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Why Lions ignored call for No8 change by ex-tour skipper Warburton

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has explained why he opted to stick with Jack Conan as his Lions No8 and only recall Taulupe Faletau to the second Test bench despite calls from Sam Warburton, the 2013 and 2017 tour skipper, for his fellow Welshman to start next Saturday’s clash with the Springboks in Cape Town.

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Faletau was the starting No8 in all three games in the drawn Test series versus the All Blacks in 2017, while he also wore that shirt in the Test series decider versus the Wallabies in 2013 after edging his way past Jamie Heaslip in the pecking order.

Eight years later, Faletau has now twice lost out to another Irishman, Conan getting the green light to pack down as a starter on successive Saturdays versus the Springboks with Gatland opting to only bring Faletau into the matchday mix as a sub this weekend after he elected to go with flanker Hamish Watson as his back row cover last weekend.

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Warren Gatland talks about the Lions shutting the series door on the Springboks

Conan was the Lions’ best ball-carrying forward, making 48 metres from a dozen carries in the 22-17 win. He also made a half-dozen tackles, passed four times and beat a pair of defenders. However, despite that impressive showing, Warburton suggested he would still like a back row change for round two versus the Springboks.

I would put Faletau at No8,” said Warburton on Sky Sports last weekend. “When the game opens up… Faletau is the most gifted player we have in those wide channels. That would be the only tight call, between Taulupe and Jack Conan. Other than that I expect Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes to keep their spots.”

Gatland agreed with his former skipper Warburton regarding his wide channel analysis, but he only went as far as to select Faletau on the bench and give the unheralded Conan another shot in the No8 jersey. “We thought about that No8 cover and as the game loosened up a bit in terms of him [Faletau] a little bit in the wider channels and his footwork.

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“He has had some good moments on tour, some big moments in terms of carrying and stuff and we know how dangerous he can be in that regard, so we just felt having cover for Jack and with Tadhg (Beirne) as well, as the game opens up they might be able to have a significant impact.

“He [Conan] has kind of been unheralded a little bit. Some people sometimes look for the spectacular stuff and it’s not something I do. It’s looking at all the things that he did well. He doesn’t make many mistakes, his carrying was excellent, his footwork was good and he was very, very solid, he didn’t miss any tackles.

“So I thought as a loose forward trio, that trio can get better and you wanted to keep that combination. Toby can have an impact off the bench. Sometimes you make changes but we were very pleased with the way Jack played last weekend.”

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Why Lions ignored call for No8 change by ex-tour skipper Warburton

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