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Conan goes again with 'freak athletes' Curry and Lawes in Lions back row

Warren Gatland was impressed with the Ireland number eight last weekend.

Lawes, Curry, and Conan start again this weekend.
Lawes, Curry, and Conan start again this weekend.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WARREN GATLAND HAS tinkered with his front row, halfbacks, and midfield but some areas of his Lions team for this weekend’s second Test against South Africa remain unchanged.

The back row of Jack Conan, Tom Curry, and Courtney Lawes go again despite suggestions from some quarters that Gatland should mix things up.

There were calls for Taulupe Faletau to come in at number eight despite Conan’s impressive showing in the first Test, while 23-year-old Curry’s concession of three penalties in the first half meant his starting spot was questioned.

But Gatland has kept the faith with Lawes at blindside, Curry at number seven and Conan in the number eight shirt, with Faletau replacing Hamish Watson on the bench.

Giving Ireland and Leinster man Conan another start was a straightforward decision for Gatland.

“I just think that he’s kind of been unheralded a little bit,” said the Lions boss today. “Some people sometimes look for the spectacular stuff.

“It’s not something I do, I looked at all the things he did well and he doesn’t make many mistakes, his carrying was excellent, his footwork was good. He was very, very solid. He didn’t miss any tackles.

“As a loose forward trio, they can better and you want to keep that combination. Toby can have an impact coming off the bench. Sometimes you make changes, but we were very pleased with the way Jack played last weekend.”

jack-conan Conan pictured at the Lions' team hotel today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Conan himself was relatively pleased with his first Lions Test outing, although he too feels there is plenty more left in the tank ahead of this weekend’s second clash.

“Happy enough,” said Conan today. “Strange old game, the ball-in-play time wasn’t that high. I don’t think anyone had a lot of carries or tackles or anything like that. Some work was kinda hard to come by at times.

“But happy enough, I don’t think I missed any hits or anything like that and got a few carries out of it.

“I would like to be a little bit more prominent carrying than I was the other day, but sometimes it just doesn’t come to you. I’ll definitely try and get on the ball a bit more now come this weekend.”

The 28-year-old is enjoying working with Lawes and Curry in the Lions back row. It might not have been a Test trio that many people predicted but there is a nice balance to the combination.

Conan has been blown away by the athleticism of the English pair.

“We spoke afterwards, the three of us and we really all really enjoyed it,” said Conan. “To be fair to the two lads, they are two incredible players.

“Courtney is a freak athlete. For a man of his size [6ft 7ins] to move as well as he does is not something I have ever seen before and his ability to beat defenders and throw passes, offloads and those little tip passes is top-notch.

“Tom is a complete freak. His work-rate and energy around the park, he is the lad who leads the team.

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jack-conan-with-tadhg-beirne-and-jamie-george Conan with Tadhg Beirne and Jamie George at training. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He is excited to go again and have another big performance at the weekend so it was great to play with the two lads I think we complemented each other well and there was times when we were all having a sniff.

“Tom is 100 miles an hour in everything he does and he has an incredible engine. I’m shocked about his ‘repeatability’, that ability to get up and keep on going and keep on leading the line and putting in great defensive shots, and then he’s obviously very smart on the ball as well.”

The Boks flankers are unchanged for this weekend with captain Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit starting again, but there is a new face at number eight in Leicester’s Jasper Wiese.

“He’s good, he’s a powerful young man,” said Conan. “I think this is only his second cap for the Springboks but he is undoubtedly a very good player who packs a big punch.

“Physically he is very good. I have seen bits of him throughout the year in the Premiership and he was one of the leading ball carriers, so we know the physicality he is going to bring.

“I look forward to going up against him. The Springbok back row is one of the best in the world, so it’s going to be another big test for us.”

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Murray Kinsella

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