Kyle Sinckler 'gutted' at Lions snub as Warren Gatland rejects Eddie Jones' England vision

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Warren Gatland (left) selected Sam Simmonds (top right) but left out Kyle Sinckler (bottom right) - GETTY IMAGES / NMC POOL
Warren Gatland (left) selected Sam Simmonds (top right) but left out Kyle Sinckler (bottom right) - GETTY IMAGES / NMC POOL

A “gutted” Kyle Sinckler was the stunning omission from Warren Gatland’s 37-man Lions squad that calls into question many of England head coach Eddie Jones’ selection decisions this year.

As Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend revealed that he had not consulted any of the England coaches in the build-up to the announcement of this party for the South Africa tour, head coach Gatland sensationally...

  • Overlooked England prop Sinckler, who had been considered by many as a nailed-on squad selection

  • Did not select Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton and lock James Ryan

  • Picked Exeter No 8 Sam Simmonds, who Jones has not selected in three years, over England stalwart Billy Vunipola

  • Insisted Elliot Daly would play at centre rather than full-back, where he has been Jones' first choice since 2018

  • Suggested he could “create an environment” for a five-strong Saracens’ contingent to recapture their best form after underperforming for England in the Six Nations

Gatland revealed the brutality of the 2009 South Africa series weighed heavily on his mind with selection. He promised his squad, led by Wales second row Alun Wyn Jones, will need to be prepared to “get in the trenches” against the world champion Springboks. Fitness and durability proved to be two key criteria in the most surprising Lions squad of recent times.

The effects of those bombshells reverberated across the British Isles. They were perhaps most keenly felt in Ireland with the omissions of captain Sexton and second row Ryan, who was mentioned as a possible captaincy contender last year. Yet Gatland showed no favouritism towards Wales, whom he coached for 12 years, with centre Jonathan Davies also omitted.

Despite England’s desperate fifth-place finish in the Six Nations, they still boast the greatest representation with 11 players, although that is a long way short of the target of 20-plus players set by Jones last year. Scotland, meanwhile, boat their highest total in 32 years with eight players.

In a late change of heart, Telegraph Sport understands Northampton loose forward Courtney Lawes was added to the original squad as the 37th player. Exeter lock Jonny Hill was another stunning inclusion having been dropped by England in the Six Nations, while the selection of centres Bundee Aki and Chris Harris caught many by surprise.

Yet it was the list of absentees that drew most attention. As well as Sinckler and Vunipola, many of England’s leading performers at the 2019 World Cup including flanker Sam Underhill, centre Henry Slade, wing Jonny May, fly-half George Ford and centre Manu Tuilagi, who is recovering from injury, missed out.

Sinckler tweeted: “Honestly gutted not to be involved. Appreciate the messages of support. Not a time to feel sorry for myself and blame others. Let’s get behind the squad, wishing the boys all the best.”

Gatland explained Sinckler was overlooked because of Tadhg Furlong and Zander Fagerson’s form in the Six Nations for Ireland and Scotland along with Andrew Porter’s ability to cover loosehead. A clear lack of form also cost Billy Vunipola, the Saracens No 8, a place in the squad.

“We looked at No 8s being explosive in the way they carry, with footwork, and with Billy at the moment he is probably not quite there,” Gatland said. “I didn’t see from him in the Six Nations the same sort of impact that he has had in the past, in terms of how important he has been for England when they have been successful – getting across the gainline, busting tackles.”

Yet while Vunipola misses the cut, his Saracens teammates Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly, whom is listed at centre, have all been included. All were starters in the 2017 tour to New Zealand but struggled to hit their usual heights in this year’s Six Nations, which Gatland believes he can address despite Saracens currently playing in the second tier. “I look back on that (Six Nations) and go, ‘that doesn’t mean they have become bad players overnight’,” Gatland said. “I have got to be conscious that we can bring in some of those players and create an environment where they are going to get some of their form back or thrive and be successful.”

In Vunipola’s place, Gatland turned to Ireland’s Jack Conan and Exeter's Sam Simmonds, whom has only been playing club rugby for the past three years, although that seemed of little concern to the Lions coaching staff. “He’s got a real point of different and that point of difference is something we appreciate,” Townsend said. At 20, Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit is the youngest member of a Lions touring party since 1959.

The Lions face their first warm-up match against Japan on June 28 before leading into an eight-game tour of South Africa.

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