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Friday Apr 21, 2017

Gatland's Wales-heavy Lions squad flawed by simple numbers

After months of speculation Warren Gatland has announced his squad to tour New Zealand this summer and there have been many eyebrows raised at the absence of England lock Joe Launchbury and the inclusion of just two Scottish players. Shay explores the numbers.

Can Gatland justify selecting more Welsh players than Irish?

Wales won the Six Nations in 2013 and the grand slam the year before, fully justifying their dominance of a Lions squad that subsequently triumphed against Australia with a 2-1 series victory down under.

Yet when Gatland, who has been in charge of Wales since 2007, sees the recurring trend in selection statistics he may regret making up 27% of his Lions squad from Welsh players.

In 2013 Welsh players made up 53% of the starting lineups in all three test matches against Australia, but since then playing for Wales they have recorded just two wins from 14 matches against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

In that time, England (14 matches) and Ireland (10 matches) have earned 50% success rates against the southern hemisphere’s big three.

Among the Lions nations, only Scotland have a worse record against those three southern hemisphere sides than Wales, having failed to record a single test win since a rainy 9-6 scrap against Australia in 2012.

The recent history of Lions tours also shows that success relies on squad selection reflecting the Six Nations form book.

The number of Welsh squad members had increased on every Lions tour since 1997 until now. This has been justified by the fact that they won Six Nations titles in tour years 2005 and 2013, and claimed a grand slam in 2008 – the year before the 2009 trip to South Africa.

But Gatland will not need reminding that Wales have failed to win the Six Nations since the triumphant Lions tour in 2013.

SPOT THE TREND

In 1996 England won the Five Nations and subsequently earned 55% of Lions squad places for the 1997 Tour, which they went on to win in South Africa.

In 2000 and 2001 England won two Six Nations titles and earned 50% of the Lions squad for the 2001 tour to Australia, which they narrowly lost.

This trend continued in 2009 when Ireland won the grand slam and then made up 34% of the squad to tour South Africa.

With Wales having won the grand slam in 2008, they earned an equal representation, which resulted in a competitive but narrow series defeat.

However, when this simple rule is not taken into consideration, things have not gone so well.

For the 2005 tour to New Zealand, former England head coach Clive Woodward allocated 45% of his squad positions to English players despite them finishing fourth in the 2005 Six Nations.

Wales, who won the grand slam that year, made up only 24% of the squad and the Lions were unsurprisingly hammered 3-0 by the All Blacks.

THE MATHS

Following this trend, it seems justified that England, current Six Nations champions and grand slam winners in 2016, have made up the majority of the Lions squad if the tourists are to be competitive in New Zealand.

But the numbers simply do not add up for Wales to have earned a larger representation than Ireland, especially after enduring a poor tournament and finishing second bottom above Italy.

Wales’s players might point to their famous win against England in the 2015 World Cup to justify the selection, but since that match they have lost 59% of all international fixtures.

Within the same time frame Scotland have won 58% of their tests, Ireland have won 57% while England have lost twice in 18 months.

New Zealand native Gatland will know better than most the challenge awaiting the Lions when they take on the current world champions. Now that he has chosen to ignore the numbers, that task could get even harder.

MORE LIONS FEATURES:

Brian O’Driscoll and Ben Kay react to squad

Martyn Williams on Jamie Roberts’ disappointment

Conor Murray pranked by Simon Zebo in 2013

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