Warburton wants to sacrifice Conan as part of back row tweak
The Lions secured a 22 – 17 win in Cape Town after a spirited second-half fightback against a flagging Springboks side, but Warburton thinks there is still room change despite the hard-fought first Test victory.
While Ronan O’Gara pointed to the misfiring midfield and the moreover the 9 to 13 unit as an area for a potential change-up, Warburton dwelled on the back row. Conan, who has had an outstanding tour to date, would have to make way for the Faletau, should Warburton get his way. The Bath back row completely missed out on the 23 for the first Test, a call that surprised some.
“I would put Faletau at No. 8,” Warburton said on the Sky Sports panel after the match. “When the game opens up, even if it’s Faletau on the bench and coming on, in those wide channels Faletau is the most gifted player we have in those channels.
He hailed the performance of Courtney Lawes on the blindside.
“Some people weren’t picking Courtney Lawes in their Lions squads because he didn’t play for England in the Six Nations,” said Warburton. “I certainly had him in my squad.
“Playing with and against him, he’s one man I would always want in my pack.
“He’s a brilliant lineout option.
“I’ve tried jumping against him. I had absolutely no chance of getting near him. He’s a phenomenal lineout athlete, attack and in defence.
“He sets the tone defensively with how hard he comes off the line. He’s ball carrying a lot more than he used to in his earlier days.
“I just think he’s been a massive player for the Lions.
“When I heard he was playing six I thought what an obvious choice, because he’s the most physically dominant player out of the four countries. He’s been cutting people in half in defence for the last 10 years. Gatland knows the value of that.
“He was fully justified at No. 6.”
In any event, it looks unlikely that Gatland will drop Conan, who he rates highly. “He’s incredibly accurate, he takes those kick-offs, he has got some good footwork, he got us some go-forward and he does a lot of the unspectacular stuff that you need in a forward pack to get the balance right,” Gatland said followed the game.
“You have got guys that will carry a bit more and stuff, so we were really pleased with his performance. It was incredibly solid.
“He has continued to improve and improve in this environment. He’s like a sponge in terms of gaining knowledge.
“He asks really, really good questions. He takes on information well, so we are really pleased with his development.”
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