There are some big decisions for Warren Gatland ahead of the Lions first test, not least who is his starting captain. Wyn Jones returned against the Stormers off the bench to stake his claim to be starting next weekend as captain. However, Gatland also faces other selection headaches in the back row, scrum-half and in the back three.
Alun Wyn Jones did enough in his 27-minute cameo against the Stormers to become the Lions starting captain against the Springboks on 24 July. Conor Murray has struggled to assert himself over Ali Price as the starting nine and should concentrate on his game. Tadhg Beirne has been outstanding and takes the blindside jumper. The other potential surprise is the form of Josh Adams who could shunt Stuart Hogg out of the side. Warren Gatland, the Lions coach has a tough week ahead of him in deciding a number of contentious selections.
Charlie Inglefield gives you his take on where Gatland is likely to go in terms of selection next weekend. Plenty of tough calls ahead of a big first test.
Jones back as Captain
The form of Conor Murray will probably mean that Alun Wyn Jones comes back as starting captain next Saturday night for the Lions. The acid test for the British and Irish Lions came against a near strength Springbok outfit last Wednesday. The forwards went well but outwide the Lions’ backs could not create many chances. Murray and Owen Farrell struggled in the halves in particular. Such is the competition for places, Farrell will be lucky to make the bench. Gatland will want Murray inch-perfect on his box kicks and that is why Jones should come back as the starting captain to allow the Munster-man to concentrate on his role in this Lions team.
If there is one player in the world who can pick up from where he was it is Alun Wyn Jones. He should partner Maro Itoje in the second row.
The Pundits react to our final warm-up match which delivered a victory in Cape Town over the DHL Stormers 🙌
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 18, 2021
Nothing between Watson and Beirne
As predicted the back row is as difficult as ever to pick from. Hamish Watson deserves to start alongside Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau. However such has been the form of Tadhg Beirne, whose height also gives Gatland a decent lineout option, it may well be Beirne who takes the blindside jumper. There is nothing between any of the backrowers, who have all excelled in the favourable South African playing conditions.
The one man who will be looking over his shoulder is Faletau. Everyone knows what he brings with his experience and all-round game but he is yet to really fire. Jack Conan and Sam Simmonds are snapping at his heels but Faletau should still start next Saturday.
Tom Curry at openside, Tadhg Beirne at blindside and Taulupe Faletau is the predicted back row. Hamish Watson and possibly Sam Simmonds could be on the bench.
Liam Williams at full-back
Stuart Hogg is one of the unluckier Lions over the last three campaigns. An untimely leg injury and an enforced Covid quarantine have not helped his cause. Josh Adams has been one of the stars in South Africa and he may well take one of the wing spots that would see Liam Williams shift to full-back. South Africa will undoubtedly target the Lions back three in the air and Williams is world-class under the high ball. Anthony Watson has been excellent on this tour as well and is a shoe-in on the wing.
It would be desperately tough on Hogg and will be one of the big selection calls for the Lions management team need to make. Louis Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe have done their selection chances no harm at all but are unlikely to be involved in the matchday squad.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Smith are bench bolters
The bench will be crucial for both teams on Saturday. There has to be room for some flair and x-factor if either the Lions or the Springboks have to chase a game. With Finn Russell struggling with injury, Marcus Smith has suddenly come into contention. Smith has been one of the form players in the Premiership over the last 12 months and he carried that form into the Stormers game.
What makes the backline bench intriguing is whether Owen Farrell will make it? Given the strength of his goalkicking and the fact that he is a test match animal on the biggest stage, he should be in there somewhere. Dan Biggar is favourite to start at number ten so will Farrell come in alongside Robbie Henshaw? Farrell is a major selection chat in the making.
Luke Cowan-Dickie will also come into Gatland’s eye line to start against the Springboks. He was superb against the Stormers and he could add some serious grunt off the bench. Malcolm Marx and Bongi’ Mbonambi are formidable opposition and Cowan-Dickie expertise in the tight could dislodge Jamie George or Ken Owens out of the starting line-up. Ken Owens will probably start with Cowan-Dickie on the bench.
Daly and Henshaw the starting centres
Robbie Henshaw is surely nailed in for the inside centre role. It may well be Elliot Daly who accompanies him. Daly has shown all tour that his best position is in the centres and he can release players into space better than most in this Lions squad. Add in a booming boot that can rival Frans Steyn for the Springboks and Daly suddenly becomes a very viable option.
It will come down to whether Gatland will want Farrell and Biggar in together. Having Farrell on the bench to come on in the second half with his reliable kicking off the tee is the likely option. Which will mean that neither Smith nor Russell will get a look in.
Warm-up games could affect the Lions
The British and Irish Lions must guard against complacency having comfortably beaten all of the provincial sides. South Africa A was a step up and the Lions lost. They will take heart from the fact that they had the measure of the South African A pack in the second half. It is difficult to gauge where the Lions are truly at but the old adage of you can only play what is in front of you rings true so far on this tour.
A predicted lineup for the first test would be:
15. Liam Williams
14. Anthony Watson
13. Elliot Daly
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Josh Adams
10. Dan Biggar
9. Conor Murray
1. Wyn Jones
2. Ken Owens
3. Tadgh Furlong
4. Alun Wyn Jones (C)
5. Maro Itoje
6. Tadgh Beirne
7. Tom Curry
8. Taulupe Faletau
Reserves: Owen Farrell, Ali Price, Kyle Sinckler, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Iain Henderson, Mako Vunipola
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