The British & Irish Lions tours owe their place of prominence in rugby folklore to one simple fact
The British & Irish Lions tours owe their place of prominence in rugby folklore to one simple fact.
Nothing is simple‚ straight forward or easy. In fact‚ the degree of difficulty and the challenges are as varied as they are steep.
So there was hardly a raised eyebrow that something as routine as team selection elicited this response from coach of the current vintage‚ Warren Gatland: “In my four tours as a Lions coach‚ this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in.”
Gatland may have been depicted as a clown in a cartoon in a New Zealand newspaper on their tour there in 2017‚ but he will need no convincing that his job in part demands him to be juggler‚ puppet master‚ acrobat‚ tightrope walker but perhaps most importantly‚ ringmaster.
He has players from four different rugby nations to select from, but appeasing and placating aren't priorities and from time to time he has to crack the whip.
Luminaries in their respective national teams‚ Conor Murray‚ Owen Farrell and Liam Williams could not crack the starting team for Saturday's clash against the Springboks. Finn Russell‚ Taulupe Faletau‚ as well as try scoring ace Josh Adams failed to make the match 23.
With four convincing wins and a narrow defeat to South Africa A‚ the Lions have ticked the majority of the boxes they were required to.
“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far‚” said the coach. “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.”
Apart from rewarding form, the team also needs to fit the purpose of beating the Boks. “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‚” said Gatland.
That probably in part explains the selection of lock-cum flank Courtney Lawes. He brings high energy and impact‚ while lengthening their line-out options.
“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‚” added Gatland.
That perhaps lays bare the reasons for the selection of Dan Biggar at flyhalf and Elliot Daly at outside centre‚ while they have the option of additional firepower from Farrell.
With no more matches for those outside the Test 23 in which to impress‚ Gatland has to hope the men he went with in the first Test can go the distance.
British and Irish Lions - Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson; Elliot Daly; Robbie Henshaw; Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar; Ali Price; Jack Conan; Tom Curry; Courtney Lawes; Alun Wyn Jones (captain); Maro Itoje; Tadhg Furlong; Luke Cowan-Dickie; Wyn Jones.
Substitutes: Ken Owens; Rory Sutherland; Kyle Sinckler; Tadhg Beirne; Hamish Watson; Conor Murray; Owen Farrell; Liam Williams.