Gatland names his two most difficult areas for 1st Test selection
Warren Gatland has suggested the back three and the loose forwards will be the two most difficult areas to decide on when he sits down to select the Lions XV for next Saturday’s first Test versus the Springboks in Cape Town. The Lions wrapped up their pre-series match preparations with a 49-3 win over the Stormers, a game in which Marcus Smith made his tour debut and tour skipper Alun Wyn Jones proved his fitness 21 days after he suffered what was thought to be a tour-ending shoulder dislocation in the win over Japan.
Five of the Lions’ six warm-up matches have been won, the only setback arriving in the 17-13 defeat to a star-studded South Africa A team last Wednesday, but Gatland has admitted the situation regarding first Test selection is fluid.
It was after that midweek loss when he suggested that between 60 and 70 per cent of places were still up for grabs and he suggested the jury was still very much out on Saturday night regarding the identity of the 15 players who will run out for the Lions in next weekend’s Test series opener versus the 2019 World Cup winners.
“I don’t go in with preconceived ideas (about Test selection),” he said, explained that he never starts a tour with a potential XV in his head as he wants to allow a proper and fair selection battle to unfold.
“I led the media do that and the other rugby experts who all have their own opinions and they are all very different from each other which is great and I don’t have any issues with that. I try not to go in there with thoughts about players that this is potentially a Test side. I allow that to develop and allow players to have that opportunity to put their hand up.
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“There is going to be some tight calls with regard to the back three and the make-up of the loose forwards and how that mix is going to look as well. They are probably the tightest calls we have got to make in terms of getting the balance right in those positions. We will go through the process and make sure we go through everyone and look at the starting XV and also it’s important that we consider the impact that the bench will have as well and having the right players come on.
“I have started to get some names in my head and started thinking about combinations. It’s getting a lot closer. We will sit down and have a look at the game (versus the Stormers), talk to the medics as well. From a fitness perspective, I think we are pretty good and then we will start thinking about getting those right combinations together. That is sort of the next 48, 72 hours when we will go through that process. It will be some robust debate I presume.”
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