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This is Wales’ lowest number of Lions Test players in 16 years – why Gatland felt he had to turn away from them

For years, Warren Gatland was accused of having a bias towards Welsh players.

On the previous Lions tours that he was involved in – in 2009, 2013 and 2017 – players from this part of the world featured heavily in the Test series.

But, in his defence, Wales almost defended their Six Nations title in 2009, they won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 and they delivered for him in 2017.

READ MORE: Warren Gatland reveals why he left Josh Adams out of Lions Test team

READ MORE: The verdict on the Lions team that no-one saw coming as Welsh stars miss out

This Lions tour, though, is Gatland’s first since he departed Wales.

And the side he has named to face South Africa on Saturday includes the lowest Welsh representation in a Lions Test 23 for 16 years.

There are just five players from his old side – Wyn Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Ken Owens and Liam Williams involved.

The last time so few Welshmen featured in a Lions Test was the first clash against the All Blacks in 2005.

To make matters slightly bemusing, Wales are the current Six Nations champions. However, Gatland has continuously branded the tournament the closest he has seen for some time.

Also influencing things a little could well be the presence of Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy – both on Scotland’s management team – in the selection meetings.

But on a more individual level, why has Gatland opted to go in a different direction this time around?

Josh Adams

Out of all the Welsh omissions, Adams is the real bombshell. There is genuine rationale behind the other ones but the fact Adams will be watching from the stands on Saturday is difficult to comprehend.

He has scored freely at Test level ever since he broke onto the scene in 2018 and has been a consistent source of tries, albeit against weak opposition, in the warm-up matches.

Gatland pointed to the player’s frame of mind after missing the birth of his first child last week.

“I said to him, when it came to the wingers, it was probably an easy out for us, really – and I’m not saying that lightly, but he did have an emotional week and then on the Saturday, with the emotion and stuff and a couple of knocks he took in the game, he was reasonably quiet in that game as well,” said the head coach.

“We looked at it and that was possibly the deciding factor.

“But there is no doubt he will hopefully feature, going forward. He knows where the try line is, knows how to score… Duhan [van der Merwe] has scored some really good tries on this tour as well and he has beaten a lot of defenders and brought some physicality.

“And we know what a quality player Anthony Watson is, and particularly how good he is in the air too. That was by far the toughest call for us, in terms of who we picked in the back three.”

We will never know what went on in that selection meeting but this one certainly feels like Scotland head coach Townsend winning the discussion.

Taulupe Faletau

There can be no questioning Faletau’s credentials at the top level. He has played pivotal roles in World Cups, Lions tours and Six Nations campaigns throughout his career.

But he will know that he hasn’t really performed to the best of his ability on this tour. He had an awkward start, having to play at openside against Japan, and he never really found his rhythm after that.

Someone like Jack Conan, meanwhile, has been pressing his case with every opportunity he has had. His performances on tour have not dropped below a 7/10 and that kind of thing deserves rewarding.

Arguably, Sam Simmonds has also had a better tour.

Faletau worked miracles at times for Gatland throughout his time with Wales but if this team is being picked on form, there can be few complaints, really.

Louis Rees-Zammit

Not somebody Gatland has worked with before as he came on the scene after the Kiwi departed Wales but, as a Welshman, he finds himself on this list.

Heading into the tour, you wondered whether Rees-Zammit, despite his obvious talents, would end up being a bit-part player in the trip due to the fact he is still learning at the top level.

Not a bit of it. The youngster has been right in the thick of it throughout the trip and has scored a number of tries. However, his inexperience did show a little against South Africa ‘A’ and that has probably counted against him.

He was quiet in that game, by and large, and that may have been down to his capacity to deal with the physicality that the Springboks brought that night and will bring again on Saturday.

There would be obvious upside to picking him with his electric pace but, with more rounded wingers on the trip, Gatland has gone a different way.



Louis Rees-Zammit runs in a try

Gareth Davies

The scrum-half became a real focal point of Wales under Gatland towards the end of the Kiwi’s tenure.

His try-scoring record made him extremely influential and he was a crucially important part of the way Wales defended, being afforded a free role to blitz and apply pressure at will.

But he has never really been in contention to feature in the first Test.

Heading into the tour, Conor Murray was the favourite but Ali Price, who got plenty of minutes early in the trip, has moved into the starting role.

Davies is among those who have played the fewest minutes on the tour and has never really be able to put his best foot forward.

Adam Beard

There was widespread criticism of Beard’s call-up to the squad when Alun Wyn Jones got injured, with many feeling Ireland’s James Ryan deserved the shout.

But the Osprey has made a mockery of his critics and emerged as a real dark horse to sneak a spot in the Test side. He was never going to oust Maro Itoje or a fit-again Jones, but a place on the bench seemed within reach.

In the game against South Africa ‘A’, he combined nicely with Itoje to destroy mauls and put his weight about in defence. Against the Stormers, he really came to the fore in the loose.

He couldn’t have done an awful lot more to earn selection but Gatland has opted to go a different route.

Desperate for size on the blindside, Gatland has named two players in Courtney Lawes – starting at 6 – and Tadhg Beirne – on the bench – who can play in either role.

If the Springboks do a job on the Lions at the set piece on Saturday, though, Beard could well come into the equation.

Josh Navidi

Had a job on his hands to work his way into the back row, which is a hotly-contested area of the squad, particularly so now that we know Gatland was looking for a hybrid player on the blindside.

Navidi’s physicality at No.6 would have been useful but rivals for his position have all had solid tours.

Another who did his best to put his foot forward in the warm-up matches but, ultimately, Gatland has stuck with the players he chose originally, rather than Justin Tipuric’s replacement.

Can be pleased with his efforts on tour, though.

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