Seven potential Lions selection changes ahead of the third Test
After a convincing 27 – 9 loss in Cape Town on Saturday night, British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has been forced into a selection corner ahead of a ‘Cup Final’ third Test decider.
It may be 1 – 1 in the series, but it feels like the Lions are on the ropes.
The brute fact of the matter is that many of Gatland’s stars failed to fire in what was a turgid, scrappy, and at times nearly unwatchable arm wrestle with the Springboks. Having failed to beat the South Africans at their own game, master selector Gatland must surely roll the dice again, both strategically and with his personnel, if the tourists are to fly home victorious.
With Gatland going head-to-head with the Springboks for aerial dominance in first two Tests, Hogg’s selection ahead of Williams always seemed a little off-key, in a ‘horses for courses’ sort of way. No one doubts Stuart Hogg’s capacity to beat defenders, but Williams’ ability to field highball is near peerless in the northern hemisphere. The Scottish fullback’s mediocre shift yesterday has almost certainly guaranteed Williams’ involvement.
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After a strong outing in the first Test, many presumed a recall for Murray in the second was purely a tactical decision based on the Munsterman’s box kicking prowess. Yet Murray – who in truth has been struggled for his form of old for several seasons now – failed to justify the switch up.
Selection-wise, Adams has surely been the most unlucky Lion to date. Having been the form wing in the warm-ups with eight tries to his name, yet he’s yet to play a minute of Test rugby. Duhan Van Der Merwe’s fantastic series to date was given a rude awakening in Cape Town. If Gatland wants the Lions to actually play some rugby, the arch finisher should get a shot.
The loosehead would have started the first Test if were not for injury, and while Mako Vunipola and Rory Sutherland have been able lieutenants, Jones could – injury notwithstanding – make his Lions bow. The scrum has been a challenge for the tourists to date and no one has truly covered themselves in glory.
Courtney Lawes was man of the match in the first Test and tackled everything with a heartbeat in the second, yet you fancy Beirne’s ability over the ball and his superior carrying could potentially sway Gatland. Beirne was many people’s pick at blindside prior to the first Test – his pre-Test form demanded it. Yet Lawes’ experience won the day and the Northampton Saints forward repaid Gatland’s loyalty, in the first Test at least. Is it time name to roll the dice on the Munsterman’s relative Test match inexperience and insanely good form?
One of the tour’s sleeper hits, Aki could well get the nod in a department that has never quite found the chemistry it so badly needed. So far, none of the Lions’ midfield combos have been able to mix it with the outstanding Lukhanyo Am and Damien De Allende. With the Daly experiment having failed in the first Test, the question is now whether Henshaw or Harris make room. Gatland could well look to rekindle the chemistry of Connacht’s old midfield and partner Aki with Henshaw, which would be a cruel blow for Harris who has put a foot wrong.
Watson and Curry had been neck and neck going into the Test series but two mixed bag performances by the Sale Sharks openside haven’t exactly convinced. It’s not unthinkable that Watson, who was unfortunate to miss out on the second Test 23, might get an opportunity to showcase his swashbuckling style on the biggest stage.
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