Warren Gatland has announced his British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand this summer, with Wales back row Sam Warburton confirmed as captain.
However, there was disappointment for many, including Dylan Hartley — who has captained England to each of the past two Six Nations titles — and international teammates George Ford and Joe Launchbury.
Warburton becomes only the second player to captain the Lions in two different tours, following in the footsteps of former England skipper Martin Johnson.
The 28-year-old led the Lions to series victory in Australia in 2013 but stepped down as Wales captain ahead of the 2017 Six Nations, and was replaced by Alun Wyn Jones.
Warburton is currently recovering from a knee injury but is expected to be fit for this year’s tour, which takes place between June 3 and July 8.
Wales’ Ross Moriarty and Ireland’s Jared Payne come as surprise inclusions.
The squad includes 16 Englishman, 12 Welsh players 11 Irishmen and only two Scots. Sixteen of those selected for this year’s tour made the grade four years ago, while Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny also featured in the 2009 tour.
Gatland said: “Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain. We believe that Sam’s experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain.
“He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work.
“This will be the toughest tour. When you look at the quality of the opposition, it’s going to be hugely challenging. That’s why we picked a few extra players compared to 2013.”
Warburton revealed he found out the news while in a car park last Thursday.
He said: “I feel humbled and extremely proud to be given the opportunity to captain the Lions for a second tour, and look forward to playing the world champions on their own turf with the best players of the UK and Ireland at my side.”
British & Irish Lions squad to tour New Zealand
Backs: Dan Biggar, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Joseph, Conor Murray, George North, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Seymour, Ben Te’o, Anthony Watson, Rhys Webb, Liam Williams, Ben Youngs.
Forwards: Rory Best, Dan Cole, Taulupe Faletau, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Iain Henderson, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Jack McGrath, Ross Moriarty, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Sam Warburton (captain).