The Springboks tactic that resulted in Aki's Lions Test selection
The Lions have revealed that a particular attacking Springboks tactic coloured their thinking when it came to the selection of their third Test team which includes Bundee Aki at inside centre for his first appearance in the Test series. Robbie Henshaw started the opening two clashes with the Springboks wearing the No12 shirt, with Elliot Daly and then Chris Harris positioned outside him in the No13 Lions channel.
Beaten in last Saturday’s second Test, Warren Gatland has now had another rethink about his Lions midfield, moving Henshaw out to occupy the outside centre berth and bringing in Aki from the cold at inside centre with a view to shutting down one aspect of the threat posed by South Africa.
“Bringing Bundee in, they use (Damian) de Allende a lot in terms of off nine as a hit-up merchant,” suggested the Lions coach about his Aki logic. “Bundee has been brought in there to try and negate that, but he is also a good rugby player in terms of getting some go forward. He is not just a hit-up person, he has got some really good footwork and offloading ability and the other thing was to give Robbie an opportunity at Test match level in that 13 channel too.”
Gatland also explained some of his other calls, revealing how the unheralded Adam Beard came close to forcing his way in to start the first Test of the series. The Lions eventually went with Maro Itoje and skipper Alun Wyn Jones at lock, a partnership that has stayed intact and will be there again for this Saturday’s decider. However, rather than have blindside-cum-lock Tadhg Beirne providing cover on the bench, as was the case in games one and two, Gatland had opted for an out-and-out lock in Beard.
“One of the strengths of Adam Beard is his maul defence is outstanding,” outlined the Lions coach. “In the South African A game he did a great job and he was quite unlucky not to start the first Test in the second row. We felt we needed something like that to negate one of their strengths if they go to that in the game. Tadhg has been unlucky.
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2021
“Sam Simmonds, we talked about some of the guys we have on the bench and as the game breaks up he hasn’t had a huge amount of opportunity but he has been training well, he has got that speed and power and hopefully he gets the chance of the game does loosen up a little bit.”
Reverting to the backs where Gatland has changed two of his back three starters and also preferred Finn Russell to Owen Farrell on the bench, the coach added: “There have been some really tough calls in terms of that and Stuart (Hogg) has had the first two games.
“One of the definite strengths of Liam Williams is his aerial game and unfortunately with our whole back three last week, we weren’t great in that area. We put a lot of balls down so we felt we needed to make a few changes there. Then Finn comes in as someone who is just back to full fitness. It has taken the whole tour but he adds something a little bit different and hopefully that second half, when things do loosen up a little bit and we do get some more ball in play time and we do get some tempo, that he can come on and add to that. He definitely offers something a little bit different from an attacking perspective.
“We have been pleased with Ali (Price) on this tour in terms of the tempo he has brought and that is we have moved him back in (for Conor Murray), we thought he played well in the first Test. We even spoke about the likes of someone like Marcus Smith as well. He brings something a little bit different and asks and poses different questions of the defence – and that is something that Finn is able to do.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2021
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