Ollie Phillips: Too many Wales players in British and Irish Lions squad, while the biggest omission is not Dylan Hartley or Joe Launchbury

 
Ollie Phillips
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Wales v Ireland - RBS Six Nations
Leigh Halfpenny is one player who is not in great form currently (Source: Getty)

Considering they had such a poor Six Nations, there is a certain irony about the level of Welsh representation in Warren Gatland’s 41-man British and Irish Lions squad for the summer tour to New Zealand.

Twelve Wales players made the cut, some of whom I don’t believe deserve a place on the plane, but that’s the job Gatland has to do and in a 50/50 call he’s going to go with people he trusts.

There might have been a toss up between Liam Williams and Sean Maitland, for instance. In that circumstance, Gatland, who has been Wales boss since 2007, is likely to go with players that suit his style.

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In my view, the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Dan Biggar are just not performing well enough to be in that touring party, but Gatland has gone with who he knows.

I think England’s Mike Brown can legitimately feel hard done by, while Ireland centre Garry Ringrose should perhaps have gone ahead of Davies, and Finn Russell of Scotland instead of Biggar.

It’s disappointing to see such low Scottish representation generally given how well they performed at the Six Nations. Just two players, full-back Stuart Hogg and wing Tommy Seymour, were called up.

For the first time since 1908 a Scotland forward has not been included in the squad and extremely convincing arguments for the Gray brothers, Jonny and Richie, could have been made.

There is much talk about the exclusion of Dylan Hartley. To miss out to your international understudy, Jamie George, is a smack in the mouth for someone who has led England during such a successful period, but I believe it’s the right call.

George is the better player and the fact Hartley is New Zealand born and the Lions are playing in his homeland may have counted against him.

We know how sometimes the emotion of a situation can get the better of the 31-year-old and how he reacts. Gatland may have looked at that and thought it would be too much for him to handle.

A lot has also been made of Joe Launchbury not making the squad, but of all the players not to be included, flanker James Haskell, for me, is the biggest omission.

Haskell has experience of playing in New Zealand for the Highlanders, he’s aggressive, a fantastic tackler and defensively outstanding – all the attributes Gatland, who coached the 32-year-old at Wasps, would be looking for.

I’m convinced that final Six Nations game between Ireland and England in Dublin sealed a number of selection decisions. It’s telling that Ireland’s back-row were dominant and Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien are all included.

The only other thing which was slightly disappointing, and it’s the romantic in me, is there was no total wildcard. You could argue that Ben Te’o, Kyle Sinckler and Ross Moriarty fall into that category but they are playing international rugby.

Read more: Neither Cipriani nor Ashton should make Lions squad

I have previously written that I didn’t believe Chris Ashton should be considered for the Lions but in recent matches I have to say he’s proven me wrong. But my wildcard for this tour would have been Sale’s cross-code convert Denny Solomona.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11