“I can’t wait to get out there and get involved,” was the reaction of Elliot Daly after the Wasps and England centre, a product of Whitgift School’s rugby production line, was named in the 41-man British and Irish Lions squad for the daunting tour to New Zealand this summer.
And Daly is not the only south Londoner in the squad, as Kyle Sinckler, the Harlequins prop forward, was also named, probably the biggest surprise inclusion in coach Warren Gatland’s touring party.
Daly and Sinckler are both 23. Indeed, the pair might have played in the same school team had Whitgift’s overtures to the tyro prop to lure him from Tooting’s Graveney School to south Croydon for the sixth form been more successful. Instead, Sinckler opted for Epsom College, while Daly went on to figure prominently in Whitgift’s two English Schools’ Cup successes at Twickenham.
Since when, they have featured on the same team at Twickenham, for England, as Daly has made himself a regular in the Six Nations-winning XV over the past 12 months, while Sinckler has won eight caps, all as a replacement, coming on as a dynamic force among what coach Eddie Jones calls his “finishers”.
Clearly, Gatland, too, believes that the Quins prop, who attended a football-playing inner city comprehensive and learned his rugby on public pitches on Tooting Common with junior club Battersea Ironsides, can bring a similar forcefulness to the games against the world’s No1 side, the All Blacks.
The versatile Daly, who plays on the wing for England, has made club appearances at full-back and has a howitzer of a left foot which can nail penalties from 50 metres or more, was more widely tipped to make his first Lions tour.
Not that he believed it until he heard the names read out at the formal announcement yesterday lunchtime.
“It’s hard to put into words but I’m sure it will sink in later. It’s a hugely exciting moment for me and I can’t wait really.
“Not knowing in advance if you’re in or out gets everyone around the TV and you don’t know what’s going to happen. To hear my name read out was amazing and a moment I will never forget.
“To be involved in a squad containing that calibre of players is massive. I can’t wait to get out there and get involved, but at the same time we still have a big end to the season here with Wasps first and hopefully we can finish the season on a high.
“My focus at the moment is just on trying to do the basics well, to make good decisions on the ball and just to try to influence the game as much as possible. Hopefully I’m doing that and will continue to work on that for the rest of the season.”
Daly’s club coach at Wasps, Dai Young, said, “I know I am biased, but he’s an obvious choice in my eyes, he’s worked really hard for it so I am really pleased for Elliot and his family. It’s a huge honour and very well deserved.
“Elliot’s a really talented player and I think Warren Gatland has gone on record saying that he will give everyone opportunities with three or four games. He’s got all the tools to go out there and do a good job and he certainly has the capability to be in that Test team with all of the qualities that he brings to the game.
“He’s only ever going to impress and the more you see of him, the more he impresses you with his skill-set, the pace he covers the ground at and his work rate. It’s a great honour and we are all 100 per cent behind him and really pleased for him.”
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