Warren Gatland has the international destiny of dozens of players in his hands ahead of confirming his British and Irish Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand at 12pm BST on Wednesday (19 April). The Wales coach is expected to name a 38-man travelling party tasked with beating the All Blacks in a three-match series for the first time since 1971.
Either Sam Warburton or Alun Wyn Jones are set to be handed the captaincy for the tour after both men captained the Lions during the victorious series in Australia in 2013. On that occasion, Warburton was named as skipper for the tour but missed the third test through injury, with Wyn Jones leading the team for the final game in Sydney.
The Ospreys second row has since replaced Warburton, who is currently nursing a knee injury, as the permanent Wales captain. Should Gatland have any concerns over their role in the starting XV prior to facing the world champions then Ireland's Rory Best and half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are the next cabs off the rank.
The greatest selection dilemma facing Gatland comes in Best's position of hooker, where Dylan Hartley could be left at home despite leading England to successive Six Nations titles. The Northampton front-row forward was selected in Gatland's initial squad in 2013 but did not travel after being suspended for 11 weeks for abusing a referee.
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Hartley's chequered disciplinary record continues to represent the greatest question mark against him and his inclusion is likely to be debated by Gatland and his coaching team – which includes Steve Borthwick, Andy Farrell, Rob Howley, Neil Jenkins and Graham Rowntree – until the 11th hour. The New Zealander did impress in Northampton's defeat to Saracens at the weekend but faces competition from the Premiership champions' number two, Jamie George.
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
The highest profile omissions from Gatland's squad are likely to exclusively come from England. Despite winning successive Six Nations titles the performance against Ireland in Dublin when the Red Rose bottled the chance to win successive grand slams has ended the selection hopes of several players.
Joe Launchbury, Jonathan Joseph and George Ford – each of whom have played central roles in Eddie Jones' team – are set to be sidelined while James Haskell, Mike Brown and the recently fit-again Chris Robshaw will also miss out. Robshaw's exclusion is particularly harsh given how he has turned his career around since the 2015 World Cup and battled back from missing the Six Nations following shoulder surgery. Nevertheless, England are still expected to dominate the squad named by Gatland.
Harlequins' versatile front-row forward Kyle Sinckler could be among the surprise inclusions despite having never made an international start. Centre Ben Te'o will be enlisted after impressing during the spring, though like Sinckler he has a dearth of experience at international level.
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