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'We've lots of options': Gatland drops 3rd Test Lions changes hint

By Liam Heagney

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Lions boss Warren Gatland has hinted he might be prepared to look beyond Saturday’s second Test matchday 23 selection in the hope of coming up with a winning third Test mix to clinch the series versus the Springboks in Cape Town. The Lions were within 40 minutes of sealing the series with a game to spare when they led South Africa 9-6 at the interval in Saturday’s second game. However, history eluded them when they failed to score in the second half and they instead lost 27-9 after conceding 21 unanswered second-half points. 

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Gatland altered his matchday 23 for the second Test, bringing in Chris Harris to start and putting Taulupe Faletau on the bench even though they had not been involved in last weekend’s first Test win, and it’s now likely that some other players who have yet to feature in the Test series will potentially be drafted in for the Test series decider in an effort to freshen things up. 

This was what famously happened in 2013 in Australia after the Lions failed to clinch that series with a match to spare, Gatland dropping Brian O’Driscoll and a number of other players after the Wallabies struck back to level the series and take it to the deciding third match.

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He brought a total of seven fresh players into his matchday 23 for that series decider, starting Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Taulupe Faletau and Alex Corbisiero and putting Richie Gray, Justin Tipuric and Manu Tuilagi on the bench for Sydney after they were all surplus to requirement the previous weekend in Melbourne.

Eight years later, Gatland finds himself occupying similar territory in South Africa after the Lions disappointingly were unable to build on their 22-17 first Test win, allowing a three-point interval lead to be squandered.

Asked would he go for broke and consider fielding some players in the third Test who have yet to feature in the series, Gatland said: “Selection really has been really tough and there is a lot of players in the squad where it was a toss of a coin in terms of who we selected and who we didn’t. That is a credit to the players in the whole squad who worked really hard.

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“The non-23 did a great job in helping the players prepare and we will spend the next couple of days reviewing and looking at what we think is the best 23 to put out and whether that has some fresh faces that haven’t been involved in the first two games. We have got lots of options in terms of bringing guys in to give us some energy perhaps or some momentum as well.  

“Do we need to make some changes? I was happy with that first-half performance and thought we were getting some reward out of that, and we just didn’t get any bounce of the ball in that second half to be able to create some momentum. 

“The game was very, very slow how often the clock was stopped and how slow it was. They [the Springboks] did a good job of managing that by slowing the game down which was frustrating for us because it was difficult to get that rhythm in the second half because of how much was stop-start.

“That second half we didn’t get anything really. We got no momentum, no real opportunity to play, nothing at all from any kick returns whether it was us or them. That was disappointing and we have probably given away some penalties. 

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“In fairness to them, they scrummaged pretty well in the second half, drove a lot and got some reward from that. We were happy with the way the first half had gone and we felt going into half-time we had carried well, we had got some forward momentum and we just didn’t achieve that at all in the second half.  

“We were pretty happy with that in the first half in terms of carrying and stuff. The ground conditions were difficult. There was a scrum penalty against Tadhg Furlong for going down but when you look at the replay it’s not that he has collapsed the scrum or lost his bind, his feet have just gone completely under him and you can see the sand and the grass go from that and sometimes that happens in a game and it is difficult. 

“And the way they defend and rush up is quite tough, there were a couple of opportunities where we probably should have put the ball through the hands and looked to exploit that.

“The players are very disappointed but next Saturday is a cup final and that is the way we have got to look at it and prepare. There are a few things we have got to tidy up in our game but it’s one-all and South Africa put a huge amount of emotion into that game so we have got that chance next week to win the series.”

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'We've lots of options': Gatland drops 3rd Test Lions changes hint

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