British and Irish Lions 2021: Sam Simmonds in 37-man squad but Billy Vunipola misses out

Sam Simmonds’ last England cap came in a defeat by Ireland in March 2018

Exeter’s Sam Simmonds is included ahead of fellow England number eight Billy Vunipola in a 37-man British and Irish Lions squad, with two-time tourist Johnny Sexton also left out.

Wales great Alun Wyn Jones, 35, is confirmed as captain for what will be his fourth Lions tour.

England forward Courtney Lawes – out injured since February – and lock Jonny Hill are also in the squad.

In the centres, Scotland’s Chris Harris and Ireland’s Bundee Aki are named.

England’s Jonny May and Henry Slade are left out as is 2013 tourist Manu Tuilagi, who last played in September because of an Achilles injury, and Wales centre Jonathan Davies.

Another notable omission is England prop Kyle Sinckler, with Ireland’s Andrew Porter joining compatriot Tadhg Furlong and Scotland’s Zander Fagerson as the tight-heads.

Sam Underhill and Josh Navidi miss out on places in the competitive back-row positions, but Jack Conan of Ireland and Scotland’s Hamish Watson are present.

Ireland pair James Ryan and Garry Ringrose also failed to make the cut for a squad with 11 England players, 10 Wales players, and eight each from Scotland and Ireland.

Short presentational grey line

British and Irish Lions 2021 squad

Captain: Alun Wyn Jones (Wal)

Forwards: Tadhg Beirne (Ire), Jack Conan (Ire), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Eng), Tom Curry (Eng), Zander Fagerson (Sco), Taulupe Faletau (Wal), Tadhg Furlong (Ire), Jamie George (Eng), Iain Henderson (Ire), Jonny Hill (Eng), Maro Itoje (Eng), Wyn Jones (Wal), Courtney Lawes (Eng), Ken Owens (Wal), Andrew Porter (Ire), Sam Simmonds (Eng), Rory Sutherland (Sco), Justin Tipuric (Wal), Mako Vunipola (Eng), Hamish Watson (Sco).

Backs: Josh Adams (Wal), Bundee Aki (Ire), Dan Biggar (Wal), Elliot Daly (Eng), Gareth Davies (Wal), Owen Farrell (Eng), Chris Harris (Sco), Robbie Henshaw (Ire), Stuart Hogg (Sco), Conor Murray (Ire), Ali Price (Sco), Lewis Rees-Zammit (Wal), Finn Russell (Sco), Duhan van der Merwe (Sco), Anthony Watson (Eng), Liam Williams (Wal).

Short presentational grey line

Simmonds comes in from the cold

Back row Simmonds’ last international appearance was in a 24-15 defeat by Ireland in March 2018.

He has failed to add to his tally of England caps since despite winning European player of the year last season and leading the Premiership try-scoring charts this term.

His relative lack of bulk had been seen as a possible weakness, but Gatland has instead been swayed by his prowess over the ball at rucks and speed with ball in hand.

“He changes the dynamic of how you play. He is lightning quick. He is a dangerous guy, a point of difference,” former tourist Ugo Monye said on Monday’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

Scots provide biggest contingent in generation

Duhan van der Merwe
Duhan Van der Merwe was capped by South Africa under-20s before qualifying for Scotland on residency grounds

Only two Scotland players made the initial Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand four years ago.

After landmark wins away to England and France in this year’s Six Nations and head coach Gregor Townsend’s appointment among Gatland’s backroom staff it was always likely to be higher for the trip to South Africa.

The total of eight is the largest number of Scots in a touring party since 1989.

Centre Harris is rewarded for fine displays, particularly in defence, during the Six Nations while wing Duhan van der Merwe, who was the leading British and Irish player in terms of tries and metres made in the tournament, will tour the country where he was born and brought up.

Prop Rory Sutherland, like England back row Lawes, makes the trip despite still recovering from an injury.

Gatland also opts for Scotland’s playmaking fly-half Finn Russell despite some doubts whether he would fit the New Zealander’s style.

Gatland shows ruthless edge once more

Jonathan Davies and Johnny Sexton
Davies and Sexton have been key parts of the last two Lions tours

With the squad shrunk by coronavirus considerations there was no room for sentiment and Gatland, who famously dropped Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll for the final Test in a series win over Australia, has shown his ruthless edge once again.

Sexton, 35, came in after defeat in the first Test to steer the Lions to a share of the series in New Zealand four years ago.

Davies played every minute of the Tests against the All Blacks and was voted the tourists player of the series.

Neither though make the cut after injury and indifferent form.

“We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make,” said Gatland.

“We’ve left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad.”

Lions squad in numbers

5 – number of players from Saracens – the most from any club side

11 – number of England players, one more than Wales and three more than Scotland and Ireland

18 – number of first-time Lions tourists

19 – number of times Alun Wyn Jones has played for Wales and the Lions against South Africa

20 – age of Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit, the youngest member of the squad

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