Elliot Daly: How I found out I was in the Lions squad

Daniel Schofield
Daly made Warren Gatland's squad but a team-mate and close friend did not - Getty Images Europe

Lions squad announcements have transformed beyond all recognition in the space of a generation. From horse-trading between union chairmen in smoke-filled rooms that would result in a round of letters, usually second class, being dispatched to the live televised event where the list of sponsors and, of course, partners is longer than the squad list itself. 

What has not changed is the emotions those selections can invoke, a vivid snapshot of which was provided last Wednesday afternoon at Wasps training ground. Training had just finished and best friends Elliot Daly and Joe Launchbury gathered in a corner of the changing room to watch the announcement being made on their smartphones. 

With the backs announced first in alphabetical order, Daly’s was the second name to be read out by tour manager John Spencer. Then came the forwards. George Kruis’ name was followed by Courtney Lawes.

Despite his outstanding form for both Wasps and England during the Six Nations, second row Launchbury had not made the cut. The elation and despair each individual felt was tempered by empathy for the other’s feelings. 

“I think he was probably more overjoyed for me,” Daly said. “He congratulated me as soon as my name was announced. I was hoping his name would be announced as well but unfortunately it wasn’t. I was gutted for him.

“Of course he was disappointed. He was gutted when it was announced and he was not involved but he is one of those guys who takes everything in his stride. He took it really well, moved on and congratulated me because he is a great guy.”

Daly is set to become only the second player after Riki Flutey to play for and against the Lions having been a part of a slightly worse for wear Barbarians squad that faced Warren Gatland’s side in Hong Kong four years ago. Preparations will be a “little bit more professional” this time around according to Daly who still seems dumbstruck by his selection: “I don’t think it will sink in until we get into that camp really.”

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Whatever his own trepidation, Daly was pretty much an automatic pick for his crucial ability to cover outside centre where he plays for Wasps, wing where he started in the Six Nations for England and full back. A 50-metre sledgehammer boot is an added bonus. Even if he does not feature in a lot of potential Test XVs right now, Dai Young, his director of rugby at Wasps and a veteran of three Lions series, knows a lot can change once the tour begins.

“I wouldn’t bet against Elliot forcing his way into the test set-up,” Young said. “He’s got great pace, he’s got a great kicking game, he can play a number of positions, defensively he’s strong and he’s a real threat. I’m expecting big things from him out there.

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“John Bentley wouldn’t have gone to South Africa as number one but he got his way into the test team. Injuries happen and as we all say form is temporary, class is permanent; but sometimes you haven’t got enough time for class to out, because its such a short tour, and you can be in form or out of form at the wrong time.”

For now both Daly and Launchbury have had to put their emotions in check for the end-of-season run-in with Wasps. Victory away to Harlequins on Friday night will secure a home semi-final and a further opportunity to translate all their plaudits and potential into cold, hard silverware.

Last season Wasps fell at the semi-final stage both domestically and Europe while Leinster beat them 32-17 in the Champions Cup quarter-final earlier this month. Daly, however, maintains those defeats have only served to strengthen Wasps’ resolve. Even the prospect of facing the all-conquering Saracens holds no fear.

“We can definitely beat them,” Daly said. “We’ve played them in big games before and lost, that’s going to stand us in good stead. We’ve worked out how to play them, we’ll look at them over the next couple of weeks and see if they’ve changed the way they play. We’ll be very prepared if we come up against them in knockout rugby.”

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