Here are the rugby morning headlines on Thursday, July 22.
Alun Wyn Jones decision questioned
Some of Warren Gatland’s old Lions allies have questioned the decision to thrust Alun Wyn Jones straight back into the starting team for the first Test against South Africa.
Jones leads the side out just four weeks after dislocating his shoulder in a warm-up match against Japan, and one week after a run-out against the Stormers to prove his fitness.
And, speaking at an Observatory for Sport in Scotland event, Sir Ian McGeechan, Andy Irvine and Jim Telfer all raised concerns.
Telfer described the selection as “a risk”, with Gatland’s 2013 Lions tour manager Irvine agreeing.
“I would say that team is very unlike Gatland. To me, Gregor Townsend has had quite a say in it, with three Scots in the backline, but I would concur with Jim Telfer that it’s a big risk playing Alun Wyn Jones when he’s only just arrived in the country.”
McGeechan, who was Gatland’s boss on the 2009 tour of South Africa, added: “Personally, I would not have had him involved in this first Test and given him another week’s full-on, tough training to be part of the second Test, which is always, always the toughest Test match in a series of three.”
Telfer added: “It doesn’t look like a Warren Gatland team I must admit and it just shows how poor selectors we are, because there are vast differences in our selections to his, but he’s the coach and he has to live by what he does.”
Greenwood shocked by Lions team
Former England and Lions star Will Greenwood was left stunned by Warren Gatland’s Lions team selection.
The World Cup winner was particularly taken aback by the Kiwi’s choices in the backline.
Speaking to Sky Sports, he said: “Wow!
“I mean, nobody picked that backline, nobody.
“You talk about the attacking threat (of Stuart Hogg) but don’t forget Liam Williams was the bloke who set off and created possibly one of the greatest Lions tries of all time in 2017.
“Williams has always been one of those players Gatland has gone to. He’s always gone to Murray, he’s always gone to Farrell, he’s always gone to Faletau.
“But Gatland picks players on form. You get on a plane to a Lions tour and play well and you’ve got a chance of playing in the Test series. That’s what has happened.
“Duhan van der Merwe has played really well. He is going to be really tested.
“He’s picked a backline to play, not his best defensive backline. He’s going out to score tries against South Africa, which not many teams do and he’s putting all his eggs in that basket.”
Van der Merwe to face sledging
Duhan van der Merwe has been braced for sledging from South Africa.
The most contentious call of the surprise XV announced by Warren Gatland for the Cape Town Stadium showdown sees van der Merwe edge Josh Adams for the second wing spot alongside Anthony Watson.
While van der Merwe has used his power and footwork to torment defences throughout the tour, Adams’ stunning haul of eight tries was thought to have cemented his place in the starting XV.
Now the rivals for the left wing face different challenges – van der Merwe coping with the backlash awaiting him against the world champions and Adams recovering from the disappointment of being overlooked.
Van der Merwe was born and raised in South Africa and played twice for the Junior Springboks in 2014 but qualified for Scotland on residency grounds having joined Edinburgh three years later.
The bulldozing 26-year-old’s switch of allegiance has seen him targeted by trolls on social media and Gatland insists he can expect a similar reaction on the pitch on Saturday.
“It’s a challenge for him. I’ve spoken to him about what’s coming on the weekend and he’s fully aware,” Gatland said.
“I presume every time he touches the ball, they’ll be trying to hit him with everything they’ve got and there will probably be some verbals as well. So he’s well aware of what’s at stake and he’s been incredibly relaxed.
“Duhan has scored some really good tries on this tour and has beaten a lot of defenders and brought some physicality.”
Lions need ‘game of their lives’
Former Lions star Austin Healey has told Warren Gatland’s side they must target outside-half Handre Pollard and produce the game of their lives if they are to have a chance of winning the first Test.
Pollard has played little rugby in recent weeks after being forced to quarantine for 10 days after the Covid outbreak in the South Africa camp.
Healey wrote in his Telegraph column : “Overall, it’s a fascinating Lions selection with the mix of form and experience. Duhan van der Merwe – most were surprised he went on the tour, he’s a real bolter. People thought Liam Williams might play there, but the Lions want Van der Merwe’s physicality. Ali Price over Conor Murray, he’s had a lively tour and that suggests the Lions want to play high tempo.
“The Springboks are definitely favourites, but I would be trying to get into Handre Pollard at fly-half, having not played much this season.
“I like the Lions team, and the bench which is going to have to bring a big impact. Overall, am I confident? Not really, because there has been no time for a lot of these key combinations at half-back, back-three, midfield, back row and front five to play together. They are going to have to pull off one of the biggest performances of their lives to have a chance.”
Lions star out to silence Faf
Lions flanker Tom Curry is desperate for the Lions to beat South Africa – so he doesn’t have to put up with clubmate Faf de Klerk’s banter next season.
The Sale Sharks duo go head to head on the weekend, with Curry revealing the spikey scrum-half had already started the wind-ups before his departure.
“It’s always competitive isn’t it?” Curry said of meeting de Klerk in an interview with MailOnline.
“Hopefully I can reduce the amount of chat I get when I get back to Sale, and I get some ammunition to go back at him!
“There was some rubbish chat he gave me before the tour when we beat Harlequins, saying it would be the last game I would win this season! Very cringey!”