Lock Joe Launchbury and centre Jonathan Joseph are set to lead a list of shock English exclusions from the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.
Both men, who starred in England’s Six Nations triumph, face being left out of Warren Gatland’s squad, which will be named at 12:00 BST on Wednesday.
Around 14 Englishmen are expected to be in the 37-39-man party, including prop Kyle Sinckler and centre Ben Te’o.
But England captain Dylan Hartley’s chances are rated as 50-50.
Other stalwarts of Eddie Jones’ side, such as flankers James Haskell and Chris Robshaw, and fly half George Ford, are also thought to be unlikely to force their way into Gatland’s plans at this stage.
Despite finishing fifth in the Six Nations, Wales are still set for a strong contingent of up to 10 players, with the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, prospective captain Sam Warburton, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Jonathan Davies and George North among those highly likely to be included.
Conversely, winning three of their five matches in the Championship seems unlikely to have helped Scotland’s representatives, with full back Stuart Hogg the only selection certainty.
The coaches will meet for a final selection meeting on Tuesday, with Lions sources insisting nothing is yet set in stone.
Wasps forward Launchbury, 26, was short-listed for Six Nations player of the tournament, but is part of a fierce competition for places in the second row.
Jones and England’s Maro Itoje are certainties to make the touring party, but Launchbury is believed to have slipped behind compatriots George Kruis and Courtney Lawes in the pecking order. Gatland is also understood to be keen on Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan.
Ryan’s fellow Irishman Iain Henderson also excelled when England beat Ireland in Dublin on the final weekend of the Six Nations.
Joseph has been tipped by many pundits to start the Test series at outside centre, but Gatland’s preference for size in the midfield could see the likes of Te’o and Wales’ Davies preferred.
Meanwhile, despite captaining England to consecutive Six Nations titles, Hartley is struggling to force his way into the squad as one of the three hookers, with Ireland’s Rory Best and Wales’ Ken Owens vying for places along with England second-choice Jamie George.
The tour begins on 3 June and features a 10-game schedule, culminating in a three-Test series against the All Blacks.
The Lions will be looking for a second series win in New Zealand, with their only triumph to date a 2-1 victory in 1971.
|Lions tour to New Zealand – fixtures|
|June 3 – Provincial Union Team, Whangarei|
|June 7 – Blues, Auckland|
|June 10 – Crusaders, Christchurch|
|June 13 – Highlanders, Dunedin|
|June 17 – Maori All Blacks, Rotorua|
|June 20 – Chiefs, Hamilton|
|June 24 – All Blacks, Auckland|
|June 27 – Hurricanes, Wellington|
|July 1 – All Blacks, Wellington|
|July 8 – All Blacks, Auckland|
- Listen to a Lions squad announcement special on Radio 5 live from 19:00 BST on Wednesday
Analysis – ‘England’s Six Nations stalwarts to miss out’
BBC rugby reporter Chris Jones
Gatland and his assistants are meeting on Tuesday and there is a chance things can change in that big meeting, but I do think it is a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
What I am hearing is there are some pretty high-profile players who will miss out on – some big name Englishman who were stars of England’s Six Nations win.
One of them I believe is Launchbury, who has really fallen victim to the fierce competition in the second row. The other, which comes as a shock, is Joseph, who many people tipped to be the Lions’ number 13 and is an archetypal outside centre.
However if Gatland prefers size in midfield he has the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Te’o. He could pick Elliot Daly, a player who can come in from the wing and who Eddie Jones preferred over Joseph as recently as the Six Nations.
England captain Hartley is 50/50 as things stand. There are four hookers; George of England, Best of Ireland, Wales’ Owens and Hartley. I do think he is odds against making the 38-man party, but if one of the selectors puts their neck on the line for him in that meeting then that can change.
Haskell, Ford, Robshaw are also among the handful of English players who are unlikely to make the final party. That is not to mean that Gatland has turned his back altogether on England. Te’o and Sinckler have come from leftfield to make the squad but the stalwarts of England’s back-to-back Six Nations wins will be missing come Wednesday lunchtime.
Every time it looks like a big name is missing out, you look at the options coming in. There will be a lot of uproar and unrest in many quarters, nothing splits opinion like a Lions’ squad announcement. Scotland fans could be up in arms, as they may only have a maximum of four players in this trip and they finished higher than Wales in the Six Nations, who may have 11 players.
This year not as many players are inked in from the start, but up to 70 players have a strong case.
BBC rugby reporter Chris Jones and former England international Ugo Monye picked their Lions squad on 5 live’s Rugby Union weekly. You can download the podcast here..