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Gatland looks certain to mix up Lions selection for third Test decider

The back three looks set for changes after a tough night against the Springboks.

Alun Wyn Jones and his Lions team last night.
Alun Wyn Jones and his Lions team last night.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WARREN GATLAND IS suddenly in a bit of a pickle.

His Lions team were steamrolled by the Springboks in the second half of last night’s second Test, giving up a 9-6 half-time lead to lose 27-9. All the momentum is with the Boks now.

Their set-piece became dominant, they ruled the aerial battle, they scored two classy tries, and their bench had a huge impact on the game. Rassie Erasmus and co. will be feeling very confident heading into next weekend’s third Test decider.

Meanwhile, Gatland has some big decisions to make with the Lions. Their kick-focused game plan was ineffective against the Boks on a night where their attack was almost non-existent. Robbie Henshaw did nearly score before half time but they created little else.

As he goes back to the drawing board tactically, Gatland must also consider selection changes as he looks to energise his team.

“We have got lots of options in terms of bringing some guys in to give us energy or momentum,” said Gatland last night and there’s little doubt that several of the players who started yesterday will be on edge ahead of the third Test team naming.

The Lions back three had a bad night, with left wing Duhan van der Merwe sin-binned for a blatant trip on Cheslin Kolbe after a suspect-looking tackle on Pieter-Steph du Toit had earlier gone unsanctioned. He otherwise had little impact on the game and it would be a surprise if Josh Adams doesn’t start there next weekend.

It was also a bad evening for fullback Stuart Hogg, who made a handful of errors, and with the Boks having bossed the aerial contest, it could be that Liam Williams comes into the number 15 shirt.

stuart-hogg-dejected-after-the-game Stuart Hogg had a tough evening for the Lions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The experienced Anthony Watson didn’t have a happy outing either and 20-year-old sensation Louis Rees-Zammit offers an exciting option there too.

Robbie Henshaw was perhaps the best of the Lions backs and will almost certainly start again next weekend, but he could have another new centre partner after Chris Harris failed to make an impact following his huge early tackle on Lukhanyo Am.

Bundee Aki would be a powerful addition to the team, although Gatland could bring Owen Farrell in at number 12 and shift Henshaw to the 13 shirt. He may want some element of continuity in his team, of course, but Harris didn’t quite put his hand up.

The starting halfbacks of Conor Murray and Dan Biggar would dearly love a chance to put things right and, again, Gatland and co. will be conscious of backing some of their players to deliver a more accurate performance, although Ali Price and Farrell offer different options at nine and 10. Finn Russell is also due to be fit again this week.

The composition of the Lions pack is as important as anything after the Boks got on top of them in the second half, and the bench is a huge part of that. It wouldn’t be a great shock to see the tourists match the home side’s 6/2 bench.

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Iain Henderson, so unlucky to miss out on involvement so far in the series, could offer additional ballast either in the starting team or as a replacement, given that Gatland seems unlikely to break up the Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje second row combination. Adam Beard is another player who will have some hope of featuring.

It remains to be seen if loosehead Wyn Jones is fit after missing the first two Tests with a shoulder issue but the Welshman probably deserves a chance in the number one shirt if he is available. 

warren-gatland Gatland has some big calls to make for the third Test. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Tadhg Furlong will surely be at tighthead prop again but Gatland does have two excellent options at hooker in Ken Owens and Jamie George if he decides to freshen things up and replace Luke Cowan-Dickie.

The back row of Courtney Lawes, Jack Conan, and Tom Curry has started both Tests so far, so it will be intriguing to see if Gatland decides to break up that trio and give an opportunity to Hamish Watson, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau, Josh Navidi or Sam Simmonds. 

Gatland isn’t short on options and it does seem certain that there will be a fair degree of shaking things up ahead of this third Test.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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