Lions face big selection calls if Dan Biggar does not clear concussion protocols
The match-day squad has been named, but it is not yet etched in stone.
Dan Biggar went off for a Head Injury Assessment, near the end of the First Test win over South Africa, and did not return to the field after failing it.
"I feel fine and am already buzzing for next week," Biggar wrote, in his ghosted Daily Mail column, the following day, but he is currently undergoing Return To Play protocols and will spend much of the week training away from the rest of the Lions squad.
As we have seen throughout this 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour, changes on the day of a game are not uncommon. The tourists have been forced into a raft of them for warm-up games, and Wyn Jones was ruled out on the day of the First Test against the Springboks.
A line in the Lions' official team announcement release, earlier today, gave mention to how Biggar is in the starting XV but is not yet cleared to play.
'Dan Biggar, who will play fly-half subject to completing the return-to-play protocol and assessment by an independent concussion consultant, partners scrum-half Conor Murray.'
Should Biggar not successfully pass all the RTP protocols, the Lions have a big decision to make. Owen Farrell would likely take the 10 jersey, but the bench call would be interesting. It may also be shaped by the Springboks' decision to go with a 6:2 [forwards to backs] split.
On the latest House of Rugby Lions Series episode, [LISTEN from 4:30 below], Seán O'Brien, Alex Goode and Greig Laidlaw discussed the importance of the Lions bench, and how Gatland loves to finish with a high tempo.
Biggar has had concussion issues in the past and even though he would be itching to start again, it will be up to the RTP protocols and the independent concussion consultant as to whether he features or not.
Progressive Rugby, a non-profit group seeking to lobby towards getting concussion dealt with much more seriously and stringently, note Biggar has had a concerning number of concussions in recent years. They have stated:
'As Lions fans, Progressive Rugby want world-class players like Dan Biggar on the pitch against South Africa. However, the immediate and long-term welfare of any player has to come first irrespective of their value to the team or situation.
'This was the fifth concussion we are aware of that Biggar has suffered in less than two years. Given the increased risk that brings of further concussive episodes, and that he still has to pass the current return to play protocol, we hope the final decision is based on a highly specialised neurological examination from an independent consultant.'
Should the Northampton and Wales No.10 miss out, and Farrell get promoted to 10, Warren Gatland could simply bring in Marcus Smith or the fit again Finn Russell as back-up outhalf.
However, there may be a temptation to now match the Springboks and put an extra forward on the bench. Hamish Watson is an option but Iain Henderson's ability to cover second- and back-row gives him a strong claim.
Greig Laidlaw, who played under Gatland on the 2017 tour to New Zealand, notes how the Kiwi wants his bench players to up the tempo when they come on. He notes how the last 20 minutes of the game - driven by those eight replacements - was played at a quicker pace than the first 20.
"Owen Farrell was fantastic," said Laidlaw. "He came off the bench - and this is not an easy thing - to take those big [penalty] kicks... Mako Vunipola was really strong coming off the bench too.
"The coaches made the right calls with the bench, and how and when the guys were used."