British and Irish Lions gear up for Springbok backlash

British and Irish Lions team

Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions coach has made three changes to the side that won the first test. Mako Vunipola comes in for Rory Sutherland, Chris Harris replaces Elliot Daly and Conor Murray is in for Ali Price. There are also changes on the bench that sees Taulupe Faletau replace Hamish Watson. Elliot Daly is demoted to the bench at the expense of Liam Williams. Both Watson and Williams can consider themselves unlucky as Gatland has loaded up his bench with size in the hope that the Lions will be closing out a game rather than chasing it.

Harris to bulk up the midfield

Chris Harris, the Scottish centre, partners with Robbie Henshaw in the centres. This is a move done to shore up the Lions midfield after Elliot Daly’s uncomfortable afternoon in the first Test. It is tough on Daly but he struggled with the claustrophobic South African defence and it is not a surprise that Gatland wants a bit more size. Harris is a good defender which probably saw him overtake Bundee Aki.

Daly’s capacity to cover the back three as well as in the centres sees him take a place on the bench. He could have a crucial role to play if the Lions find themselves having to chase the game in the final quarter.

Kicking duel gets Murray the nod

The selection of Conor Murray over Ali Price is perhaps the most contentious of the calls that Gatland has made. Price did his job well, particularly in the second half. It was not his kind of game such was the focus on the forward battle. Price’s kicking held up under pressure and he was in Faf de Klerk’s ear most of the time. Murray has come in for his experience which is understandable given the magnitude of the second Test, but he is struggling for form.

Murray’s game is built around bossing the forwards and a laser-accurate box-kicking game. On the latter is where Murray really has to step up. If his kicking is even slightly off, Cheslin Kolbe and Willie le Roux will run the ball back with interest.

Vunipola to add experience

Mako Vunipola’s performance off the bench has seen him get the nod to start over Rory Sutherland. Sutherland has copped a bit of flak this week but fronted up well to the South African front row. Wyn Jones’ shoulder injury has seemingly not cleared up enough for him to be in the selection mix. Vunipola’s size and mobility will add to the Lions front five, which will be such an important battle on Saturday.

Ken Owens would have been very close to starting over Luke Cowan-Dickie after his impact off the bench last week. He will play another key role in the final quarter of the second Test. Cowan-Dickie grew into the game after a shaky first 40 minutes and will be better off for the experience.

British and Irish Lions revert to size and experience

Bench impact to influence the outcome

The Lions bench in the first Test outplayed their counterparts showing just how important it is to pick the right men for the job. Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola were excellent in countering the firepower of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe. The Lions’ bench for the second Test is an interesting one.

There are two key outcomes to finalising eight replacements – chasing a game or closing a game. The lack of an x-factor player in the Lions selection for the second Test is a big call. Elliot Daly is the one player who could spark something. Gatland has gone for size and experience which sees Faletau oust Hamish Watson.

If there is a fear for the British and Irish Lions is the lack of an x-factor on the bench if they have to chase the game in the final quarter. Owen Farrell and Taulupe Faletau are great men to close a game out but can they provide that stardust? Sam Simmonds and Marcus Smith (Finn Russell if he was fit) are two obvious players that come to mind in this respect. Yes, it would be a risk but if South Africa are six points ahead with ten minutes to go who can come on and change it up for the Lions? Gatland has got his selections spot on thus far.

Intensity and ferocity to rise

As exciting as the first Test was, the quality from both teams was disappointing. Understandably both South Africa and the Lions were sounding each other out and were reluctant to throw the ball out wide. The Springboks will know that they have to dictate the intensity and win the collisions if they are to take this series to a decider. The way the momentum changed for the Lions in the second half would have worried the South African management. The Springboks attack looked very clunky and they will have to find something extra to challenge the Lions defence.

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South Africa are not Rugby World Cup champions for nothing. They will come flying out at Newlands and will look to enforce their traditional physicality on the Lions pack. Eben Etzebeth is a key man in that respect. He was everywhere in the first Test and the battle between him and Maro Itoje will be important to the overall outcome.

The Lions cannot have another poor first half. The Springbok pack will be looking to dominate up front and maintain it when their “bomb squad” comes on in the second half. The kick/chase will be so important especially as the Lions kept dangermen like Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi quiet in the first Test.

This will be a mighty match as befitting a Lions and Springbok series. South Africa will be much better in the second Test but so will the British and Irish Lions. This promises to be a match that will only be decided in the last ten minutes and the match fitness that the Lions now have may just tip this in their favour.

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