The Lions players face the most nervous day of their rugby lives over the next 24 hours as the coaches narrow the Test roster for the ‘big boy rugby’ against South Africa.
With Saturday’s first Test against the Springboks in Cape Town, every tourist is on edge as they wait to hear if they’re in the squad.
Warren Gatland and his coaching team are almost done with their side – after an intense one and a half hour meeting on Monday – but won’t reveal their picks to the squad for at least another day.
The Lions squad will find out who has been picked to face South Africa in Tuesday’s first Test test
Lions head coach Warren Gatland held an intense 90-minute meeting with his staff on Monday
Defense coach Steve Tandy was part of those discussions, saying: “There will be huge decisions and a lot of unhappy players.
“We had a first selection meeting last night, which was long and covered all the bases, a lot of people raised their hands.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been involved in because so many people have been involved to put their best foot forward. It’s a great place for us as coaches to be.
“There will be bitter disappointment, but I believe there is such a close bond in this squad that everyone will be ready to win that first test whether you are in 23 or not.
“It’s just confirmation at this stage. There are one or two pieces to confirm that the majority is ready.”
Defense coach Steve Tandy (left) said ‘it was one of the hardest things’ he was a part of
Dan Biggar, Robbie Henshaw and Liam Williams will be fit for the roster after picking up punches on tour, Williams’ head injury against South Africa A last Wednesday. The only player not available is Finn Russell who has an Achilles tendon.
Irish tight-head prop Tadhg Furlong started all three Tests against New Zealand in 2017 and is gearing up for the Boxing.
“It’s big boy rugby, isn’t it?” he said.
“It’s nervous. Everyone is a bit on edge. We’re now getting to the core of the tour and it means a lot to people, so everyone is just waiting to see how it turns out whether you join or not.’
Speaking of South Africa, Furlong said: ‘Look at the squad they have, I know they had some issues there with Covid or self-isolation but you have the bones of a World Cup winning front row and we all know what they did at the World Cup.
“They have some players who didn’t play against us in the A match who will come back and they are very, very dangerous players.”
Tadhg Furlong (center) relishes the prospect of ‘big boy rugby’ against South Africa
A man who will certainly be involved in the return of tour captain Alun Wyn Jones, who dislocated his shoulder against Japan last month.
Tandy, his former Ospreys coach and teammate, thinks Jones is ready for the Boks after playing 26 minutes off the bench against the Stormers on Saturday.
“You just have to watch him walk around and the energy he puts into training, how he’s in the environment, he’ll be fine,” he added.
‘From a historical point of view, he does quite remarkable things. When he comes back for the fall and the Six Nations from not much rugby he is eager to go and he is fit.
“It’s only been three weeks, but you’ve seen what training he’s done, he keeps himself in absolute top shape, so there won’t be any problems there.
“After playing with him, coaching him, he was the captain the whole time I was there with the Ospreys. He was excellent. The standards he rides, the intensity he rides during training is unbelievable.
Alun Wyn Jones made his miraculous comeback for the Lions on Saturday after dislocated his shoulder a month ago.
“Then, away from the training environment, you just have to see through such an injury against Japan, 99 percent of the people don’t come back and give up.
‘That tells its own story of Alun Wyn as a person, a top athlete. He never gives up. And it’s not just that it’s the professional details that go into it, the recovery, pre-hab, re-hab.
“I’ve never seen someone like him so professional. The effort he puts in is quite unique.’
If Jones plays, he will be the first modern lion to take part in 10 Test matches for the touring squad – the first to do so since Welsh prop Graham Price in the 1970s and 1980s.
Asked about that, Tandy said, “Oh my god. Incredible performance. When we talk about his professionalism on and off the pitch, you only achieve something like that with how you take care of yourself.
‘Driving tour after tour yourself, internationally after international, is a special achievement. You only need to work with him for a few days to show how driven he is to perform and align the team.”