CHRIS FOY’S LIONS VERDICT: Warren Gatland’s roster for the second Test is brutal, brutal, yet makes perfect sense…there will be a new edge on this side if they want to beat the Springboks at their own game and secure the series
- The British and Irish Lions will face off in South Africa on Saturday with a 1-0 lead
- Despite this, Warren Gatland has made several changes to his XV and the bench
- It makes perfect sense to change things and maintain a competitive advantagevoordeel
- Dropping Ali Price for Conor Murray at scrum half may be the hardest decision
This selection of Lions is brutal and understandable at the same time – ruthless yet perfectly logical. Warren Gatland wants his team to beat the Springboks at their own game, so the changes make sense.
First and foremost, it is the right call to change a winning line-up, in recognition of the fact that the tourists won the series opener last Saturday despite operating well below their collective potential. There were several parts of the game where they underperformed and the rotation of the staff adds new purpose to the whole team.
From front to back, the three additions to the starting XV are justifiable. Mako Vunipola taking the helm from Rory Sutherland is a reflection of how the excellent efforts of the England prop in the second half in the scrum helped the British and Irish visitors face the looming threat of the Boks’ mighty ‘bomb squad’ of monstrous first-rate players to disprove completely.
Mako Vunipola’s great efforts in the second half of Saturday have given him a start
Sutherland struggled early on, but Vunipola helped keep the Lions’ fixed platform stable, while also providing plenty around the field. He has vast experience as someone in his third draft and he also has a championship pedigree as someone who has won countless titles and medals with club and country. With Wyn Jones unavailable due to a shoulder injury, this move into the No. 1 shirt should bring no complaints.
In scrum half, the change is brutal, as Ali Price has had a great campaign overall. But the Scot took the time to hone his kicking accuracy during the first Test and the air match will once again play a big part in determining the outcome of the next encounter.
Conor Murray has not played as well as Price and if the Lions wanted to launch a high octane match as their primary tactic it would be illogical to pick him over his Glasgow rival. But Gatland wants to control the sky, so Murray is the man to get that control. Price may feel harsh, but this is a matter of horses for courses from the coaches, who can expect their Irish number 9 to play as a senior figure with a point to prove.
Conor Murray’s selection for Ali Price is ruthless, but the Irishman’s kicking is better
There was a sense of inevitability about a midfield reshuffle and it worked. Bringing in Chris Harris to replace Elliot Daly in the outside center is a reward for Harris’ excellent form throughout this journey, along with his increased contact strength and defensive prowess. Abused over the weekend – repeatedly sent straight to heavy traffic – Daly offers ideal utility value on the bench, as someone who is able to cover the centre, the wing and the fullback.
The choice of substitutes is another act of ruthlessness—necessary in this high-stakes scenario. Hamish Watson is out for Day 23 after losing his cool and luck avoiding a yellow card for a tip-tackle on Willie le Roux in the first Test. Veteran Wales No. 8 Taulupe Faletau provides cover in the back row and will likely be another man on a mission, having taken on the unfamiliar role of frustrated bystander three days ago.
Some players have been given the benefit of the doubt, most notably Luke Cowan-Dickie, the English hooker who admitted he didn’t do himself justice last Saturday. Jack Conan may have been threatened by Faletau, but Gatland and Co backed him to start over.
This is a team to play with power and intensity and control. It is a team set up to nullify and defeat the Boks in their own traditional dominance areas. It’s not necessarily a team set up to entertain and run amok, but that’s not the point, especially when there’s no audience. This is a team capable of getting the job done by taking a historic series win on Saturday.
Toby Faletau is back on the bench after Hamish Watson pays for his moment of ill-discipline