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Gatland selects first Test Lions team that is dominated by England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Warren Gatland has named the Lions team for this Saturday’s first Test versus the Springboks in Cape Town, a starting XV that consists of six English players with three each coming from Ireland, Scotland and Wales – including fit-again skipper Alun Wyn Jones.


The Lions boss, who learned on Tuesday that all three Tests would be played at sea level in Cape Town and that the tour wouldn’t be returning to altitude for Tests two and three in Johannesburg, was originally due to name his team on Thursday morning.

However, with the Springboks bringing forward their team announcement by 24 hours and confirming a team on Tuesday that contains eleven of their 2019 World Cup final win starters, Gatland opted to also bring forward his Lions team announcement by 24 hours to Wednesday.

Video Spacer

Anthony Watson on the importance of a fast start versus the Springboks
Video Spacer
Anthony Watson on the importance of a fast start versus the Springboks

With Anthony Watson having explained earlier on Tuesday that the players were expecting to be told the team by Gatland prior to that day’s afternoon training session at a school in Cape Town, it wasn’t long before the Lions team leaked out, the Times newspaper in London soon unveiling what it said was the matchday 23.

Ultimately they were proven right regarding their starting XV, that the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Courtney Lawes, Jack Conan, Ali Price and Elliot Daly would all be starting against the Springboks, and that Conor Murray, who stepped in as tour captain when it was thought for three weeks that Jones would miss the entire trip, would only be a first Test replacement along with England skipper Owen Farrell.

However, the predicted six/two forwards/backs bench split didn’t materialise as Gatland has instead gone with a five/three split with Liam Williams, not forward Iain Henderson, making the bench after recovering from the concussion he suffered in last week’s midweek loss to South Africa A. There are five repeat starters from the Lions’ most recent Test series match, the drawn third game versus New Zealand in 2017. They are Watson, Daly, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje and Jones. That XV consisted of six English, five Welsh and four Irish.


The incredible return of Jones from his June 26 shoulder dislocation against Japan means he will win his tenth successive Lions Test cap, seeing him join an illustrious list of legends to have made ten Lions Test appearances or more that includes Gareth Edwards (ten), Graham Price (twelve), Mike Gibson (twelve) Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie-John McBride (17). Jones, however, is the first to play ten Tests for the touring side in the professional era.

Meanwhile, for Scotland, this latest Lions Test team featuring three of their players to start represents a massive breakthrough as you have to go back to Tom Smith on the 2001 tour to Australia to find the last time a Scot was in a Lions Test XV.

Six English Premiership clubs are represented in the starting XV, with Exeter, Northampton and Saracens each claiming two picks, but it is Irish province Leinster who are the dominant club contributor as they have three picks in a Lions team that has starting players from four PRO14 clubs.

“In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland. “We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they have all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23. However, we are very pleased with the side we have settled on.


“We know what we are coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there is no doubt about it. We will need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played South Africa A last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come. While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We will do our best to get the win.”

LIONS (vs Springboks, Saturday)
15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) #783
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816
13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) #822
12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #824
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #841
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821
9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) #843
1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) #842
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) #851
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #818
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) #825
5. Alun Wyn Jones – captain (Ospreys, Wales) #761
6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826
7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) #853
8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #839

16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829
17. Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #840
18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814
19. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #838
20. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) #847
21. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790
22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) #780
23. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) #833


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