The Lions-players were off on Sunday, but there was no rest for the coaches. They had a memorable meeting in the diary and it would certainly have lasted hours.
It’s time for Warren Gatland and his aides to make some important decisions. There would have been several pressing items on the agenda, starting with the captaincy.
Alun Wyn Jones appeared to prove in his 26-minute comeback appearance against the Stormers on Saturday that he had recovered from a dislocated shoulder in just three weeks.
Alun Wyn Jones has made a great recovery and the veteran should be selected and become captain
He didn’t do much, but he did enough just by taking his share of the contact. There were no signs of discomfort.
The Wales veteran has obviously not had enough playing time, but Lions management are relying on the 35-year-old’s judgment and if he says he’s ready to play a test against the Springboks, they’ll believe him.
Now that he’s here, it certainly makes sense to choose him to start as a captain. Jones isn’t one to get back into the squad anytime soon, just to let him watch from the stands. And he’s not one to explode off the couch as an impact substitute.
He is a leader and talisman of charisma and presence – a figure who can inspire the men around him, deal well with the officials and thwart the opposition. He is a risk worth taking next weekend.
The latest Lions tour offers a cautionary tale. Peter O’Mahony captained the B-side in the series opener and it just wasn’t right. The decision failed. When Sam Warburton was fit to be reinstated, the Lions came alive.
Now it’s time for Warren Gatland to pick his British and Irish Lions squad for the first test
Despite all the talk about leadership groups, the captain still matters. Gatland and Co should do well this week.
But they have a lot of issues to deal with and many of them are interrelated. Conor Murray was chosen to replace Jones as he was a frontrunner to start the Tests.
But the Irish scrum-half doesn’t seem to like the part. His form has been modest at best and he has been surpassed by Ali Price. The Scot was great again on Saturday and has to start against the Springboks.
There are other nominees at hooker as well, but that position has been blown wide open by Luke Cowan-Dickie’s feat of strength against the Stormers. It was one of the standout individual displays of this campaign and sparked a gushing tribute from Schalk Burger on how Cowan-Dickie ruled the collapse as an extra flanker.
This is one of the toughest calls. They have three good candidates, but it might make sense to start with Jamie George, given his lineout throwing expertise, experience and leadership, and then let Cowan-Dickie go off the bench early against a exhausting home defense.
Wyn Jones showed no signs of discomfort when he returned against the Stormers on Saturday
Wyn Jones has done enough to earn the number 1 shirt, while Tadhg Furlong was more assertive in the Stormers match and is definitely destined to become the starting tighthead. If Alun Wyn Jones is chosen in the second row, he will stand next to Maro Itoje, in retaliation for the lock alliance of 2017.
The back row is an area of remarkable strength, but Tadhg Beirne may have a slight lead over Courtney Lawes on the blindside, due to his unlucky ability, although Lawes is the better carrier. Hamish Watson’s final audition was not convincing enough to oust Tom Curry at openside. Expect Taulupe Faletau to be chosen for his reputation at number 8, despite Jack Conan doing so well.
That would be a roster based on hope and confidence, and the Lions will have to fall back on some of them.
Robbie Henshaw’s return from injury on Saturday was not the most convincing, Gatland admitted. But he may be the best bet in a problem position. Bundee Aki is a strong runner who could provide a buffer against Damian de Allende, but he doesn’t quite have Henshaw’s repertoire.
Picking Owen Farrell in a 10-12 partnership with Dan Biggar would be a big gamble as it’s an untried combination. When the England captain lined up for Finn Russell, the trick backfired and Farrell hasn’t fired since.
Letting him go all the way out of 23 would be a shock, but Marcus Smith would offer more as a creative reserve capable of changing a game with attacking daring.
Lions management will be wary of beating South Africa without Farrell, but Gatland will not shy away from a difficult decision. It should be Chris Harris at age 13, in shape. And it has to be Henshaw in between.
The back-three equation is complex, but Liam Williams should be nailed as a fullback if he recovers from a headbutt.
Out wide, Josh Adams was off-color against the Stormers, but has a lot of credit after his try-scoring blitz at the start of the tour. The Cardiff wing is almost certain to start.
Duhan van der Merwe has run amok against weaker teams but the Boks would believe they could attack his defensive positioning and upset him with a high ball attack, so Anthony Watson is the better option on the other wing.
While South Africa A’s defeat by the Bulls on Saturday came as a shock to the Springbok camp, they will continue to refine a simple but effective game plan.
The hosts may be without captain Siya Kolisi and Lood de Jager, as well as the great No 8 Duane Vermeulen, but they still have a lot of experience, leadership and class.