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England look set to dominate Lions for NZ

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 18/04/2017 Andrew Baldock

Six Nations champions England look set to provide more than a third of the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad - but their headline omissions could still dominate Wednesday's announcement in London.

While players like Ben Te'o, Elliot Daly, Joe Marler and Maro Itoje should become first-time Lions in New Zealand this summer, some high-profile casualties are also possible.

Lions boss Warren Gatland and his coaching staff put the finishing touches to their selection during a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

And they assembled against a backdrop of uncertainty surrounding Lions hopefuls such as centre Jonathan Joseph, fly-half George Ford, hooker Dylan Hartley and lock Joe Launchbury.

The quartet, all key influences on England's impressive revival under head coach Eddie Jones, boast strong Lions credentials.

But while England captain and hooker Hartley seems likely to make it, his team-mates might fall by the wayside.

New Zealand-born Te'o, who has made one England start in eight appearances, shone in front of watching Lions assistant coach Rob Howley when Worcester beat Bath three days ago.

And the 30-year-old might have done enough to surprisingly edge out razor-sharp Bath ace Joseph, although Wasps forward Launchbury being overlooked would be a bigger shock, given his outstanding England displays this season.

Gatland's second-row options are considerable, making selection in that department particularly demanding, yet Launchbury was still considered a shoo-in by many pundits.

Ford, meanwhile, looks to have lost out behind Wales number 10 Dan Biggar, with the the Ospreys fly-half featuring among a likely double-figure Welsh contingent in Gatland's expected 37 or 38-man party.

England's representation is set to be their largest since Clive Woodward selected 20 for the Lions' 2005 New Zealand expedition, but Scotland, despite winning three recent Six Nations games, could be left with full-back Stuart Hogg as their solitary squad member.

European champions Saracens and Irish heavyweights Leinster could provide almost a third of the squad between them, with eight Premiership clubs likely to be represented on Gatland's roster as Saracens are joined by Bath, Northampton, Exeter, Wasps, Worcester, Leicester and Harlequins.

Lions tour manager John Spencer will announce the squad at midday on Wednesday, (GMT).

Spencer will be joined by Gatland, his coaching staff and captain, who is expected to be Wales flanker Sam Warburton, at a hotel on the edge of the 200-acre Syon House Estate in west London.

Gatland then has 40 days to departure for New Zealand, with recent Lions history suggesting at least two injury or suspension-enforced changes likely before then.

The Lions kick off their 10-match trip against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on June 3, with the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders, Maori All Blacks and Chiefs all on their agenda before the first Test three weeks later.

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