Warren Gatland has named the British and Irish Lions team that will look to complete their demolition of South Africa on Saturday, and it’s not without its share of controversy.
Many may be inclined to name the same line-up that defeated the Springboks 22-17 in the first Test at Cape Town Stadium, but the Lions boast too much depth not to twist at all.
The Lions made three changes to their XV for the rematch this weekend, while South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber followed suit with three of his own as the Springboks look to draw level.
It’s up to the players to decide which tactician has reacted best ahead of a make-or-break match, but certain decisions and absences in the Lions camp are bound to scratch some heads.
Still no Josh Adams
It will verge on the criminal if this Lions tour ends without a Test cap being awarded to Josh Adams, who will be wondering what he must have done to Gatland to deserve the cold shoulder.
The Wales whiz looked a shoo-in for the Test teams after sauntering to eight tries in their first three games of the tour.
Granted, those scores came against lesser teams with more porous defences, but Adams nonetheless showed some of the most assured finishing one’s likely to see on this tour.
Gatland did his part to explain Adams’ absence after he missed out on a place in the first Test: "It was a really tough call leaving Josh Adams out. I spoke to Josh yesterday and just said it was such a tough call for us and for himself.
"He had a pretty emotional week last week with the birth of his child and then the next couple of days checking in. By his own admission, he probably didn't play as well as he normally would on the Saturday and that is completely understandable because of the week he had.
"He had a knock on his hip and quite a significant blow to the sternum that was pretty sore as well. it was a tough call but I spoke to him about that decision."
Duhan van der Merwe seems immovable from his wing in what’s a very competitive area of the squad, but Anthony Watson hasn’t looked as settled, with Elliot Daly the only wing cover on the bench.
Ali Price dropped
The scrum-half battle is another duel that looks neck-and-neck on paper, with Gatland boasting three quality players in the position, any of whom might get the nod on their day.
That being said, Scotland’s Ali Price looked highly impressive in his Lions Test debut, and it looked like the ideal set-up for the more experienced Conor Murray to come on as a finisher.
Despite that performance, Price has been dropped to the bench in Murray’s place for the second instalment, giving the Munster technician a chance to prove he shouldn’t have slipped in the first place.
Glasgow Warrior Price recently described fellow scrum-halves Murray and Gareth Davies as being extremely supportive on tour, and now comes his turn to provide a boost from the sidelines.
Where’s Hamish Watson?
Scotland’s growth in recent years has been largely due to fine work of head coach Gregor Townsend, but it’s also come thanks to the development of world-class talents like Hamish Watson.
A lot of Lions fans were surprised to see the Edinburgh star miss out on a place in the first Test XV. Not only has he failed to make the cut this time, but he’s been omitted from the squad altogether.
‘The Mish’ can afford to feel some disappointment, though there can also be little arguing with the incumbent Lions back row, while bench option Tadhg Beirne offers more versatility in the pack.
Dan Biggar controversy
No discussion of the latest Lions line-up would feel conclusive without mention of the retained Dan Biggar, whom many would argue should not be involved in any capacity this Saturday.
The Wales fly-half was instrumental in beating South Africa first time around, converting four penalties and one conversion to go along with his silky link-up play.
But a late knee to the temple from Springboks captain Siya Kolisi appeared to leave the player dazed, and player safety advocates Progressive Rugby raised concerns about his selection.
“As British and Irish Lions fans, Progressive Rugby want world-class players like Dan Biggar on the pitch against South Africa,” a statement read.
"However, the immediate and long-term welfare of any player has to come first irrespective of their value to the team or situation. This was the fifth concussion we are aware of that Biggar has suffered in less than two years.
"Given the increased risk that brings of further concussive episodes, and that he still has to pass the current return to play protocol, we hope the final decision is based on a highly specialised neurological examination from an independent consultant.”
Biggar’s selection was confirmed with the caveat that it would be “subject to completing the return-to-play protocol and assessment by an independent concussion consultant.”
Head injuries are tricky matters where not everything is obvious to the naked eye, but one must wonder if the scale of the fixture has superseded care for the player’s health on this occasion.
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