Lions 2013: Keith Wood expects Welsh to make up bulk of squad

Wales

Keith Wood says he expects Wales to make up the bulk of the British and Irish Lions tour party to Australia.

The ex-Ireland hooker, a Lion in 1997 and 2001, expects the Six Nations title winners to have the biggest contingent.

Warren Gatland is expected to name a 37-man squad for the 10-match tour to Hong Kong and Australia.

"I think there will be an awful lot of Welsh," said hooker Wood, who was part of the Lions side that lost the 2001 Test series 2-1 to the Wallabies.

"Barring the first half against Ireland [in the first game of the Six Nations] when defensively they were absolutely out to lunch, Wales have played the best rugby and shown great skills.

"I think there will be a big chunk of Welsh there."

Wales, who won back-to-back Six Nations titles for the first time since 1979 after following up their Grand Slam of 2012, could have their biggest representation in a Lions squad since 1977, when 16 players were picked in a 30-man squad. That was also the last time a Welshman - Phil Bennett - was chosen as Lion captain.

If Wales skipper Sam Warburton is given the role this time, he would become the first player to lead the Lions having not previously toured with them since Scot Finlay Calder in 1989.

But Wood believes Ireland lock Paul O'Connell, who did the job four years ago, would be the best option, given the reservations expressed over Warburton.

"I would have gone with O'Connell," he told BBC 5 live. "He 'got' the Lions in 2009, after a disappointing time in 2005. Experience is vital and the captain is also vital.

"You need one central point to follow. With Martin Johnson, there wasn't one Irishman, Welshman or Scotsman who doubted that he was able to lead the Lions.

"I am really impressed by Sam Warburton. I like him an awful lot. But Justin Tipuric has been playing incredible rugby and you need someone who has to be able to hold down a Test spot, so I would go with O'Connell."

Ireland hooker Rory Best and Wales' Richard Hibbard are expected to fight it out for the Lions Test jersey.

Hibbard, who damaged knee ligaments for the Ospreys against Glasgow, is favourite for the Test spot, but Wood still expects Best to push him for a Test place.

"Rory Best will go with the Lions," added Wood, part of the last Lions squad to win a Test series, in South Africa in 1997.

"He is a class act. He struggled in the Six Nations with his line-out which hasn't been a flaw in his game.

"He will get there and then it becomes an incredible battle to try and make sure he has the number two jersey.

"I think Hibbard ended the Six Nations the better, but I don't think anybody who picked a team at the end of the Six Nations will have it right for the week of the first Test."

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