Warren Gatland is excited by the prospect of seeing Sam Simmonds take the game to South Africa after making him the eye-catching name in a British and Irish Lions squad captained by Alun Wyn Jones.

Kyle Sinckler and Johnny Sexton were among several high-profile omissions as Gatland named his 37-man party on Thursday.

Simmonds, the Exeter number eight and current European player of the year, features despite being consistently overlooked by England since winning the last of his seven caps in 2018.

Eddie Jones has ignored the clamour to select the Gallagher Premiership’s highest try-scorer this season, but Gatland views his pace and power as providing a unique threat this summer.

“For the Springboks you’ve got to have players in your forward pack who don’t just put the ball under their arm and run hard and straight,” Gatland said.

“It’s not about just matching them physically, you have to be able to bring some variation in your attacking options and Simmonds has that variation.

“You need players with footwork and Simmonds has that and pace. He also scores tries. I’m really excited about him getting the chance.”

While one exiled England international is celebrating his inclusion, a second is coming to terms with the shock of being jettisoned by Gatland.

Kyle Sinckler, a Test Lion in 2017, is a shock omission
Kyle Sinckler, a Test Lion in 2017, is a shock omission (David Davies/PA)

Sinckler was a Test Lion in New Zealand four years ago and on his return he became a cornerstone of the red rose pack, but now he has lost out to Ireland’s starting and reserve tightheads in Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter.

“Kyle was very unlucky,” Gatland said. “We spoke about that. There are a couple of tighthead options and we went for Porter because of his versatility in being able to cover both sides. Tough call on Kyle, but we’re happy with the balance we’ve got.

Jones is joined by fellow home union captains Owen Farrell and Scotland’s Stuart Hogg but Ireland skipper Sexton is unable to force his way into the squad, as are Jonathan Davies, James Ryan, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola and Josh Navidi.

Sexton finished the Six Nations strongly but has suffered ongoing concussion problems since.

Johnny Sexton has lost out because of concerns over his durability
Johnny Sexton has lost out because of concerns over his durability (Adam Davy/PA)

“It was one of the toughest decisions we had to make. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality,” Gatland said.

“But it’s such a pivotal position for us and it’s about sending a message to the 10s that we have got the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

“When we looked that we are going to South Africa, the thing that we kept coming back to is Johnny’s durability and being able to put a string of big matches together consecutively.

“He’s been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that’s what swayed it for us – not having the confidence that he could get through a tough, physical tour.”

A bold squad packed full of talking points sees Simmonds joined as a bolter by Bundee Aki of Ireland and Scotland’s Chris Harris, with Manu Tuilagi left out as he approaches his comeback from an Achilles injury.

Neither Aki nor Harris were seen as genuine contenders, but between them they have kept out Wales stalwart Davies.

Another of Wayne Pivac’s Six Nations champions in Navidi has failed to win a place in the ferociously competitive back row positions, but Jack Conan of Ireland is present.

Underhill missed the Championship because of a hip injury but his stopping power in defence was thought to be enough to secure his spot, while Vunipola has paid the price for his poor form.

Scotland are rewarded for their strong Six Nations by providing eight players, and considering their dreadful fifth-placed finish, England are lucky to supply 11. Wales contribute 10 and Ireland eight.

“This is the closest Six Nations I’ve seen in that on any day five teams are capable of beating each other. That’s reflected in the balance between the nations in selection,” Gatland said.

“I don’t count the national numbers up until I’ve finally finished selecting the squad and it’s pleasing that there’s a balance and more representation from Scotland.”