CHRIS FOY'S LIONS VERDICT: Warren Gatland's selection for the second Test is entirely logical


CHRIS FOY’S LIONS VERDICT: Warren Gatland’s selection for the second Test is ruthless, brutal, yet entirely logical… there will be a new edge to this side as they look to beat the Springboks at their own game and secure the series

  • The British and Irish Lions go into Saturday’s South Africa clash with a 1-0 lead 
  • Despite that, Warren Gatland has made several changes to his XV and the bench 
  • It makes complete sense to change things up and keep a competitive edge  

This Lions selection is at once brutal yet understandable – ruthless yet entirely logical. Warren Gatland wants his team to beat the Springboks at their own game, so the changes make sense.

First and foremost, it is the right call to alter a winning line-up, in recognition of the fact that the tourists won the series opener last Saturday despite operating far below their collective potential. There were several areas of the game where they under-performed and the rotation of personnel adds a renewed edge of purpose to the whole team.

From front to back, the three additions to the starting XV can be justified. Mako Vunipola taking over from Rory Sutherland is a reflection of how the England prop’s superb second-half efforts in the scrum helped the British and Irish visitors to utterly negate the looming threat of the Boks’ mighty ‘bomb squad’ of monstrous front-rowers.

Mako Vunipola's superb second-half efforts on Saturday has helped secure him a start

Mako Vunipola’s superb second-half efforts on Saturday has helped secure him a start 

Sutherland had struggled early on, but Vunipola helped to steady the Lions’ set-piece platform, while also offering plenty around the field. He has vast experience as someone on his third tour of duty and he also has champion pedigree as someone who has won countless titles and medals with club and country. With Wyn Jones unavailable due to a shoulder injury, this switch in the No 1 shirt should not raise any complaints.

At scrum-half, the change is a ruthless one, as Ali Price has had a fine campaign overall. But the Scot took time to hone his box-kicking accuracy during the first Test and the aerial contest will once again go a long way to deciding the outcome of the next encounter.

Conor Murray has not played as well as Price and if the Lions were seeking to launch a high-octane wide game as their primary tactic, it would be illogical to pick him ahead of his rival from Glasgow. But Gatland wants to control the skies, so Murray is the man to achieve that control. Price can feel hard done-by, but this is a horses-for-courses call by the coaches, who can expect their Irish No 9 to play like a senior figure with a point to prove.

Conor Murray's selection ahead of Ali Price is ruthless, but the Irishman's kicking is better

Conor Murray’s selection ahead of Ali Price is ruthless, but the Irishman’s kicking is better

There was a sense of inevitability about a midfield reshuffle and it has come to pass. Bringing in Chris Harris to replace Elliot Daly at outside centre is reward for Harris’s outstanding form throughout this trip, along with his greater power in contact and his defensive prowess. Daly was misused last weekend – repeatedly sent straight into heavy traffic – and he provides ideal utility value on the bench, as someone capable of covering centre, wing and full-back.

The choice of replacements is a further act of ruthlessness – which is needed in this high-stakes scenario. Hamish Watson is out of the match-day 23 after losing his composure and being lucky to avoid a yellow card for a tip-tackle on Willie le Roux in the first Test. Veteran Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau provides back-row cover and is likely to be another man on a mission, after having the unfamiliar role of frustrated by-stander three days ago.

Some players have been given the benefit of the doubt, notably Luke Cowan-Dickie, the England hooker who admitted that he didn’t entirely do himself justice last Saturday. Jack Conan might have been under threat from Faletau, but Gatland and Co have backed him to start again.

This is a team to play with power and intensity and control. It is a team set up to nullify and beat the Boks in their own traditional areas of dominance. It is not necessarily a team set up to entertain and run amok, but that is not the point, especially without any crowd in attendance. This is a team capable of finishing the job, by securing an historic series victory on Saturday.

Toby Faletau is back on the bench after Hamish Watson paid for his moment of ill discipline

Toby Faletau is back on the bench after Hamish Watson paid for his moment of ill discipline

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