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'Robin McBryde was trying to get us to agree to an 8/0 split'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Saturday’s hastily arranged Lions match with the Sharks resulted in the South African franchise asking the tourists if it would be okay if they selected eleven replacements on their bench, three more than the usually permitted eight reserves. 

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The Lions defeated the Sharks 54-7 in Johannesburg and they will now face-off again in Pretoria just four days later, something that is the first time since 1910, when Border were taken on twice in four days at East London and King William’s Town, that the Lions have had consecutive matches against the same non-Test opponent. 

The Lions readily agreed to the Sharks request for eleven replacements to be named, especially when the South Africans insisted they only plan to use a maximum of eight. Warren Gatland turned down the opportunity for the Lions to reciprocate and also select eleven replacements. However, he did report an unusual discussion was had on the make-up of this weekend’s Lions bench. 

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Forced into making eight late changes last Wednesday to his originally chosen 23, it left the Lions fielding a replacements bench that consisted of seven forwards and just a single back and the tourists ultimately went on to finish the match with 13 players when tight hamstrings forced off Louis Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe with the whole bench already unloaded. 

For Saturday’s rematch, the Lions have elected to go with six/two forwards and backs split on their bench, but not before they had to talk assistant Robin McBryde around from his radical selection suggestion.  

“I was asked about that [the Sharks’ eleven replacements] and it was no issue with me,” said Gatland before getting on to the notion floated by Lions assistant McBryde. “They said they would still only use the eight subs. We were given the option to have eleven on the bench as well but we rejected that. We have stuck with the eight on the bench and we feel we have got enough cover. Robin McBryde was trying to get us to agree to an eight-zero split but we rejected that temptation. We have stuck with a six-two split because we have got a number of backs who have played quite a few matches and we needed to rest them Friday (at training) and they are getting a break Saturday. That is why we have gone with the six-two split.”

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Having ignored the McBryde suggestion, the Lions go into the Sharks rematch having had just a single training session since Wednesday, but that situation doesn’t bother Gatland. “We had a day off Thursday and players had a couple of walkthroughs. They have been absolutely fantastic in doing their homework and learning things really quickly. 

“It’s made it easier on the coaches as well and Friday we had a really good run, an extended captain’s run. It was quite a bit longer as we needed to get through things. The players knew that was going to happen. I can say they were sharp and the fantastic thing about this group of men at the moment is they are facing a few challenges but they are incredibly excited about playing for the Lions.

“We saw that on Wednesday with the energy that was in the changing rooms, how vocal they were in the warm-up and on the pitch. I can only take a barometer from what I see from the players and they know they are some challenges, but they are excited about playing the Springboks and hopefully winning the Test series.” 

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'Robin McBryde was trying to get us to agree to an 8/0 split'

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