Picking British Lions Test team was ’extremely difficult’ for Warren Gatland
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DURBAN - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says selecting his team to play the Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday was the toughest job he has had on the four Lions tours he has been involved with.
The vastly experienced Gatland says he was spoiled for choice in most positions and that it was a case of who to leave out rather than who to pick.
Gatland’s team will be led by Alun Wyn Jones, the 35-year-old Welshman who has completed a near miraculous comeback from a dislocated shoulder injury sustained in the tourists win over Japan in Edinburgh just 24 days ago.
In one of the few certain choices, England’s Mari Itoje joins Jones in the second row.
Elsewhere, Wyn Jones (Wales), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England) and Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) make up the front row.
Courtney Lawes (England) packs down on the blindside flank, Tom Curry (England) is at openside flank, with Irishman Jack Conan completing the loose trio at No 8.
At scrumhalf, Scotland’s Ali Price has leapfrogged pre-tour favourite Conor Murray after impressing against the Stormers last Saturday. As expected, he partners Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar.
The midfield comprises Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) and Elliot Daly (England) while the back three is made up of Anthony Watson (England), South African-born Duhan van der Merwe and fellow Scot Stuart Hogg at fullback.
The starting XV includes three Scots for the first time since the 1997 Tour to South Africa when current Lions assistant coach, Gregor Townsend, was named alongside Alan Tait and Tom Smith for the first and second Tests.
“In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland.
“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.
“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do again this weekend.
“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Elliot Daly (England), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Ali Price (Scotland), 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 1 Wyn Jones (Wales).
Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Rory Sutherland (Scotland), 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20 Hamish Watson (Scotland), 21 Conor Murray (Ireland), 22 Owen Farrell (England), 23 Liam Williams (Wales).