The naming of the Lions touring party brings the rugby season's main event into view. Though the opening match is still six weeks away, the opponents are known and their character can begin to be calculated.

The first impressive quality about Warren Gatland's selections is that he has had no regard for national divisions of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Only two Scots have made the squad. It seems wrong to count the numbers from England, Ireland and Wales since Gatland clearly did not. He has made it clear he picked the best individuals for the job regardless of a national balance.

Wales looks to be over-represented on recent performance, England under-represented, but as coach of Wales, Gatland has kept faith with players who have won his confidence. His chosen captain, Sam Warburton, will carry the greatest burden of leading a large, disparate squad through the hardest of rugby countries.

Warburton was not everybody's choice. Former English first-five Stuart Barnes made the good point that the Lions will need to be ball carriers to beat New Zealand. Warburton is a defensive flanker, a tireless tackler, not an outstanding playmaker. This and other selections lead All Black coach Steve Hansen to predict Gatland means to bring a tough, grinding forward game to New Zealand, not an expansive running game.


If that is so, then it is a pity. Rugby in the Northern Hemisphere is not as dull as it used to be. With southern imports in the professional era, the northern sides have learned to run and pass, and Barnes is right. The Lions will not beat the All Blacks by kicking the back to them. Nor are they likely to win on penalties even with a kicker of first-five Dan Biggar's range.

They might not even win the midweek matches in that style, considering the itinerary they face. The first game, against a Barbarians team. might be their only easy one. Thereafter, they face the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders, Maori All Blacks and the Chiefs in the three weeks before the first of three tests. It's an itinerary no New Zealand side would want to play, including the All Blacks. They may need every one of the 41 players in the touring party.

And it is the end of their season. They have played their six nations championship and the long, gruelling club competition that commands the first loyalty of northern players. It is best to make these excuses before they get hammered.