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Criticism of devaluing Lions jersey fed into Gatland not using his bench

The ‘geography six’ were kept on the bench against the Hurricanes, even as a big lead got away from the tourists.

Murray Kinsella reports from Westpac Stadium

IT’S DIFFICULT NOT to see the Lions’ refusal to go to their bench as key in their 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes in Wellington, even if their second-half collapse was also due to the loss of Iain Henderson to the sin bin.

Warren Gatland Gatland refused to use his bench late on against the Hurricanes. Source: Photosport/Grant Down/INPHO

The energy levels of the Lions were clearly flagging late on in the game as the Hurricanes mounted a late fightback to grab a 31-31 draw in Wellington, but Warren Gatland refused to send the ‘geography six’ onto the pitch.

Finn Russell did play five minutes in the first half as a temporary HIA replacement for Dan Biggar, but Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Allan Dell did not see any game time at all.

The call-up of those six players had caused uproar two weekends ago, with their selection mainly due to geographical proximity as Gatland boosted the numbers in his squad to help him protect Test match players from the final two midweek games on the tour.

And speaking after the Lions’ draw at Westpac Stadium, Gatland said that angry criticism of the call-ups had fed into the tourists deciding not to use those players as replacements unless injuries made it absolutely necessary.

I think so much was made about devaluing the jersey and all those bits and pieces,” said Gatland, “so we made a decision that we would try to get through the game with as many of the starting XV as we could.”

Asked if the criticism around those players’ original call-ups had changed the Lions’ original plans around using them off the bench, Gatland indicated that that had been the case.

“Possibly,” said the Lions boss. “You may have been a little bit more positive about bringing those players on fresh [without the criticism].

“So much was made of that and I understand people’s views, so you’ve got to take cognisance of that. So we made a collective decision that we would use them as injury or HIA replacements, which is what happened on two occasions.”

Finn Russell with Brad Shields Russell played five minutes as a HIA replacement. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Scotland prop Dell got a cap off the bench against the Chiefs last week after Joe Marler was sin binned- meaning the Lions had to call on Dell at scrum time – while Russell covered for Biggar’s HIA this evening in Wellington.

But Davies, Hill, Dacey and Francis will now leave the Lions squad following the Hurricanes game without having seen any game time at all.

While Gatland and the Lions are likely to face further criticism over not using them off the bench, the head coach will be content that the ‘geography six’ served a purpose in protecting some of his Test players.

Those players were called out as cover, that was the case,” said Gatland. “I know there’s a lot been made about that in terms of the decision we made to bring players in for cover and protect as many of the Test 23 as we could.

“If we hadn’t had those players there tonight we’d have probably had players from  the bench on Saturday who would have been exposed.

“We lost Robbie Henshaw and Dan Biggar went off with a HIA, so potentially we would have been exposing players from the Test 23 earlier on.”

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Murray Kinsella

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