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Seven Lions players nailed on to start again but Scotland stars in big trouble as Gatland to name side

There will always be more of a selection debate after a defeat as opposed to a victory.

As such, the conversation about the British and Irish Lions’ side to face South Africa in the deciding third Test this Saturday rages on.

The team will be announced on Tuesday.

Following the tourists’ resounding 27-9 defeat at the hands of the world champions, there are suddenly question marks all over the pitch as the scrum parity disappeared and the Lions lost the battle in the skies.

Those were two areas which were particularly solid for the tourists in the first Test.

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But it leaves Gatland facing a devilish problem of his own making. Does he ring the changes and bring in players who haven’t played for at least three weeks and throw them into a huge Test match cold?

Or does he stick with players who flopped in the second Test and hope they can sort the problem out themselves?

Based on the second clash against the ‘Boks, there can only be seven players from the starting XV who are nailed on for selection: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Conor Murray, Dan Biggar and Robbie Henshaw.

Every other position in the side is up for debate.

Back three

This is the one department which attracted the most debate at the weekend and it comes as little surprise.

The Lions back-three were responsible for dropping nine high balls on Saturday night. If we guess that to be around 25 metres per kick, that’s a gain of 225 metres for the ‘Boks.

Put simply, the same cannot be allowed to happen again and it has led to calls for change in the back three.

The consensus is that Liam Williams, the self-styled “bomb defuser”, and Josh Adams, the Lions’ top try-scorer on tour, must surely now come into the side.

Hogg was disappointing in the first half of the first Test and came unstuck aerially in the second. Duhan van der Merwe picked up a mindless yellow card for a trip of Cheslin Kolbe and Anthony Watson’s card was not without blemishes.

All three are at risk but, if you had to push me, it would seem more likely that Williams would come in for Hogg and Adams for van der Merwe.

It’s a big ask for the pair, though, as Adams will not have played for three weeks and Williams has had 24 minutes of rugby since July 10.

Centres

In truth, the centres were not given much to work with on Saturday. The Lions rarely built momentum in the tight, meaning the midfield were operating with slow ball on the back foot, which is why Dan Biggar kicked more than he passed.

Henshaw, by all accounts, did the best with what he was given to work with and is likely to keep his place for the final Test.

Quite what happens with Chris Harris is less certain. Did he do much wrong? Not really. But is that enough? Probably not.

There is credence to the idea of bringing in someone like Bundee Aki, who would add some much-needed ballast to the backline. But does that then make the Lions too one dimensional and tie them to taking on the Springboks at their own game? Maybe so.

I am surprised we haven’t heard more chat about Owen Farrell coming in at 12, where he features for England. Pre-tour, I liked the sound of Biggar, Farrell and Henshaw in the midfield axis. I’m yet to hear a good argument as to why that wouldn’t work.

That’s the combination I’d be looking at for the final Test because Farrell is physical enough to mix it, along with Henshaw, but he also offers the subtleties of a second playmaker, so can unlock that blitzing ‘Bok defence as well.

Half-backs

I can’t see Gatland pulling Dan Biggar at this stage. Was it his fault the Lions fell apart up front and in the air on Saturday night? No.

Many onlookers will have been frustrated with the game plan but that is not Biggar’s concern. He was simply executing what he was told.

The Lions lost collisions and struggled at the set piece in the second half. When your foundations are that unsteady, it’s difficult to build anything of any substance.

Biggar had to go to the air because the alternative would have been to play off the back foot and throw hospital passes to his midfield.

The same goes for Murray. His performance at the weekend was not as flawed as some might be in a hurry to make out. Gatland will have enjoyed the control the half-backs showed in the first half, having arguably been in the ascendancy.

Front row

‘Bok props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe didn’t become poor scrummagers overnight. We knew that heading into the second Test and they proved the point emphatically.

Mako Vunipola, who was good coming off the bench in the first outing, wasn’t as effective in the second.

In his absence, it has become clear that Wyn Jones is the best loose-head on the tour, just in case it wasn’t obvious before the trip. He has missed the first two Tests with a shoulder infection. Gatland will be praying he overcomes it in time for the decider because he appears to be the best all-rounder they have.

Luke Cowan-Dickie was relentless in the second Test, putting in shots defensively and carrying into the uncompromising green wall. I think Gatland will have enjoyed his combativeness and I think he’ll remain in situ now.

Ken Owens is, of course, brilliant but the lineout did wobble a little after his arrival on the scene, even if the ‘Boks became a greater beast in that area after Lood de Jager came on.

I just didn’t see enough from Owens to force the Englishman out.

Second row

There’s little to debate here. In what has been a pretty uninspiring series from the Lions, Itoje has been one of the standout performers.

While it’s a given that he will be a nuisance at breakdowns and in defence, he was causing the Springbok lineout all sorts of problems in the first half. Quite why the Lions stopped applying pressure there in the second half is a bit of a mystery.

As for Jones, he has put in two typical performances of late. His leadership qualities will be put to the test this week but it would be the biggest bombshell of Gatland’s career – and there have been a few – if he were to leave the Welshman on the sidelines for the decider.

Back row

Can anyone in the back row count themselves safe at this point? Probably not.

All three put in mammoth shifts in the first Test. Jack Conan was unfairly singled out by some, Courtney Lawes was a beast and Gatland will love Tom Curry’s edge.

For that reason, I think Curry might survive but that is not nailed on at this stage.

Conan was a little too quiet in the second Test while Lawes looked as though he faded quite early in the second half.

Neither of their performances were particularly bad but that’s not always good enough when there are world-class operators like Tadhg Beirne and Taulupe Faletau waiting to come in.

We could see both changed this weekend.

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