These are your rugby headlines for Wednesday July 14
Alun Wyn decision expected today
The Lions are expected to announce today whether Alun Wyn Jones will make a dramatic return to the tour of South Africa.
The Lions captain was pictured taking part in an intense Wales training session on Tuesday after recovering from the dislocated shoulder just three weeks ago that appeared to have ended his tour.
Jones and the Welsh medics were making a call on the injury overnight and liaising with Lions boss Warren Gatland ahead of the Wednesday evening clash with South Africa A.
DON’T MISS:Follow the up-to-the-minute news on Alun Wyn in our blog here
How Jones’ shoulder stood up to the rigorous test of contact training will determine what happens next. He was seen going full-on into challenges, one photograph in particular showing him trying to upend Wales centre Nick Tompkins with a hard hit.
His potential return to the Lions squad has been described as a real boost among the players and management in South Africa.
“Nothing’s beyond Al, there’s no doubting that. He’s an incredible person and player, on and off the pitch. He’s incredibly diligent and works extremely hard,” said Lions kicking coach Neil Jenkins.
“If he does get injured I know how hard he works to get himself back as quickly as possible.
“Nothing surprises me with Al and if he is able to join us at some point in time, it would certainly boost him and everybody involved with the squad.”
The sensational prospect of Jones playing in the Tests against the Springboks took the new twist with the photos of him going full-on into tackles with the Wales players preparing for Saturday’s Test with Argentina in Cardiff.
“It’s good to see Alun amongst the environment and he’s obviously got an end goal for it,” said Wales defence coach Gethin Jenkins at Tuesday lunchtime. “He’s got to get through one more session and then there’s a few decisions to be made.”
Lions ready for first real test
Ken Owens says the Lions are fired up for the first true examination tonight in a match being billed as an unofficial fourth Test.
The Lions will face a shadow Springboks side containing seven starters from the 2019 World Cup final victory over England, including Cheslin Kolbe and Faf de Klerk, and features a total of 522 caps.
After producing an avalanche of tries in three matches against provincial sides so far on tour, Wales hooker Owens insists a real gauge of the Lions’ progress will come at Cape Town Stadium this evening.
“For us it’s a great challenge, we’re playing a very strong side. We knew that South Africa ‘A’ would be one of the biggest challenges on this tour outside the Tests ,” Owens said.
“You look back four years ago when the Lions played the Maori All Blacks, that was the unofficial fourth Test.
“You get one on every tour and South Africa ‘A’ was always going to be that match on this tour – the extra Test match, the unofficial Test match. We were expecting a strong team to be picked.
“We’ve been building with some good wins. We’ve been going in the right direction so it’s good to have this step up in intensity. It’s the perfect timing for this challenge.
“We need this step up in intensity as a squad 10 days out from the Tests to see where we’re at and what we need to brush up on. Yes it’s a strong South Africa ‘A’ team but it’s also a strong Lions team.”
Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has requested the Lions play South Africa ‘A’ again on Saturday instead of the Stormers, but the tourists want to keep the schedule in place.
“We have an obligation as a Lions touring party to play provincial games and it’s in the spirit of the tour that we play everyone,” Owens said.
“We need to give everyone the opportunity to test themselves against the Lions and enjoy that special mystique of Lions rugby.
“They’d want to play us as much as they can to prepare for the Test series, but for us it’s about playing South Africa ‘A’ and then the Stormers.”
Three players ready to grab Test chance
Warren Gatland has named what many feel is close to his Lions Test XV for tonight’s game, but there are three players with particular points to prove as they battle to face the Springboks on Saturday week.
Iain Henderson (Ireland second row)
The dramatic news that Alun Wyn Jones could make a recovery from his dislocated shoulder and rejoin the Lions tour is extra motivation Henderson needs to empty the tanks against the shadow Springboks.
His second-row partnership with Maro Itoje has the appearance of a Test combination and an imposing display against strong opponents will underline the value of this abrasive, physical lock who can also play in the back row.
Tom Curry (England flanker)
The most intriguing duel of the lot is unfolding at openside flanker where Curry and Hamish Watson are competing fiercely to face the world champions. Curry made a delayed start because of a pectoral injury and Watson capitalised on his absence by excelling in the clash with the Sigma Lions.
Against a formidable South Africa line-up, however, England’s high-energy openside has the opportunity to make a statement to Gatland.
Louis Rees-Zammit ( Wales wing)
Gatland has lots of options on the wing. Tryscoring machine Josh Adams is a nailed-on starter, Anthony Watson is a class act and 2017 Lions tourist and the powerful Duhan van der Merwe also cannot stop scoring.
Rees-Zammit, still only 20, has fallen slightly behind his rivals and needs to make up for lost ground at Cape Town Stadium. He has done little wrong but on a tour where provincial sides have been swept aside by an avalanche of tries, he has yet to make a major impact.
Davies a Wales doubt
Wales are waiting on the fitness of stand-in captain Jonathan Davies and two other players ahead of Saturday’s second Test against Argentina in Cardiff.
Davies, Willis Halaholo and Aaron Wainwright sustained knocks in the 20-20 draw in the first Test last weekend.
The trio will be assessed in training in the coming days with coach Wayne Pivac set to name his side on Thursday for the game at the Principality Stadium.
Defence coach Gethin Jenkins said: “There are a few sore bodies. We’ll continue to look after their recovery.
“Nobody is ruled out yet. There are still a few assessments to go in terms of the three bumps we had.
“We’re lucky to only have had those three. It was quite a physical game and we are coming to the end of a hard season for the players.”
Concussion protocols strengthened
Rugby chiefs have moved to strengthen concussion protocols, with independent specialists set to review cases when players return to action after a head injury.
World Rugby will launch a panel of Independent Concussion Consultants (ICCs) to provide expert opinion on whether players are ready to return to action after head issues.
Global governing body World Rugby will fully fund the process for Test-level competitions, with ICCs asked to rule when players look to return to action 10 days or fewer after a concussion, or on players deemed higher risk due to previous head injury history.
“This will become an integral part of the graduated return to play process for the elite game,” said World Rugby’s chief medical officer Dr Eanna Falvey.
“We’ve used the ICC at the World Cup in 2015 and 2019, particularly in a tight game turnaround.
“But we consulted with our concussion working group and we had a significant review process of what we could do to strengthen the graduated return to play. And the addition of the ICC was seen as the best option.”
Dr Falvey revealed the Lions have worked in conjunction with World Rugby to use ICCs on their current tour of South Africa.
England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie featured in the Lions’ opening tour match in South Africa, a week after being knocked out in Exeter’s Gallagher Premiership final defeat by Harlequins.
Dr Falvey has explained that an ICC was used to review the case, with World Rugby happy with the whole process of Cowan-Dickie’s return to action.
“I’m well aware of the case, very happy that the entire process was managed optimally from a medical point of view,” said Falvey.
“As an extra measure for the Lions tour we have helped the Lions to usher in the use of ICCs.”