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'He’s definitely putting his hand up' - Lions boss Gatland impressed by Conan

The tourists move on to Cape Town tomorrow but don’t know who they will play on Wednesday.

Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan in Pretoria.
Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan in Pretoria.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland praised the form of Ireland number eight Jack Conan after his busy showing in this evening’s 71-31 victory over the Sharks.

Conan had a team-leading 15 carries, scoring a try from close-range in the second half, and also topped the Lions’ tackle charts with nine. 

His strong outing followed a superb performance at number eight in the Lions’ win over Japan two weekends ago. 

Conan is in competition with the highly-experienced Taulupe Faletau and Exeter’s Sam Simmonds for a place in the Lions Test side but he is making a good impact on this tour so far.

“I think he’s playing really well, he played really well today,” said Gatland. “He’s got really good footwork, some good go-forward, he was accurate.

“We’re really, really pleased with his performances in the couple of games that he’s had, he’s doing well.

“There’s a few positions with back rowers, there’s a lot of competition there so it’s going to be difficult for us, but he’s going well and I thought the guys off the bench gave us some momentum too which was pleasing but he’s definitely putting his hand up at the moment.”

Gatland also highlighted Tadhg Beirne’s two-try showing in the Lions’ back row against the Sharks, who were competitive until scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse’s 46th-minute red card.

The Sharks fed off the Lions’ errors in the first half to score several tries on turnover before the tourists scorched away in the second half with their numerical advantage.

sam-simmonds-celebrates-after-the-game-with-anthony-watson-and-bundee-aki The Lions scored 11 tries against the Sharks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was tougher, we caused a few of our own problems with some of the turnovers and a couple of intercepts, poor passes that allowed us in the game and put us under pressure,” said Gatland.

“That’s what’s going to come in the Test matches in terms of the South African team who will look to come pretty hard, put us under pressure and see if they can catch us behind the gainline with some loose stuff, look to pressurise us into making mistakes.

“Look, we just need to make sure that we are a bit more accurate, tidier and we did that a lot better in the second half. The players were well aware they’d forced a few passes, thrown a couple of bad ones which allowed them the opportunity to score.”

Gatland was pleased with much of the work done by his pack in the tight, while he added that the back three performances of Duhan van der Merwe, Liam Williams, and Anthony Watson have only added to his Test selection headache in that area.

The Lions will fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town tomorrow but they still don’t know for certain who they will play next on Wednesday.

It was due to be South Africa A but the Springboks are dealing with an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in their camp, meaning the Lions could play the Stormers instead.

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“I’m pretty sure it [the Lions' next match] is going to be Wednesday and I think there’s a good chance that they’ll switch the Stormers and South Africa A games around but nothing’s been confirmed yet,” said Gatland.

“We’ve just got to go with the flow and react to whatever’s thrown at us.”

Gatland also revealed that the Lions have asked for their new hotel staff in Cape Town to be managed more stringently after staff at their Johannesburg hotel tested positive for Covid-19.

warren-gatland Gatland's Lions fly to Cape Town tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions will have to leave one player and four members of management behind them in Johannesburg tomorrow, although they hope to complete their isolation and follow on Wednesday.

“The big challenge was that we arrived to the hotel and 12 of the staff members had tested positive and then a couple of days after that, another five and then a couple of days after that another two and then another one,” said Gatland.

“That’s been a bit of a challenge for us. That’s why we’ve requested for Cape Town for the staff who stay on site to come in a bit earlier and be tested regularly. The risk isn’t with us but any engagement with anyone else. We’re trying to keep that as tight as we possibly can but we can’t control all some of those other aspects.

“We’re doing our best to ensure all the hotel staff are in early, are tested regularly and are on site so they’re not going home to their families – they’re staying in our bubble, even though we’re keeping a distance and not interacting with the hotel staff.”

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