At least five high-profile members of England’s Six Nations Championship-winning side are to miss out on selection for the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
It is understood that the omissions will include England’s play-making fly-half, George Ford, centre Jonathan Joseph, who scored a hat-trick of tries in the record victory over Scotland, and Mike Brown, the ever-present full-back of Eddie Jones’s tenure.
At least two members of the England pack are also expected to be overlooked by Lions coach Warren Gatland, who names his squad on Wednesday, with lock Joe Launchbury and flanker James Haskell due to miss the cut.
Chris Robshaw, the former England captain who was one of the star performers for Jones during their record-breaking unbeaten run of Test victories last year, is also expected to be omitted despite returning to full fitness recently after missing the entire Six Nations campaign with a shoulder injury.
It is understood that the fate of current England captain Dylan Hartley, meanwhile, is expected to be decided at Gatland’s final selection meeting with his coaches tomorrow afternoon to rubber-stamp the remainder of make-up of the squad.
The Northampton hooker’s impressive performance in the Premiership match against Saracens on Sunday, when he went head-to-head with his England rival Jamie George, suggests the 31 year-old may yet make the squad having missed the tour victory over Australia in 2013 because of an 11-week suspension for abusing a referee.
England, on the back of claiming successive Six Nations titles, should still provide the lion’s share of the expected 38-man squad, with a contingent of at least 12 players expected to be confirmed on Wednesday.
Telegraph Sport revealed that Kyle Sinckler, the Harlequins prop who is yet to start a Test match for England after eight appearances from the bench since his debut last November and Worcester centre Ben Te’o, who has started in just one of his eight appearances, will be included as two of the ‘rookie’ selections.
It is also expected that Joe Marler, Sinckler’s club team-mate who started at loosehead for England throughout the Six Nations, will be included as one of seven props, along with Saracens' Mako Vunipola and Leicester's Dan Cole.
Te’o, who was born in New Zealand and played rugby league for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Samoa, qualifies for England via his English mother and his strong ball-carrying made a significant impact off the bench as Jones’s side retained their Six Nations title.
However, it appears that England’s defeat by Ireland in the final Six Nations match – which ended their hopes of setting a world record for the number of successive Test wins and from claiming a second successive Grand Slam may have damaged the hopes of the others – just as it did when Stuart Lancaster’s side lost heavily to Wales in the finale in 2013.
Launchbury, who earned man-of-the-match awards in England’s victories over Wales in Cardiff and Italy at Twickenham, had appeared to be one of the tour certainties after playing the rugby of his career over the last six months, but is poised to be overlooked given the ferocious competition at second row.
Haskell, another starter in Dublin, was another lynchpin of Jones’s side last year, and his defensive work-rate and energetic personality also made him a strong contender for one of the back row positions but it seems that his injury-disrupted season – he was sidelined for six months with a toe injury followed by a head injury – has left him just short in an even more competitive area.
Ireland locks Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan are thought to be strong contenders for selection following their thunderous performances against England.
Joesph’s attacking prowess and acceleration are such that he made many pundits’ Test teams for the three Test series against the All Blacks, but Gatland, as he showed by dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the decisive third Test against the Wallabies, is not afraid to make tough decisions.
He was the Six Nations’ top try-scorer in 2015 and joint-top try-scorer again this season and overall has scored 16 tries in 33 caps for his country, but struggled in the game against Ireland.
Ford, although highly-rated by Jones, was considered by many to have an outside chance given that Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton is almost certain to be the Test starter while Owen Farrell can cover both fly-half and inside centre.
Robshaw’s omission is equally tough on the 30 year-old, who has reinvented himself superbly as a blindside flanker after the disappointment of the 2015 World Cup. He missed out to Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric in 2013 in the wake of England’s defeat in Cardiff.
Now a lack of international game time and the intensely strong competition at blindside flanker looks to have seen him miss out again.
Brown was another who faced tough competition, but his rock-like security under a high ball and warrior spirit earned a strong endorsement last week for selection from Telegraph columnist and former Lions centre Will Greenwood.
Jones at least will have the benefit of taking a strong squad for the two-Test tour to Argentina in June and the players who miss out will know that the near certainty of injuries could yet see them called into action during the 10-match tour.