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Adams loses out as Van der Merwe readies himself for 'verbals' from Boks

The Scotland wing starts in the number 11 shirt after Warren Gatland made a tough call.

Van der Merwe and Adams having both impressed.
Van der Merwe and Adams having both impressed.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT HAS BEEN a whirlwind fortnight in Josh Adams’ world as the Wales international has felt joy and despair.

Two weeks ago, on 7 July, he scored a hat-trick for the Lions against the Sharks to bring his tally to eight scores in three games for Warren Gatland’s team. He looked a Test certainty at that stage.

A week later, on 14 July, he was due to start against South Africa A in the most important warm-up game of the tour. A big performance there would have sealed his Test spot but there were more important things going on that day.

Adams withdrew from the game in order to join his partner on Zoom for the birth of their first child. It must have been challenging to experience that joyous occasions from afar and just three days later, he was back in action on the pitch as the Lions beat the Stormers in their final warm-up fixture. Again, that must have been a real challenge, particularly as he was carrying a couple of knocks.

It was Adams’ first disappointing showing of the tour as he lost the ball in attack twice in the first half. The first occasion saw him penalised for a second movement on the ground, although he did appear to be high-tackled just before.

The second time, he attempted to run right through Stormers out-half Tim Swiel but knocked the ball on. 

Nonetheless, the sense was that Adams had more than enough credit in the bank, having excelled on this tour and also scored 17 tries in his 32 Wales Tests. But there is never just one side to any selection story on a Lions tour.

Duhan van der Merwe has also been prolific on this trip, with five tries in his four appearances. He has beaten more defenders than anyone with 29, Elliot Daly being next best with 17.

The Scotland wing’s 38 carries are second only to Jack Conan’s 47, and he looks likely to be important on the early phases of the Lions set-piece attack this weekend. Van der Merwe has also made more clean linebreaks than anyone else with 11.

He hasn’t been tested aerially or defensively on tour, but the imposing Worcester man now gets a chance to play against his native South Africa. He was a team-mate of Handré Pollard’s with the South Africa U20s at the Junior World Championship in 2014, when he came off the bench in their final defeat to a Maro Itoje-captained England team.

duhan-van-der-merwe-is-tackled-by-tim-swiel-and-nama-xaba The Worcester wing has been powerful in contact. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Itoje is now his Lions team-mate after van der Merwe’s career took him to Montpellier in France initially and then on to Edinburgh, where he qualified to play for Scotland thanks to three years of residency. And now he’s a Test Lion, pipping Adams for a place on the left wing this weekend.

Lions boss Gatland has warned van der Merwe to expect rough treatment from the Springboks.

“I spoke to him yesterday about what’s coming on the weekend and he was fully aware because I presume every time he touches the ball, they’ll be trying to hit him with everything they’ve got and there will probably be some verbals as well,” said Gatland.

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“So he’s well aware of what’s at stake but he has been incredibly relaxed. The way he’s been running with the ball and beating defenders, and also scoring tries… he was the top try-scorer in the Six Nations [with five].”

The Lions head coach said leaving Adams out had been a very tough call.

“I spoke to Josh yesterday and just said it was such a tough call for us and for himself,” said Gatland.

“He had a pretty emotional week last week with the birth of his child and then the next couple of days checking in. By his own admission, he probably didn’t play as well as he normally would on the Saturday and that is completely understandable because of the week he had.

“He had a knock on his hip and quite a significant blow to the sternum that was pretty sore as well. It was a tough call but I spoke to him about that decision.

“For a number of players I spoke to, I showed them some stats from previous tours of how the Test team from Test one to Test two to Test three, how many changes have been made traditionally.

“So even through everyone is not involved, hopefully they will still get opportunities.”

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