BRITISH and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has revealed that Jonny Wilkinson declined his invitation to tour Hong Kong and Australia, but refused to rule out his participation at a later date in the event of injury.

Impressed by Wilkinson’s masterclass in Toulon’s Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Saracens, Gatland rang the 33-year-old former England fly-half on Monday to offer him a place in the squad.

While grateful to have received the call, Wilkinson responded that his club commitments in France and the deteriorating state of his fitness prevented him from accepting.

‘‘I asked Jonny if he could tour and he said he wasn’t available. I wouldn’t have made the phone call if it wasn’t to offer him a place on the tour,’’ Gatland said.

‘‘I told him that we wanted everyone on the tour to be on the plane and he couldn’t make that commitment because he’s committed to Toulon.

‘‘He appreciated the call, but he said he’s struggling with his body and managing himself week to week. I think physically he would struggle to do a tour.

‘‘He was honest about himself and said ‘I’m hanging on with my fingernails here at the moment and I probably need another operation’.’’ Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell of England are the recognised fly-halves among the 37, but an injury to one of them could result in Wilkinson joining the tour at a later date.

‘‘We asked him about what happens if there is an injury later in the tour and he said ‘we can have that conversation later if that crops up’,’’ Gatland said.

‘‘Having someone potentially of that experience if we have an injury... he might be available.’’ As expected Wales openside Sam Warburton was appointed captain of what will be his debut Lions tour, edging the more experienced Brian O’- Driscoll and Paul O’Connell for the post.

By his own admission the 24-year-old lacks experience, but there was no shortage of ambition as he targeted victory in all 10 fixtures that open against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1.

‘‘Obviously it’s going to be new for me and I’m going to learn along the way. I can’t sit here and say I know what’s going to happen because I don’t,’’ Warburton said.

‘‘I’m the eternal optimistic, so I’ll go out there with the intention of winning every match.

‘‘I was chatting to (tour manager) Andy Irvine last night and he said that it’s not something that’s been done before, so that will be a great challenge to set out to the players.

‘‘Everyone who’s been picked is naturally a great competitor and will be desperate to give everything to the Lions.

‘‘Nobody on the tour has had a Test series win and I’m sure that’s something that we’d all like to achieve.’’ Gatland explained his thinking behind choosing Warburton, who heads a 15- strong Welsh contingent with ten English, nine Irish and three Scots completing the touring party.

‘‘In the last two or three years he’s been the most successful captain in the northern hemisphere,’’ Gatland said.

‘‘When we sat down to pick a squad – and it’s a fantastically strong squad – we decided that Sam would be one of the names among the starting Test XV.

‘‘I have a huge amount of respect for Sam. He’s an absolute professional who leads from the front and I believe he’ll do a fantastic job.’’ The biggest casualties of the squad announcement were England captain Chris Robshaw and Ireland hooker Rory Best, who effectively lost out to surprise inclusion Dylan Hartley.

As recently as the penultimate match of the RBS 6 Nations against Italy, Robshaw was viewed as favourite to skipper the tour, but will instead be heading to Argentina with England next month.

‘‘It was a really tough decision to leave Chris out, but we went for two sevens in Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric,’’ Gatland said.

‘‘Sean O’Brien plays seven for Ireland, has been outstanding for them and is a great carrier of the ball.

‘‘I admire Chris hugely in terms of what he’s done for England in terms of his leadership and just how hard he tries.

‘‘Even when Harlequins didn’t play that well against Munster a few weeks ago he put his body on the line and tried incredibly hard.

‘‘He has to consider himself unlucky and that was one of the hard decisions to make.’’ Scotland wing Sean Maitland was a surprise call-up, as were England prop Mako Vunipola and 2005 Lions tourist Matt Stevens.

Among the 37 were 25 firsttime Lions tourists with O’- Driscoll the elder statesman, embarking on his fourth tour having previously been involved in 2001, 2005 and 2009.