2-1 series win and a record 41 points in the deciding third Test. Coach Gatland and captain Warburton remain in charge for 2017.
Opposition: South Africa
Captain: Paul O'Connell (Ireland)
Coach: Sir Ian McGeechan (Scotland)
Original squad: England 8, Ireland 14, Scotland 2, Wales 13.
Test selection: England 15 appearances/12 starts, Ireland 21/16, Scotland 1/0, Wales 24/17.
Ireland had won the Six Nations Grand Slam, matching the feat of Wales the previous year, and both nations were well represented as England slipped to third in the pecking order. South Africa won the series 2-1, with Morne Steyn's match-winning penalty from his own half in injury time of the second Test ultimately proving decisive.
Opposition: New Zealand
Captain: Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)
Coach: Sir Clive Woodward (England)
Original squad: England 20*, Ireland 11, Scotland 3, Wales 10.
Test selection: England 28 appearances/19 starts, Ireland 16/11, Scotland 1/0, Wales 18/15.
Woodward kept faith with many of his 2003 World Cup winners, but suffered a 3-0 series whitewash. Wales' Gareth Thomas took over the captaincy after O'Driscoll was controversially spear-tackled out of the tour two minutes into the first Test.
* Jonny Wilkinson was added to the squad as a 21st England selection, having initially been included on a list of players to join the squad subject to proving their fitness.
Captain: Martin Johnson (England)
Coach: Graham Henry (Wales coach, nationality New Zealand)
Original squad: England 18, Ireland 6, Scotland 3, Wales 10.
Test selection: England 32 appearances/25 starts, Ireland 9/9, Scotland 4/3, Wales 12/8.
England's back-to-back Grand Slam winners dominated the team-sheet, led by captain Johnson two years before he marshalled his country to global success. He was the first man to captain the Lions twice, an achievement now matched by Warburton. Prop Tom Smith was the last Scot to start a Lions Test, making the XV in all three games in a series won 2-1 by Australia.
Opposition: South Africa
Captain: Martin Johnson (England)
Coach: Sir Ian McGeechan (Scotland)
Original squad: England 18, Ireland 4, Scotland 5, Wales 8
Test selection: England 27 appearances/22 starts, Ireland 9/8, Scotland 8/8, Wales 8/7
The last time Scotland were not the nation least represented - they had five players to Ireland's four and eight starts to Wales' seven. The Lions won the series 2-1, largely thanks to the kicking of Neil Jenkins - a member of the 2013 and 2017 coaching staffs.
Opposition: New Zealand
Captain: Gavin Hastings (Scotland)
Coach: Sir Ian McGeechan (Scotland)
Original squad: England 16, Ireland 2, Scotland 7, Wales 5
Test selection: England 32 appearances/31 starts, Ireland 3/3, Scotland 6/6, Wales 5/5
Rory Underwood's try helped the tourists win the second Test but they lost the series 2-1. Eleven players started all three matches, with Mike Teague in the second Test the only Lions replacement used.
Previous tours since 2000
Original squad: England 14, Ireland 10, Scotland 3, Wales 12
Test selection: England 26 appearances/16 starts, Ireland 15/12, Scotland 2/1, Wales 21/16
Last six tours
Original squad: England 15, Ireland 8, Scotland 4, Wales 10
Test selection: England 26 appearances/20 starts, Ireland 12/10, Scotland 4/3, Wales 16/13
Wasps stunned at Launchbury snub
All gobsmacked here that Joe Launchbury wont be with @lionsofficial. 2 motm's in a 6 Nations winning campaign & player of the comp nominee
— Wasps (@WaspsRugby) April 19, 2017
Gatland on naming Warburton as captain...
"Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain.
"We believe that Sam's experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain.
"He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work."
English representation... and its decline
In 1997, England had 55% (22/40)
In 2001, England had 45% (20/44)
In 2005, England had 45% (20/44)
In 2009, England had 36% (16/45)
In 2013, England had 36% (16/45)
In 2017, England have 39% (16/41)
Lions squad (forwards)
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.
Lions squad (backs)
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, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Seymour, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Ben Youngs
Not long to go now
Phew, that completes the list of names. Sponsors and partners, that is. A lavish Lions launch pic.twitter.com/0h9UgHQfuZ
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 19, 2017
Excitement is building
The press corps are taking their seats in preparation:
Latest Lions squad updates
This just in from Gavin Mairs...
It is understood that Ulster and Ireland centre Jared Payne has made cut for Lions squad but no Donnacha Ryan or Keith Earls
BREAKING! Roberts rumours false
Still 20 minutes to go until the announcement but we can confirm that Jamie Roberts is NOT going to be named in the Lions squad.
The Rugby Debate - have your say
The pitchforks are already being sharpened and the angry mobs swelling ahead of the Lions squad announcement - especially over the predicted number of Welshmen and lack of Scots.
With half an hour to go until the grand unveiling, join in with our Rugby Debate as Daniel Schofield says 'Warren Gatland has earned the right to pick whoever he wants for the Lions'
Context will be quickly forgotten as poison-ladened keyboards are pounded. Firstly, I don't believe Gatland will be selecting the best players in every position. Clearly he has been devising a strategy over the past 12 months to defeat the All Blacks, which may for example involve selecting Ben Te'o ahead of Jonathan Joseph at outside centre.
Short of selecting a squad of 75, there is no way that Gatland will find a way of appeasing all nations and factions and even then some dark conspiracy will be aired.
After the last Lions series in which personal attacks on Gatland reached a fever pitch for daring to drop Brian O'Driscoll for the final Test – a decision for which he was subsequently vindicated – it would be nice to think that people may pause before proclaiming that a coach of 28 years' experience knows nothing about rugby.
To have your say, click here
There's no such thing as a secret anymore
It's fair to say that there are a few angry rugby fans out there following the Sam Warburton captaincy leak.
Not so much that the Welshman has been named skipper - he was pretty much everyone's pick - but that the leak has spoiled the big unveiling.
It's close to the point of not needing a Press Conference to announce the Lions Squad!!! #LionsNZ2017
— Will Carling (@willcarling) April 19, 2017
World Rugby CEO congratulates Warburton... prematurely
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper has tweeted his congratulations to Sam Warburton on his selection as Lions captain - and if that's not confirmation, what is?
— Brett Gosper (@brettgosper) April 19, 2017
Gosper, though, claims he is not in the know and is merely basing his congrats on what he's hearing on Twitter.
@simonrug Actually traveling and just saw your tweet on Lions Captain so nothing official
— Brett Gosper (@brettgosper) April 19, 2017
Is this a squad capable of defeating New Zealand?
Here, at Telegraph Towers, we are putting our neck out to say this is what we expect the Lions squad to look like:
What do we think we know?
There's been a lot of speculation in the last 24 hours surrounding who will be in the squad.
Our man Gavin Mairs has been on top of all of it. Here's what we think in 10 bite-size morsels...
1. Dylan Hartley will become the third successive England captain to miss out on selection for the Lions.
2. Wales centre Jamie Roberts, a veteran of the 2009 and 2013 tours, is expected to earn a surprise inclusion despite losing his place in the Wales starting XV during the Six Nations campaign.
3. Jack Nowell, the Exeter wing, has also made the cut despite failing to secure a regular starting place for England this season.
4. Leigh Halfpenny, the Wales full-back who was the place-kicking hero of the 2013 tour, is expected to be in the squad despite his indifferent form for his country.
5. Warren Gatland will name Ireland pair Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan amongst his lock options.
6. Scotland’s disappointing finish to their Six Nations campaign is expected to mean they will contribute just one player, full-back Stuart Hogg.
7. Five starters from England's Six Nations-winning side will miss out - George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Mike Brown, Joe Launchbury and James Haskell - as well as Chris Robshaw.
8. The back row is expected to be dominated by Ireland and Wales, with Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric making up the flankers.
9. The centre position is one of the more intriguing aspects of the selection. Definitely in are England's Owen Farrell, who will also cover fly-half, Ben Te'o and Elliot Daly.
10. England will provide the bulk of the front five, with Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole joining Kyle Sinckler among six props.
Does this confirm Warburton is captain?
In the age of social media, keeping a secret is impossible
— Donald McCrorie (@grandetoro1949) April 19, 2017
Lions squad annnouncement - all you need to know
When is the Lions squad announced?
Today! Warren Gatland will name his Lions squad on Wednesday April 19, 2017 at the Hilton London Syon Park.
What time will the squad announcement be at?
We're expecting the news at midday BST.
What TV channel will the Lions squad be revealed on?
Sky Sports News. But stay right here, because we'll be covering the announcement live, with Rugby Digger himself Giles Mole.
Is this the normal time for a Lions squad to be announced?
Recent announcements have come after the European Champions Cup semi-finals. This year, however, Gatland will name his touring party before the semis take place.
When does the tour actually start?
The tour begins on June 3 when the Lions take on the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei.
What TV channel will the matches be on?
All matches will be shown live on Sky Sports and Sky Sports HD as well as SkyGo, the online media player. talkSPORT will be providing live UK radio commentary of all matches including the Tests.
There are no plans for any terrestrial highlights or internet streaming outside of Sky's coverage.
What is the full set of Lions fixtures?
Who will be on the plane to New Zealand?
That's the question on everyone's lips.
On Tuesday night Gavin Mairs reported that Dylan Hartley will be the third successive England captain to miss out on Lions selection, but there will be a surprise call for veteran Jamie Roberts.
It looks like bad news for some of England's best players, with Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Chris Robshaw among those likely to miss out.
Here's our final verdict on the 37-man squad, compiled a day before the announcement:
Who is on the coaching team?
Graham Rowntree and Neil Jenkins have recently been confirmed as the final part of the British & Irish Lions coaching team.
Welshman Jenkins and Englishman Rowntree will, along with fellow coaches Steve Borthwick, Andy Farrell and Rob Howley, complete the team headed by Gatland.
What does the Lions jersey look like?
How can I get tickets?
Around 30,000 fans are expected to make the trip. Tickets for the three Test series range from £79 to £239 while the games against the Super Rugby teams, Maori All Blacks and New Zealand Provincial Barbarians go from £20 from £70.
For those wanting to support the Lions all information about tickets, packages and accommodation are available through by logging on to lionsrugby.com/tours.
New Zealand rugby fans have created an initiative to host British & Irish Lions supporters who are unable to find accommodation.
A Facebook page called Adopt a Lions Fan 2017 has been created by Adam Glishnan after he realised that many Lions supporters cannot attend the tour due to lack of accommodation options. Over 100 participants have since posted on the page.
"I really hope friendships will develop out of this, because rugby is a great vehicle for it," Glishnan told The Guardian.
"We don't want money to change hands at all, we want visitors to experience the famed Kiwi hospitality, and give Kiwi rugby fans to opportunity to look after their Lions guests."
The majority of hotels in cities that are hosting the Tests are 90 per cent booked and services like AirBnb are offering rooms for prices as high as £670 pounds a night.
What are the betting odds?
New Zealand to win series 2/7 Draw 40/1 Lions to win series 7/2