The Lions coach’s desire for a hard edge to take on New Zealand persuaded him to turn to Lawes and overlook England’s player of the Six Nations. But Launchbury’s director of rugby at Wasps, Dai Young, hit out at the decision.
“The one that we have got to really feel sorry about and a little bit mystified to be honest, is how Joe Launchbury is not on that plane,” said Young.
“Two man of the matches in the Six Nations, up for Player of the Six Nations as well as being nominated England Player of the Season by his team-mates, and still he doesn’t get on the plane.
“As well as that, he’s captain of the team sitting at the top of the Aviva Premiership at this moment in time, so it’s very hard to understand how Launchers isn’t on that plane and very hard to understand what more he could have done.
Joe Launchbury was England's player of the Six Nations
Dai Young can't understand why Launchbury isn't in the squad
“I’m gutted for him and scratching my head a little bit, because I would have thought he was one that was nailed on.”
Gatland, who picked 16 Englishmen in his 41-strong squad which included two surprises in Ireland centre Jared Payne and Wales back-row Ross Moriarty, admitted Launchbury was “very, very unlucky”.
“There was a long discussion about second rows, and the depth and the quality that we’ve got in those positions,” he said.
“We weren’t going to leave out Alun Wyn Jones or Maro Itoje – they were nailed on for us – and Iain Henderson has done an exceptional job for Ireland. We just discussed the differences between Courtney and Joe and they are different players.
British & Irish Lions squad for 2017 New Zealand tour Wed, April 19, 2017
Express Sport runs through the confirmed Lions squad for the 2017 tour to New Zealand
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Express Sport runs through the 37-man Lions squad ahead of the New Zealand tour
“I understand about Joe and the disappointment that’s obviously going to be there but it was a tough call for us.”
Gatland admitted selection in the centres – where Jonathan Joseph won a late reprieve – and at hooker, where Dylan Hartley lost out to Jamie George, was equally tight.
“Dylan has done a great job for England since he has captained the team. There’s no doubt about that or his leadership qualities but at the end of the day we felt we couldn’t leave Jamie out,” said Gatland.
Galtand said Launchbury was "very, very unlucky" to miss out
“You’ve got to feel for him – he missed out in 2013 having been selected – and he’s unlucky to have missed out this time.”
The Lions coach has picked Conor Murray despite the nerve damage in his shoulder which continues to sideline him, but warned the Ireland scrum-half he must play before the tour.
“It is a concern. He was hoping to play this weekend but he had a setback a couple of weeks ago. He’s going to need to play before he gets on the plane,” he said.
“I would be reluctant to take someone to New Zealand with a neck injury who hasn’t played since March 10.”