Gatland calls on Murray's control as Lions get set for an 'arm wrestle'

The Lions head coach has also brought Chris Harris into his midfield.

Conor Murray at Lions training.
Conor Murray at Lions training.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland says he has brought Conor Murray into his starting team for Saturday’s second Test against the Springboks to help the tourists “stay in the arm wrestle.”

Murray was used off the bench in last weekend’s first Test victory but has swapped places with Scotland’s Ali Price in one of three changes to Gatland’s starting XV.

“He was good when he came on,” said Gatland of Murray this afternoon.

“It’s going to be tight in that first 20 or 30 minutes. The way South Africa tend to play, if we look at the two games – the A game and [last weekend's] game – they try to build the scoreboard, they try to get in front and look to hold on.

“That first 20 or 30 minutes is pretty important for us and then we have been happy with the way we have finished in the second half of both those games and felt strong.

“Potentially the game might open up, the tempo of the game, which is something we think Ali can bring maybe in that second half, and the same with the other players that are on the bench.”

Mako Vunipola replaces Rory Sutherland at loosehead prop after his strong bench impact last weekend, while Chris Harris comes into the Lions midfield in place of Elliot Daly.

chris-harris Chris Harris also starts for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We are expecting him [Harris] to be incredibly direct,” said Gatland. “We weren’t disappointed with Elliot’s game, his work-rate off the ball was excellent.

“It was just difficult for him to get into any attacking shape and the attacking options tended to come in the second half. They were very direct in the way they attacked with [Damian] de Allende, so we are expecting more of the same and a ferocious kicking battle as well.

“There’s not a lot of space, particularly in that first 20 or 30 minutes. We saw how aggressive they were, the first opportunity we had to attack where Elliot was hit in contact.

“So they’re going to be incredibly aggressive, they’ll run hard, so it’s about staying in that arm wrestle. That’s the message because there isn’t a lot of space and opportunity in the first 20 or 30 minutes. They play very little rugby in their own half so it’s a territory battle and we’ve got to make sure that the message is if we’re 6-6 at 30 minutes or 9-6 ahead going into half-time, then that puts us in a pretty good place.

“We don’t want to be 17-3 down like we were in the A game where it’s a much bigger challenge to come back from. Our focus is on us starting well in the game and making sure the game management is really good.”

Taulupe Faletau has been included on the Lions’ bench, with Hamish Watson dropping out of the matchday 23 as a result, while Liam Williams is also omitted after coming off the bench in the first Test – Daly instead providing cover for the outside backs.

“We thought about that number eight cover and as the game loosens up a bit and a little bit in the wider channels,” said Gatland of Faletau being involved this week.

“He has had some good moments on tour and we know how dangerous he can be in that regard. We just felt having cover for Jack [Conan] and with Tadhg [Beirne on the bench] as well as the game opens up they might be able to have a significant impact.

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taulupe-faletau Taulupe Faletau has been included on the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was a tough one [with Liam Williams], both him and Hamish were tough decisions.

“We did discuss whether we start Liam on the wing and that was a debate. We felt he was more of a fullback decision and Stuart Hogg was good last week. There was a significant aerial battle and we looked at things and we came out slightly on top of that in terms of crumbs that we got.

“We’re expecting a lot more. There was a long discussion about that. And what we talked about as well was the cover that Elliot gives us in terms of being able to cover 13 and the back three. It was a really tough for Liam to miss out on the squad.

Meanwhile, Gatland shrugged off Rassie Erasmus’ escapades on Twitter this week.

“I just think it’s a separate sideshow,” said Gatland. “I haven’t really taken much notice of it. The focus has been on ourselves, letting that happen outside of our stuff.

“We’ve heard the stories. I’m not on social media and things, so I haven’t taken too much notice of it. 

“I don’t even know how to get onto it to set up a Twitter account. I think I would end up getting too much abuse so there is no point in me doing that.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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