/ Rugby

Gatland set to name Lions squad this morning

Updated: Tuesday, 30 Apr 2013 11:28 | Comments

Warren Gatland with Sam Waburton, who is expected to name tour captain
Warren Gatland with Sam Waburton, who is expected to name tour captain

Up to 11 Irish players could be named when Warren Gatland reveals his 38-man Lions squad to tour Australia at 11am this morning.

Wales are expected to dominate the squad with Sam Warburton set to be selected as captain and at least 15 of the Six Nations winning squad due to be named in the touring party.

At 24, Warburton would be Wales' youngest Lions tour captain and the first since Phil Bennett took charge for the 1977 New Zealand trip.

Talismanic Irish duo Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, both former captains, are also expected to tour, along with out-half Jonathan Sexton and loosehead prop Cian Healy and that quartet are expected to contend strongly for starting Test places.

After proving his fitness in a string of effective displays for Ulster, Tommy Bowe is also thought likely to make the trip and is another with strong Test starter claims.

Sean O’Brien is also expected to be given one of the back-row slots in one of the most competetive areas in the squad while Rory Best is thought likely to go as one of three hookers.

Conor Murray could just pip Danny Care to the third scrum-half spot behind Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs while Simon Zebo is in competition with New Zealand-born Scotland international Sean Maitland to be named the fourth winger.

Rob Kearney could also force his way in despite a below-par Six Nations while Jamie Heaslip’s strong form for Leinster in recent weeks should see him named as one of two number eights along with Toby Faletau.

Mike Ross could also just make the squad though he faces stiff competition at prop.

Ian Madigan, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony and Richardt Strauss face anxious waits but are outside bets to make be selected at this stage.

However, England captain Chris Robshaw is set to miss out after a poor finish to the season for both club and country according to various newspaper reports.

But there has been a late surge of support for Jonny Wilkinson’s inclusion as a third out-half behind Sexton and Owen Farrell after his masterful kicking display in Toulon’s Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Saracens.

Gatland has previously stated that he intends to bring just two specialist out-halfs.

A utility back is also thought to be likely to be selected with Leinster and Ireland's Madigan, England’s Billy Twelvetrees, Wales’ James Hook and Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw all thought to be in the mix.

Saracens props Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens could be in line gain the last two slots in that position alongside Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and Dan Cole. Ireland tighthead Ross’ strong record against Australia and reputation as a powerful scrummager could yet see him make the cut.

None of the players will know about their Lions selection until tour manager Andy Irvine reads out the names during a mid-morning press conference. Gatland will then announce and introduce his captain to the media.

The 10-match tour begins against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June, followed by nine games in Australia, including three Test match appointments against the Wallabies.

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