The series is level after two tests in South Africa for the first time in 66 years, and Warren Gatland has several dilemmas to deal with. Here’s the side that he should be going with to get a famous series victory over the reigning world champions.
Warren Gatland knows big games
Gatland has made a name for himself in his Wales days for winning big games and shocking the rugby world with his shock squad announcements, which mostly pay off. The third test will prove one of his biggest challenges yet as he looks to overhaul the Springboks with the plethora of talent at his disposal.
1. Wyn Jones
If fit, Jones could add some hefty value to Gatland’s stock. Not only is he a superb scrummager and ball carrier, but his work over the ball has gone amiss when it comes to slowing down the Springboks breakdown speed.
— Robert Rees (@Rreesrugby) July 31, 2021
Gatland knows what he can do, and will look to utilise him in just those ways.
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
Like Jones, Cowan-Dickie is superb over the ball, but he’s also the most mobile hooker in the squad. His maul control is outstanding, following lengthy practice at Exeter, where he applies his trade. If he can nail the lineout deliveries then he’ll be the one to start.
3. Tadhg Furlong
A hugely destructive scrummager, who has had a cracking series. His nearest competition Kyle Sinckler has been cited for biting, and whilst no sanction has yet been dealt, you can imagine it’ll see him out of the race to start, even if cleared.
4. Alun Wyn Jones
The captain put in the most tackles of any Lions player in the second test and has wrapped up 160 minutes of gruelling test match rugby following a shoulder dislocation just five weeks ago. His leadership, captaincy skills – which obviously rattled Rassie Erasmus – and pure work rate will see him start the final test to make it 12 in a row.
5. Maro Itoje
Itoje is probably the Lions man of the series to date, his lineout work and destructive maul ability have worked nicely, he’s been totemic in defence and sturdy around the park when needed. You could make a case to move him to blindside and fetch in one of either Adam Beard or Iain Henderson, but he should be starting in the boiler house.
6. Josh Navidi
His powerful carrying is needed to get the Lions more front foot ball, his reliable tackling will ensure they play with a high defensive line outside the pillars of the rucks, and he’ll also provide another lineout option.
7. Tom Curry
Curry hasn’t fully lit the bonfire on the tour, but Warren Gatland will see just how good he can be over the ball, and how disciplined he is whilst achieving his goals. Add in a strong ball in hand game and you’ve got the perfect balance of flankers.
8. Jack Conan
He’s been the best eight with ball in hand, which is exactly the game plan Gatland should be going with in their final test. Faletau hasn’t looked his usual dangerous self, so go with Conan and punch holes in the ‘Boks’ defence.
9. Ali Price
The kicking game under Murray didn’t work, and it won’t work under Gareth Davies either. price however, brings a more dynamic set of skills to the team. His sharp, darting runs will unlock the South African ruck defence and bring front foot ball with powerful ball carriers around him.
10. Dan Biggar
The kick and chase technique is a good one, providing you have the players to balance it outside of your fly half, see selections for that game plan shortly. Biggar’s heavy defence load in the 10-12 channel massively relieves pressure from the back row and he knows how to control the big games when needed.
11. Josh Adams
The high ball defence has been weak, and where better to start than the leading try scorer of the tour, Josh Adams. He looks calm under the aerial bombardment from opposition teams, and knows where the try line is, something the Lions haven’t done enough of in their test matches to date.
12. Bundee Aki
The Lions are yet to settle on a centre partnership that has truly worked, but they need a more physical presence and gain line breaking duo, than a playmaking duo – that can be done further inside. Therefore, you look at Aki to lead that line and pop up in the third or fourth phases with his destructive runs.
13. Robbie Henshaw
One of the most consistent players on tour, he offers that playmaker skillset, but also a fast outside runner, with the power to win collisions and make clean breaks. If Aki and Henshaw can make these breaks then the Lions will go far in winning the test.
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
His spatial awareness has massively improved in the past 12 months, seeing him rewarded with Welsh caps and a Lions spot. His sheer pace is dangerous, as South Africa show with their own Cheslin Kolbe, and if you’re counterattacking with Rees-Zammit then the Springboks can look out.
15. Liam Williams
Probably the best fullback in the world under the high ball, and offers a threat from deep when he takes the ball. With the triple threat Welsh attack at the back, Warren Gatland can’t go far wrong in his tactics of attacking from deep and nullifying the South African kicking game.
Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler*, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes, Connor Murray, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.
“Main photo credit”