I really like the look of the Lions squad. Congratulations to all those selected and Warren Gatland, who had the unenviable task of making those agonising final calls.

As decision time approaches it all gets a bit stressful, but that's the job and it is reassuring there is so much experience of previous tours in the Lions management group.

These Lions look very physical, quite dynamic and possess world-class players in key positions - plus a couple of the best goal- kickers on the planet. There is a good edgy feel about most of the players and they will need that because every game in New Zealand is played right on the edge. You also have to contend with a lot of hostility off the field.

Warren has gone with the players to adopt his game plan, and it will have to be perfected very quickly in the six games leading into the first Test. There aren't many shocks. I've been banging the drum for Sam Warburton to captain for a long time. He is a player I love to watch and has the respect of everybody in rugby.


Despite stepping away from the Wales captaincy this year, he is the right choice.

Not skippering Wales has cleared the way for Warburton to get his own magnificent game back in order and freed him up mentally to take on captaining the Lions for a second tour, emulating Martin Johnson.

Surprises? Garry Ringrose stood out against England. I believed he would get the nod, but I have seen enough of Jared Payne to appreciate a fine talent. Joe Launchbury was one of the stand-out forwards in the Six Nations and he is unlucky to miss out, but we always knew a couple of world-class locks wouldn't make the cut.

He is possibly paying the price for two quiet games in Dublin, for England against Ireland and Wasps against Leinster, but overall his form this season has been superb. The same is true of Dylan Hartley and the squad will not be weakened in any way if he gets the call sometime during the tour.

Owen Farrell has been listed at No 10 but I remain convinced he will start in his England position of 12. The thing New Zealand want least is to have Johnny Sexton and Farrell operating at 10 and 12, so that is what the Lions must do.

Sexton and Farrell are vital and, if not exactly kept in cotton wool, I would expect Dan Biggar to be kept busy. Biggar's extra physicality has clearly earned his selection over George Ford.

I have high hopes. I believe this is the strongest ever Lions tour party. They have the potential to be outstanding and go toe to toe with New Zealand and come away triumphant - but I would add this caveat. To win a Test series in New Zealand is harder, in all sorts of ways, than winning a World Cup.

Famously, only one Lions team - Carwyn James's 1971 side - have succeeded in New Zealand and, although all of us are full of hope, those are the odds in black and white. Some mighty Lions teams have tried and failed.


England skipper Hartley will be smarting but like every hopeful who missed out he must - and will - dust himself off because anything could happen in the next three months.
Hartley has a huge role to play for England in Argentina, but my hunch is he will still end up in New Zealand and be involved at the sharp end.

Who knows what lies in store? When I was in Canada and the USA with England in 2001, we lost Martin Corry when the Lions called overnight and he went straight into the Test series. We all know the drill. Hartley still has everything to play for. I've always liked Hartley, and not only had him in my Lions squad but in my starting Test XV. And that is no reflection on the fine emerging talent of Jamie George, who has a massive future.

Hartley was outstanding for Saints against Saracens last Sunday - in direct opposition to George - and he's looking sharper with every week after a slow start to the Six Nations. He would have been a man on a mission in New Zealand (the land of his birth) and might yet still be.

He is ultra reliable at the scrum and line-out. I'm not sure I've ever seen him have a bad day at the office with his throwing and that is going to be crucial in the heat of battle in New Zealand.

That's the rugby side of it, but Hartley is also an individual of some substance. What he has achieved with England in the last 16 months in tandem with Eddie Jones - a world-record-equalling run, Grand Slam and follow-up title - has been exceptional.

A good deal of that is down to Hartley and his uncompromising, uncomplaining and perfectionist mindset.


I was relieved to hear Lions manager John Spencer read out 41 names on Wednesday, four more than expected. I was criticised for taking 44 in 2005, but touring New Zealand is not like any other trip and I'm pleased Warren has opted to bolster the ranks. And even with 41, injured players will need replacing along the way.

With Scotland over the Tasman touring Australia and Wales even playing one Test against Tonga in Auckland, I can see this squad being augmented regularly.

Injuries and fatigue were a major concern of mine in 2005. The club v country disputes were at their nadir back then, so I opted to take two squads of 22 (it was seven replacements back then) to cover the midweek and Saturday games. There is no exact formula. The only certainty is that it is going to be brutal - and that's before you even reach the Tests.

That is doubly so on this tour when the Lions have somehow agreed to an almost impossible schedule which is going to take a huge toll. I can see why New Zealand wanted the Lions to face the five Super Rugby giants and the Maori outside the three Tests, but who agreed to this nonsense? Was Gatland or his coaching team consulted?

NB: Sir Clive Woodward is a former World Cup-winning coach for England and coached the British and Irish Lions on their tour to New Zealand in 2005.