British and Irish Lions 2013 - reaction: Omissions of Chris Robshaw and Jonny Wilkinson questioned
Warren Gatland leaves out English duo and names Sam Warburton captain
Tuesday 30 April 2013
Former England and Lions fly-half Stuart Barnes has criticised Warren Gatland's decision to omit England captain Chris Robshaw and Jonny Wilkinson from his squad to tour Australia.
Harlequins flanker Robshaw and Toulon fly-half Wilkinson were among the most notable absentees from Gatland's 37-man selection.
Wilkinson was widely expected to miss out due to his club commitments with Toulon.
The French club are firmly in contention to win the Top 14, the final of which takes place on June 1, the same day as the Lions begin their tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
Robshaw is particularly unfortunate to miss out having led England with some aplomb during the rebuilding phase that followed a woeful 2011 World Cup.
But a victory over the All Blacks and four wins from five in the Six Nations have not been enough.
Barnes believes Robshaw is the "unluckiest man in Britain and Ireland", and would have taken the Quins forward ahead of Wales' Justin Tipuric.
He told Sky Sports News: "Robshaw has had a wonderful season, but he has looked tired since the Wales game, he has looked tired, he has looked like a ghost of his former self.
"But I think he could do a job at seven, or he could do a job at six. But there has been a lot of negative media about him, people have never been certain about Chris Robshaw and I think he is paying the price for that.
"I personally think Tipuric is a little lucky to go. He is a headline number seven, he does some great things and in time he is going to be wonderful, but is he really that much better than Chris Robshaw over the ball? Does he have that experience?
"I think the answer is no on both of those counts and Robshaw is unlucky to miss out."
He added: "If you ask me who is the unluckiest person in Britain and Ireland, I would say Chris Robshaw."
Gatland had made it clear his preference was for the tour party to depart together, with no late arrivals in Australia, and Wilkinson had himself played down his own chances of being involved.
But Wilkinson's stunning performances in Toulon's run to the Heineken Cup final, including a man-of-the-match display opposite Saracens' Owen Farrell - who made the squad - on Sunday.
Barnes said: "We need to know whether Wilkinson is available or not.
"If Wilkinson was available to join the party after the French final - if Toulon get there - then I find it utterly mystifying.
Jonathan Sexton is going to be the Lions Test fly-half barring accidents, the next fly-half's job will be to close out a game and Wilkinson is the best in the world at doing it.
"Yes he has weaknesses but they are the same as Owen Farrell's and his strengths are stronger that Owen Farrell's.
"So if Wilkinson was available I find it disappointing, and if it is 1-1 going into the Third Test and the Lions miss out because they cannot drop a goal or kick a 50-metre penalty then this will be the selection we are talking about in years to come."
Among the unexpected selections in the party was Glasgow and Scotland wing Sean Maitland.
The 24-year-old New Zealand-born three-quarter only came over to Britain at the start of the season and his Scottish grandparents meant he was eligible to make his Scotland debut against England at the start of the Six Nations, where he scored an early try.
Maitland told Sky Sports News: "I'm pretty speechless, I am over the moon, words can't describe what I'm feeling at the moment. The squad went live, I was watching it with the Glasgow boys in the changing room and that's when I found out.
"It's been a rollercoaster for me, coming over here to try and achieve new goals.
"Playing for Scotland was a very proud moment and in a Lions year it has worked out well for me, but the hard work begins now."
Maitland is also the cousin of Australia fly-half Quade Cooper, and would relish the chance to lock horns if the Reds playmaker is included in the Wallaby squad.
He said: "We could talk about a rivalry that started at the age of five when he beat me in a long-distance race. He's had the wood over me in a few recent battles so hopefully we can get one over him."
Gatland's squad is made up of 15 Welsh players, 10 from England, nine from Ireland and three from Scotland.
England's representation equals the number who appeared on the 2009 tour of South Africa, and head coach Stuart Lancaster congratulated those selected.
He said: "Being selected by the British & Irish Lions is a major honour and I know the England players named in the squad today will do the jersey proud.
"I'm sure they will contribute a great deal to the tour and coming into a new environment with the best players from Ireland, Scotland and Wales will only enhance their development as players and people.
"Taking on Australia away from home in three Tests is a great challenge but one I know they will relish. Everyone involved in England Rugby will be cheering them on."
Sam Warburton was - as widely expected - named as the squad captain.
The Cardiff Blues flanker is the youngest Welshman to lead a Lions touring party, and the first since Phil Bennett skippered the 1977 trip to New Zealand.
The 24-year-old has not enjoyed his best season, but proved his credentials by captaining Wales to the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup.
Warburton also led Wales Down Under last summer, where they suffered a 3-0 Test series defeat.
But he believes the cream of British and Irish rugby can overcome the Wallabies and give the Lions a first series win since 1997.
He told Sky Sports News: "I have found Australia a very tough place to go.
"If you look at the class of the players that will be added from the other three countries and a Welsh team that came very close last year, I think that will be enough to make it a victorious test series which we want to achieve."
Of Robshaw's omission, he added: "The back row was always going to be a talking point and some big players have been left out.
"Warren alluded to it earlier, that you usually get about six injuries so I'm sure someone will be involved in that tour who is not involved now.
"He could have picked between 10 or 12 players and there are still some that are injured so the competition is immense."
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