WARREN GATLAND surprised everyone by beefing up his Lions squad to New Zealand and picking 41 players.
Sam Warburton was confirmed as the tour captain for the second time in a row – emulating World Cup winner Martin Johnson.
But there was no spot for England skipper Dylan Hartley as his fellow Kiwi Gatland opted for Jamie George, Rory Best and Ken Owens instead.
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Just TWO Scots made the enlarged squad, with 16 Englishman, 12 Welsh and 11 from Ireland.
Sixteen players who beat Australia in 2013 were picked again this time round to take on the All Blacks.
Gatland said: “There were some pretty lively debates finalising the squad, but we are very happy with the quality we have.
“It was probably the hardest we have had [to pick]. We think it is the strongest squad. We are really excited with the talent and quality of the team we are taking to New Zealand.”
As well as Hartley missing out – there were also big blows for Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell.
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SAM WARBURTON thought he was being pranked when Warren Gatland called to ask him to captain the Lions again.
The Wales flanker follows in the footsteps of Martin Johnson as a two-times tourist skipper.
But Cardiff Blues star Warburton initially rejected the call from the Kiwi boss.
The 28-year-old said: “I found out last Thursday. I was in the supermarket car park and my wife was getting bread and milk. I hung up on Warren first time around, I thought it was the boys at Cardiff messing around.”
Although Warburton had known about the honour for almost a week, he only found out Gatland’s final 41-man squad to tour New Zealand just minutes before it was announced.
He added: “I only saw the squad five minutes ago.
“If someone asked me to pick a squad I would have found it difficult but it is an immensely strong squad. Everyone is a top class player and as a captain that gives me a massive amount of confidence.”
Ross Moriarty was a surprise pick from Wales and Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour made up just the two Scotland picks.
Ireland winger Simon Zebo missed out – as did full-back Rob Kearney.
Gatland added: “There’s been healthy debate about the squad and now that it’s been announced we need to get it behind it 100 per cent and get excited about travelling to New Zealand.
“There’s competition for places and there will be players fighting for Test spots with no clear number one, number two or number three in certain positions.
“That’s what makes us pretty excited about the quality of the squad going to New Zealand.
“We know how tough it will be – this is the toughest tour. In previous tours the midweek games tended to be a little easier, but when you look at the quality of the opposition we’re facing in midweek it’s going to be hugely challenging.
“That’s why we’ve taken a few extra player than we did in 2013, we just needed to make sure we have the depth and quality in the squad to make sure we can handle the quality of the sides we’re coming up against.”
Skipper Warburton, 28, is currently out with a knee injury.
However, he will be fit to tour with the rest of the squad when they set off to New Zealand at the end of May.
Warburton’s club boss Danny Wilson at the Cardiff Blues said: “When you think of the Lions and the amount of top-quality players and leaders that they will have, there will be more than one guy leading the ship.
“There will be leaders right across all areas, on and off the field.
“What Sam brings as a leader is he leads by example.
“That is probably his biggest trait.
“His work ethic, his professionalism, the way he conducts himself on and off the field is an example that people follow.”
Rory Best (Ireland), Dan Cole (England), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Joe Marler (England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Ross Moriarty (Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Peter O’Mahony (Ireland), Ken Owens (Wales), Kyle Sinckler (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England), Mako Vunipola (England), Sam Warburton (Wales)
Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Conor Murray (Ireland), George North (Wales), Jack Nowell (England), Jared Payne (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Ben Te’o (England), Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Liam Williams (Wales), Ben Youngs (England).