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RugbyU: Warburton leads Lions but no place for Wilko

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Wales star Sam Warburton was named Tuesday as captain of the 2013 British and Irish squad for the tour of Australia but there was no place for England great Jonny Wilkinson.

At 24, Warburton became the youngest tour captain in Lions history, but both England captain Chris Robshaw and 2003 World Cup-winning star Wilkinson were left out of Warren Gatland's 37-man squad.

"Warren gave me a call, it's been nine or 10 days since I found out and the biggest secret I've had to keep," Warburton told a news conference in London.

"It's unbelievable, an accolade very few people achieve and it's an unbelievable honour."

Gatland added: "In the last two or three years he's been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Sam, he's an absolute professional and he leads from the front."

He said leaving the likes of Robshaw and Wilkinson out had been tough but said injuries could yet lead to late call-ups for those omitted from the original squad.

"Some real quality players have missed out. We had a thorough process and it's been tough.

"If you look at previous tours six to eight players get injured and there will be a group of back-up players who can be called upon."

Ireland great and 2005 Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll was included, with the centre chosen for his fourth successive tour with the combined side.

Warburton led Wales to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals only to be sent off in a narrow defeat by France in Auckland.

After he missed the early part of the current European season through injury, Warburton starred against Scotland and in the record 30-3 thrashing of England that saw Wales secure the Six Nations Grand Slam.

But his leadership credentials were called into question after he appeared to want to concentrate on his own game during the Championship.

New Zealander Gatland, seconded from Wales to coach the Lions, selected 15 Welshmen in his squad -- Wales's largest Lions representation in 36 years.

England provided 10 players including prop Matt Stevens, who missed the 2009 tour while serving a two-year drugs ban and retired from England duty after the 2011 World Cup.

Gatland included only two recognised fly-halves in Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell -- both of whom Wilkinson, speaking after kicking all of Toulon's points in their 24-12 European Cup semi-final win over Farrell's Saracens at Twickenham on Sunday, said should be chosen ahead of him.

There were nine Ireland players selected by Gatland, himself a former Ireland coach, with Scotland providing three including New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland although scrum-half/fly-half Greig Laidlaw was left out.

The Lions will be looking for their first series win since defeating South Africa in 1997.

A squad of 16 backs and 21 forwards -- with Warburton one of 25 first-time Lions -- is set to leave four weeks on Tuesday for Hong Kong where they begin their 10-match tour against the Barbarians on June 1.

The Lions then travel to Australia and play the first of three Tests against the Wallabies on June 22.

This will be the Lions first tour of Australia since a side coached by Gatland's compatriot Graham Henry, New Zealand's 2011 World Cup-winning supremo, lost a three-Test series 2-1.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130430/rugbyu-warburton-leads-lions-no-place-wilko-1