The stats hinting Aki is a timely addition to blunt Lions midfield
An indication about the worrying bluntness of the Lions attack in their Test series versus the Springboks is evident in the revolving door regarding their midfield partnerships as Robbie Henshaw heads into Saturday’s third Test decider lining out in a third different centre combination, this time with Bundee Aki.
The Lions have managed just a single try in 160 minutes of Test rugby against the South Africans, that score coming from Luke Cowan-Dickie off a lineout drive near the line, and attack coach Gregor Townsend has just one final chance to make his supposed creative blueprint click.
The Scotland boss came in for criticism in the wake of last weekend’s depressing second-half fade-out, the Lions surrendering a three-point interval lead to lose by 18 points after they were held scoreless in the second half. Warren Gatland reacted by making six changes to his starting line-up, with midfield again an area that has been tinkered with.
Henshaw was paired with Elliot Daly in the first Test, Chris Harris in the second and he will now take the field in the third alongside Aki, an inclusion that has resulted in Henshaw switching out one channel to outside centre to accommodate his fellow Irish international. Harris had no luck in his 62-minute appearance, statistics on the Lions website stating he made zero metres off three carries and made just two passes. This followed Daly’s similarly abortive run in the No13 jersey the previous week, his six carries registering zero metres while he also managed just a single pass.
This bluntness had now left the Lions placing their faith in Aki taking over the No12 role and allowing Henshaw to have a go in the 13 channel after making a total of 56 metres off 13 carries in his two Test appearances at inside centre where he also threw nine passes. When Aki last played for the Lions, Harris was at outside centre against South Africa A and the Scot enjoyed a 26-metre gain off eight carries, making seven passes and beating three defenders.
The Lions are fielding their 3rd different midfield combo in this Saturday's 3rd Test… and it has also emerged how close Adam Beard was to starting the 1st Test#CastleLionsSeries #LionsTour2021 #LionsRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2021
Also, the only time the Aki-Henshaw partnership was previously used on the tour, Henshaw was a try-scorer versus Japan, making 16 metres off eight carries at No13 as well as putting in five passes and offloading twice. It suggests that Aki at No12 might just be the necessary foil to enable Henshaw to thrive at outside centre in a manner that was beyond Daly and Harris when they started versus the Springboks at No13. “It featured a lot in our selection discussions in the first and second Tests that Bundee had been playing well, had played well in the Japan and South Africa A games,” admitted Townsend.
“He has that connection with Robbie who hadn’t played that much following his injury on tour. We looked at how we felt the game would go, what we wanted to do in our game and that was the reason for the selections in the first and second Test, but now Bundee and Robbie get that chance to play together and you can already tell their communication on and off the field, they have got a really good understanding. Bundee has been waiting for the opportunity. He brings his own strengths but he connects really well with Robbie so they will enjoy the fact they are getting this chance to play for the Lions together.”
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