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Lions' verdict on Navidi, their tackle chart-topping back-rower

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

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If summer has gone to plan, Josh Navidi would currently be at the Vale of Glamorgan preparing for Wales’ two-game Test series versus Argentina. Instead, Navidi is living the Lions dream in South Africa following his eleventh-hour call-up for the tour following the injury to Justin Tipuric in the eve-of-departure win over Japan in Edinburgh.  


Navidi was one of three Lions debut makers in Wednesday night’s win over the Sharks in Johannesburg, Adam Beard and Tom Curry the other newcomers, and he topped his team’s tackle count with 16.

The 30-year-old, who has been capped 30 times by Wales and featured in four of their Six Nations title-winning games earlier this year, suffered a shoulder injury playing for Cardiff in a Challenge Cup game at London Irish in early April, a setback that counted against him when the Lions originally announced their tour squad on May 6.  

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Warren Gatland talks about the Covid crisis that has burst the Lions’ bubble
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Warren Gatland talks about the Covid crisis that has burst the Lions’ bubble

Fifty-one days later, though, he was called up in a hurry by Gatland to fill the void left by the stricken Tipuric and he has since gone on to put his hand up in the back row, enjoying himself in a midweek combination comprising of Curry and Sam Simmonds in the eight-try, 54-7 win against the Sharks.

That success drew a line under one of the most bizarre days in Lions history as players were confined to their rooms for up to eight hours due to virus chaos before making a dash to the stadium and Navidi’s name came out in the wash when Gatland managed to talk a little bit about the rugby that had unfolded rather than the pre-game carry-on. 

“He is an absolute quality player and he was definitely one of the guys in contention (to originally tour),” said Gatland. “We didn’t actually select him because he had a shoulder injury and hadn’t any rugby and there was no guarantee he was going to get back fit, so the ironic situation is he has benefited from Justin Tipuric’s unfortunate injury and that gave him a little bit more time back in training fully with Wales. 


“I have known him for a long time and he probably may have deserved more recognition. There was criticism of me in Wales for not picking him earlier but when he has been fit he has been one of the mainstays of that Welsh side and he is definitely important to them.

“I thought the loose forward three complemented each other and they all did some really good things. Speaking to the boys afterwards the effects of altitude are still getting to them. They were blowing like anything so it was tough out there this evening and particularly the challenge of being stuck in your room for sort of eight hours. It’s not the easiest thing but he acquitted himself well and those new caps should be really proud of their performance.”


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