RUGBY: Three Ulster players among strong Ireland contingent to tour with British & Ireland Lions

Rory Best
Rory Best

Three Ulster players have been named on the British & Irish Lions squad for this summer’s tour to New Zealand.

Ireland captain Rory Best will go on his second tour while lock Iain Henderson and back Jared Payne will make their debuts in the famous red jersey.

Iain Henderson

Iain Henderson

Wales backrow Sam Warburton was named as tour captain.

There are 11 Ireland players in total named in the 41-man squad.

Best, who had always been a potential in the build-up having lead Ireland to their first even win in New Zealand last November and defeating England to deny them a successive Six Nations Grand Slam, was preferred to England skipper, Dylan Hartley.

Hartley has lost out to England team-mate Jamie George, who has been selected despite acting as understudy at hooker for his international captain Rory Best and Ken Owens.

Ulster's Jared Payne

Ulster's Jared Payne

Despite reports of his inclusion, there was no place for two-time tourist Jamie Roberts but Jonathan Joseph has made the cut as one of the centres.

There are two Scots present in wing Tommy Seymour, a former Down High School pupil, and fullback Stuart Hogg, with the remainder of the squad made up of 12 Welshmen and 11 players from Ireland.

Among those unfortunate to miss out are Chris Robshaw, Joe Launchbury, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney, and Jonny and Richie Gray.

But there are also a number of surprise picks, among them Ben Te’o, Ian Henderson, Justin Tipuric and Kyle Sinckler.

Gatland is taking four more players than 2013 when Australia were swept aside 2-1, his total number of tourists only three short of the record high registered on the last occasion when the Lions toured New Zealand in 2005.

There are two survivors from 2009 - Alun Wyn Jones and Leigh Halfpenny - and 16 from four years ago.

“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,” Gatland said.

“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. But 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 players 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.”

British & Irish Lions squad for New Zealand tour

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 T’eo (England), Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Webb (Wales), Liam Williams (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), 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), Mako Vunipola (England), Billy Vunipola (England), Sam Warburton (Wales, capt).