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Eight Lions players nailed on to start again but Daly looks in trouble as Gatland to name side

So, having gone 1-0 up in the series, what will the Lions coaches do when it comes to picking the starting XV for the second Test?

Traditionally, Warren Gatland doesn’t tend to make too many changes to a winning team, so alterations are likely to be limited.

Looking at the side from the opening Test, you would probably say around eight of them are nailed on to keep their places – Furlong, Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Lawes, Conan, Price, Henshaw and, fitness permitting, Biggar.

Others are likely to do so too, but then there are two or three who are maybe at risk of being replaced.

Here then are the options facing Gatland and his fellow coaches as they prepare for Saturday’s re-match in Cape Town.

The team will be officially announced at 10am on Tuesday morning.

Front row

The impact the replacement trio of Vunipola, Owens and Sinckler had at the weekend has inevitably sparked a lot of debate about the front row selection.

It was the Springboks’ much-heralded back-up unit of Kitshoff, Marx and Malherbe that was supposed to do the damage.

Yet it was the Lions’ replacements who came through the stronger, combining to win a crucial scrum penalty 15 minutes from time and adding a collective infusion of energy.

You have also got the added dimension of Wyn Jones potentially being available again after dropping out with a minor shoulder injury.

The general expectation is the man who came in for Jones, Rory Sutherland, will be replaced at loosehead prop.

He gave away a penalty at the scrum towards the end of a first half where the Lions had a few issues in that department.

The question is whether Jones or Vunipola takes his spot.

If fully fit, the Welshman would perhaps be the more likely, given he was the original selection and what he offers both over the ball and with his scrummaging.

But he remains a doubt, according to the latest injury update, so maybe that leaves Vunipola as the front runner, with the England star put up for media duties on Monday.

You would expect Tadgh Furlong to keep his place on the tighthead, so then it’s a matter of what happens at hooker.

Luke Cowan-Dickie scored the Lions’ only try in the first Test, but did have a couple of wobbles at the lineout.

His replacement, Ken Owens, get stuck in immediately, with hands on ball and hands on opponents, providing scrum stability and not taking a backward step, not even when the ball was kicked flush into his face.

So will he be in from the start of what is likely to be a ferocious re-match, bringing his gnarled experience and set-piece assurance, or retained as a finisher and asked to do same again please?

It’s a borderline decision and a hard one to second guess.

Second row

No changes here.

Maro Itoje was Man of the Match on Saturday and deservedly so, pulling off three priceless turnovers, in addition to his eight tackles.

Some may question whether he was supporting his own body weight on a couple of those turnovers, but you read the ref and get away with what you can get away with at the breakdown. His interventions proved absolutely vital.

As for Alun Wyn Jones, well what can you say about the man?

Just a month after dislocating his shoulder, he’s back out there playing 80 minutes of Test match rugby against the most physical opponents in the world and topping the tackle count for his team.

Defence coach Steve Tandy summed it up perfectly, describing it as “a superhuman effort”, but adding that it didn’t surprise him, knowing Jones so well from their time together at the Ospreys.

Pick your Lions team for the second Test

Back row

Some questioned the selection of Courtney Lawes on the blindside, but he more than justified the faith shown in him by the coaches.

He brought just the kind of physicality they were looking for, smashing into opponents in the tackle and in the contact area, while also showing his athleticism by winning quality lineout ball, including the leap that led to Cowan-Dickie’s try.

He sets the tone defensively with how hard he comes off the line and he’s carrying a lot more than he used to, making 33 metres off his eight carries at the weekend. So he stays.

At No 8, Taulupe Faletau has his fans, not least two-tour Lions captain Sam Warburton, who has called for him to start the second Test, labelling his former back row partner the most-gifted forward in wider channels.

Others favour Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, for the explosive top-of-the-ground running he can offer on the hard surfaces in South Africa.

But it was telling that Gatland made a point of picking out the incumbent, Jack Conan, for particular praise after the series opener.

He described him as a player who “doesn’t make mistakes” and “incredibly accurate and solid”, doing “a lot of the unspectacular stuff you need in a forward pack to get the balance right”.

Conan is clearly Gatland’s kind of player, someone who can be relied upon and does what is asked of him, taking information on board and delivering.

The Leinsterman’s stats from the weekend also stand up well to inspection.

He made the most carries in the Lions ranks by some distance (12) and the most metres (48), showing off his footwork along the way, while also having a 100 per cent tackle completion rate.

So everything points to him staying at the base of the scrum.

That leaves you with the openside berth.

It was a bit of a mixed bag there for Tom Curry on Saturday.

He gave away three penalties, two of which cost the Lions points, but won two turnovers and was a dynamic presence.

Then on the flip side, his replacement, Hamish Watson, was very lucky to avoid a card for his tip tackle on Willie Le Roux. That could really have hurt the Lions at a pivotal point in the game.

So, on balance, it seems likely the combative Curry will keep his spot, amid an unchanged back row.

Half-back

The big issue here is the fitness of Dan Biggar who took an accidental knee to the head from Springboks’ captain Siya Kolisi 13 minutes from time in the opening Test.

He didn’t return to the field, amid reports that he failed his head injury assessment.

After the game, he said he felt fine and was already buzzing for the second Test.

But he clearly has to pass his return to play protocols, which he is currently going through.

If he does so, he will surely keep his spot at No 10, as he was a calm, assured presence there, putting a penalty miss behind him to finish with a 14 point haul that ultimately proved decisive.

If he doesn’t, Owen Farrell would doubtless be the man to come in and navigate the ship, ahead of the mercurial Russell and Test rookie Smith.

Ali Price seems odds on to stay at No 9, as his accurate box kicking was crucial as the Lions took control of the skies in the second half, while his support running also caught the eye.

Centres

Elliot Daly looks to be a man under pressure for his place after an indifferent first Test display.

The versatile Saracens back began with a bang, but not the kind he would have wanted, as he took a monster hit from opposite number Lukhanyo Am.

That kind of set the tone for a day where things didn’t really go his way.

He missed three tackles and conceded two penalties through over eagerness at the breakdown, being done for no tackle release and then for going off his feet.

His first offence could easily have led to a try, as Siya Kolisi broke away from the resulting lineout, with only Maro Itoje’s jackaling saving the day, and his second saw Handre Pollard land his third successful kick.

Daly was also beaten in the race to hacks ahead a couple of times and could have been pinged again late on, for pulling back Makazole Mapimpi, but for a prior knock-on.

So the chances are there may well be a different centre partner for Robbie Henshaw next Saturday.

You could go for a straight swap at 13 by bringing in Chris Harris, who has had a fine tour overall.

Alternatively, Henshaw could move out one, with either Owen Farrell or Bundee Aki coming in at inside centre.

It depends what you want from your 12 – another distributor and kicking option or a powerful carrier to counter the Boks’ muscular duo of De Allende and Am.

Decisions, decisions…

Back three

The first thing to say here is just how spoiled for choice the Lions are in this department, with real quality options and intense competition.

As such, you couldn’t be absolutely sure of any of the back three from the first Test staying on board.

Not that any of them did anything particularly wrong, mind you.

The tourists crucially won the aerial contest in the second half and the starting back three clearly played their part there, both under ‘Bok bombs and chasing pinpoint kicks from the red ranks.

Stuart Hogg – finally playing his first Test on his third Lions tour – showed up well in that area and made yardage with both the boot and on the run.

The powerful Duhan van der Merwe gave a decent account of himself, winning a couple of turnovers and making 25 metres from his five carries, while Anthony Watson beat the most ‘Boks, seven in all, with the next best being two.

So there’s an argument for going same again.

The question is whether any tinkering with the unit could take it up to another level again, with Welsh duo Josh Adams and Liam Williams the men vying for selection.

Adams’ omission was the biggest surprise in the first Test selection, with Gatland explaining it by pointing to him having had an emotional week after the birth of his first child and taking a couple of bangs against the Stormers.

He will be over those issues now and it comes down to deciding whether his all-round ability on the wing, the amount he gets involved, his predatory prowess and his excellence on cross-kicks merits making a change.

Much might depend on what happens in the centre. If Gatland goes for a strong carrier there in Aki, that could potentially create scope for Adams to replace Van der Merwe, in terms of the back-line balance, with Williams’ aerial ability making him another wing contender, as well as a full-back option.

It’s a really tight call and it’s why the top coaches earn the big bucks!

SPECIAL EVENT: A virtual evening with Mike Phillips and Adam Jones on July 29 – Submit your questions here…

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