British & Irish Lions
The Lions are a rugby union test team comprising players from the home nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Lions tours are conducted once every four years and in modern times have focused on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The 2013 tour included a game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and the Lions went on to win the series 2-1 over Australia. In 2017, almost 130 years since they played Otago in their first tour match, the British & Irish Lions return to New Zealand.
Young Scot Stuart Hogg is the guardian Lion
Fullback Stuart Hogg is the custodian of mascot ‘Bil’ and the role keeps him on his toes as he prepares to take on Barbarians and Australians
Stuart Hogg might just be the person to unlock Australia's defences over the next seven weeks, having been put through the mill over the past few weeks by his team-mates.
As keeper of the team mascot Bil (after the British & Irish Lions) - the youngest player traditionally gets the job - Hogg, 20, has had to endure the pranks of the rest of the 36-man squad, who have taken every opportunity to try to hide the prized lion.
"It has been pretty tricky and pretty tough to be honest. Some of the guys think it is a good idea to hide Bil and it has been frustrating keeping an eye on it," said an exasperated Hogg, the fullback for today's opening game. "More often than not I have had to go hunting for Bil after finishing a tough training session."
The longest he has 'lost' Bil was at the very outset when the squad was in camp in Wales when the mascot went missing for 30 minutes.
"That was the longest we have been apart," Hogg said. "We were training indoors and I had put him on top of some jumping blocks. I found him after a long search, well hidden under them."
But things are on the improve and the fact he is able to find Bil before he is 'fined' for losing him proves Hogg is nimble with his thought processes, values which might come in useful for the Glasgow Warriors fullback as he tries to stake a claim for a prized spot in the test team.
That journey starts today when the player from Melrose makes his debut in a red shirt, being picked ahead of Leigh Halfpenny and the injured Rob Kearney who featured in all three Lions tests in South Africa four years ago.
"It is a massive honour to be representing the Lions for the first time and I'm especially chuffed playing against the Barbarians," Hogg said. "This is definitely an opportunity to put my hand up. Warren Gatland said at the start that everyone will get the chance to prove their worth and I'm fortunate to be involved in the very first game."
Hogg is just one of three Scottish players in the squad - second-rower Richie Gray and New Zealand-born flyer Sean Maitland being the others - and has been capped for the country at under-17, under-18 and under-20 levels before winning his first senior cap, coming on as a replacement in the Six Nations clash against Wales last year.
"That has been my highlight of my career so far, and now being picked to play for the Lions. I have worked hard on my game and things are looking up," said Hogg, who has now won 15 caps for Scotland and last season was voted as the Young Player of the Year in the RaboDirect PRO12.
This year in the Six Nations, a length-of-the-field try against England proved he is a player who can cut open any defence.
Hogg also holds a proud record which even "Lion King" Sam Warburton cannot boast, of having never lost to Australia. He was in the Scottish side that beat Australia in Newcastle last summer. So set against his name is the test record stat against Australia which reads: 1-0-0. Warburton's record makes poor reading: 0-0-7.
"I'm looking forward to making memories to last a lifetime and I hope they will be good ones," he said.
Making good memories and facing the daunting task of trying to keep an eye on Bil - picked up in Geneva by a Lions official on the hunt for a fierce-looking lion and not a cuddly toy - will keep Hogg busy over the next seven weeks.
"I suffer from hay fever and Bil has a long mane and I was itchy at the start with my eyes puffing up. But I have been taking my hay-fever pills now and it is fine,'" he said.
15 STUART HOGG (Glasgow & Scotland, 20)
Dashing runner in open play and his versatility – he can also play at centre and flyhalf – could mean he gets a Lions cap somewhere other than fullback.
14 ALEX CUTHBERT (Cardiff &Wales, 23)
Emerged from the shadow of George North with four tries in the Six Nations, including two in the title-deciding win over England in Cardiff.
13 JONATHAN DAVIES (Scarlets & Wales, 25)
One of the unsung heroes of Wales’ Six Nations successes, scoring important tries and getting through plenty of useful work in attack and defence while others take most of the plaudits.
12 JAMIE ROBERTS (Cardiff Blues & Wales, 26)
Lions player of the series in South Africa where he formed a solid midfield partnership with O’Driscoll that could be revived in Australia. Gainline-breaking back and arguably rugby’s most famous medic since Wales great JPR Williams.
11 SEAN MAITLAND (Glasgow & Scotland, 24)
New Zealand-born flyer who scored a try on his test debut for Scotland against England this season, having qualified for his adopted country via the grandparent rule. Will hope to face his cousin Quade Cooper, the Wallaby playmaker, when they get to Australia.
10 OWEN FARRELL (Saracens & England, 21)
Rising star of English rugby whose goal-kicking has already been compared to that of Jonny Wilkinson, but prone to the occasional flash of temper. Son of former dual code international Andy, now an England and Lions assistant coach.
9 MIKE PHILLIPS (Bayonne & Wales, 30)
Almost an extra forward, he was one of the Lions’ leading players in South Africa, playing in all three tests against the Springboks and has been a central figure in Six Nations-winning sides.
1 MAKO VUNIPOLA (Saracens & England, 22)
Promising but raw son of former Tonga captain Fe’ao, he forced his way into the squad following a debut season with England.
2 RICHARD HIBBARD (Ospreys & Wales, 29)
Made the Welsh No 2 shirt his own this season and will be looking to do with the Lions what Wales have failed to do in their last eight tests against the Wallabies – beat Australia.
3 ADAM JONES (Ospreys & Wales, 32)
Along with Jenkins, a cornerstone of the Welsh front row and showed his class and dependability in this Six Nations.
4 RICHIE GRAY (Sale & Scotland, 33)
One of Scotland’s most impressive performers in recent seasons, the towering lock has been notable for his strong running game. Injury cut short his Six Nations but by then he’d done enough to secure a Lions berth.
5 PAUL O’CONNELL (Munster & Ireland, 33)
A veteran of two Lions tours and captain in South Africa, he missed the Six Nations through injury before a commanding display for Munster against Harlequins in the European Cup secured his place in the squad.
6 DAN LYDIATE (Newport Gwent Dragons & Wales, 25)
Grafting break-down forward, also renowned for a high tackle count. Missed most of this European season with an ankle injury but returned in time to convince Warren Gatland he was worth a Lions place.
7 JUSTIN TIPURIC (Ospreys & Wales, 23)
Reckoned by some judges to be even better than Sam Warburton before Wales solved a potentially tricky problem by playing both men either side of Toby Faletau in the Six Nations title-clinching win over England.
8 TOBY FALETAU (Newport Gwent Dragons & Wales, 22)
Son of a former Tonga international, he has established himself as a member of Wales’ back row that has starred in back-to-back Six Nations title wins.
16 TOM YOUNGS (Leicester & England, 26)
Brother of Ben, he made the unusual move from centre to front row and has since displaced Dylan Hartley as England’s first-choice hooker.
17 CIAN HEALY (Leinster & Ireland, 25)
Renowned for his work rate in the loose, but question marks over his temperament arose when he was banned during the Six Nations for stamping on Dan Cole.
18 MATT STEVENS (Saracens & England, 30)
Can operate on both sides of the scrum. Retired from England duty last year to concentrate on Saracens career but his versatility helped him gain selection.
19 ALUN WYN JONES (Ospreys & Wales, 27)
Athletic second rower, his past two European seasons have been blighted by injury problems. Featured in all three Lions tests against South Africa.
20 JAMIE HEASLIP (Leinster & Ireland, 29)
At the heart of Leinster’s successive European Cup wins and impressed during the 2009 Lions tour, but was not at his best when captaining Ireland in their Six Nations this season.
21 CONOR MURRAY (Munster & Ireland, 24)
Edged ahead of Eoin Reddan to be Ireland’s first choice number nine.
22 JONATHAN SEXTON (Leinster & Ireland, 27)
One of only two specialist flyhalves in the squad and is set to get first chance at a test spot despite being injured for most of the Six Nations.
23 GEORGE NORTH (Scarlets & Wales, 21)
Tipped for great things since making his test debut as an 18-year-old. He is now a good example of the modern ‘power’ wing, with speed and strength.
15 JARED PAYNE (Ulster, 27)
New Zealander played for the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues in Super Rugby before joining Ulster ahead of the 2011-12 season, with whom he reached the final of the RaboDirect Pro 12 this year. Has played for New Zealand Under-21s.
14 JOE ROKOCOKO (Bayonne & New Zealand, 29)
Has 68 caps for the All Blacks and played in two World Cups. Faced the Lions in the 2005 tour in New Zealand. Played for Auckland in provincial rugby and for the Blues in Super Rugby (2003-11).
13 ELLIOT DALY (Wasps, 20)
Has played for England at under-16, -18, -20 levels and the England Saxons. Voted young player of the year at Wasps this season. One of three Wasps players picked by Baa-Baas coach Dai Young, director of rugby at the London club.
12 CASEY LAULALA (Munster, 31)
Capped twice by the All Blacks. Played for the Crusaders in Super Rugby before joining Cardiff in 2009 and Munster in 2012.
11 TAKUDZWA NGWENYA (Biarritz Olympique & US, 27)
Born in Zimbabwe, he has 23 caps for the US and played in two World Cups. Has played for Biarritz since 2007. One of the fastest players in world rugby – famously outsprinted Bryan Habana in the 2007 World Cup.
10 NICK EVANS (Harlequins & New Zealand, 32)
Sixteen caps for the All Blacks and played in the 2007 World Cup. Faced the Lions in the 2005 tour of New Zealand with Otago. Has played for Harlequins since 2008.
9 DIMITRI YACHVILI (Biarritz Olympique & France, 32)
Has 59 caps for France, played in two World Cups, runner-up in 2011. Won four Six Nations titles, three French league titles and runner-up in the Heineken Cup twice.
1 PAUL JAMES (Bath & Wales, 31)
Forty-five caps for Wales, played in four Six Nations, winning in 2012 and 2013, and one World Cup. Played once for the Barbarians against the Combined Services team.
2 SCHALK BRITS (Saracens & South Africa, 32)
Five caps. Has played for Saracens since 2009 and voted Players’ Player of the Year in the 2009-10 season. Man of the match in the 2010-11 grand final against Leicester.
3 MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI (Leicester & Italy, 31)
A fixture of the Italy squad since 2002 with 95 caps. Has played in three World Cups and been with Leicester since 2006, winning four English Premierships.
4 MARCO WENTZEL (Wasps & South Africa, 34)
Two caps, played for Treviso, Leicester Tigers (2007-09), Leeds Carnegie (2009-11), before joining Wasps in 2011.
5 DEAN MUMM (Exeter Chiefs & Australia, 29)
Boasts 33 caps. Played for the Waratahs from 2007-12 before moving to England. Grandfather Bill Mumm was an All Black. Captained Australia in 2009.
6 SAMU MANOA (Northampton & US, 28)
Of Tongan descent, his father and grandfather played for the country. One cap for the US. Supporters’ player of the year for Northampton this season.
7 SAM JONES (Wasps, 21)
Has played for England at under-16, -18 and -20 levels and is highly regarded at Wasps.
8 SERGIO PARISSE (Stade Francais & Italy)
Captain of Italy and has 93 caps, playing in three World Cups. Led the Barbarians to victory over Wales and England two years ago. Married to Miss France 2006.
16 LEONARDO GHIRALDINI (Treviso & Italy, 28).
53 caps, one World Cup, Six Nations regular.
17 DUNCAN JONES (Ospreys & Wales, 34).
57 caps, two World Cups.
18 ANDREA LO CICERO (Racing Metro & Italy, 36)
Italian caps record holder with 103, retired from national team after Six Nations.
19 JIM HAMILTON (Gloucester & Scotland, 30)
46 caps, two World Cups. Will play for Montpellier next season.
20 IMANOL HARINORDOQUY (Biarritz Olympique & France, 33)
77 caps, three World Cups.
21 KAHN FOTUALI’I (Ospreys & Samoa, 31)
Nine caps, one World Cup. Set to join Northampton after a successful season.
22 JAMES HOOK (Perpignan & Wales, 27)
70 caps, two World Cups and a 2009 Lions squad member.
23 MIKE TINDALL (Gloucester & England)
23 ROWAN VARTY (DeA Tigers & Hong Kong, 27)
28 caps, and one of few players in Asia to score a hat-trick of tries against Japan. Captain of Hong Kong sevens team.