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Hartley expected to miss out as Lions squad speculation ramps up

Ireland will likely have a sizable contingent for the tour to New Zealand.

England captain Dylan Hartley.
England captain Dylan Hartley.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

ENGLAND COULD PROVIDE the bulk of the British and Irish Lions squad and its most notable absentee when coach Warren Gatland unveils his tour party for the Test series against his native New Zealand.

Tuesday saw Gatland, on secondment from his role as Wales coach, and his Lions staff hold their final selection meeting ahead of today’s squad announcement in London.

While the likes of England’s Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell, Kyle Sinckler, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje and Joe Marler have been tipped for a first Lions campaign that will see the combined side play three Tests against world champions New Zealand, there are doubts over the prospects of several of their Red Rose colleagues.

Several British media organisations have reported that centre Jonathan Joseph and lock Joe Launchbury, who both played important roles in England’s successful defence of their Six Nations title, would miss out.

Meanwhile, it is expected that England captain Dylan Hartley, the New Zealand-born hooker who has missed more than a year of his career through suspension, will not be chosen by Gatland.

If Hartley isn’t included this afternoon, he would be the third successive England captain, after Chris Robshaw and Steve Borthwick, to miss out on Lions selection.

Ireland skipper Rory Best, Wales’s Ken Owens and Hartley’s understudy at England Jamie George are expected to fill the three hooker berths in Gatland’s squad today.

Former Leinster centre Te’o, also New Zealand-born, has made just one England start in eight Test appearances. But he starred off the bench in the Six Nations and his physical power could see him get the nod ahead of Joseph.

England could have their largest Lions contingent since Clive Woodward, their 2003 World Cup-winning boss, picked 20 of his compatriots for a 2005 series whitewash by New Zealand.

Ireland are being tipped to have between nine and 12 players in the squad with Jack McGrath, Best, Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw thought to have earned selection.

Keith Earls, Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose are believed to be on the cusp while Jamie Heaslip, Simon Zebo, Jared Payne and Rob Kearney are expected to miss out.

Gatland is also expected to show faith in the Wales players he knows so well, with centre Jamie Roberts and fullback Leigh Halfpenny being tipped for selection by the British media despite their underwhelming Six Nations campaigns.

Sam Warburton is expected to be named as captain once again, despite concerns over his fitness.

History is against the Lions in New Zealand, with their lone series win against the All Blacks coming in 1971.

The 2017 party begin their 10-match tour against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on 3 June.

C) AFP 2017

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