Lions team Warren Gatland should pick for First Test against South Africa
"It will be some robust debate, I would presume."
A handful of the players that featured in the 49-3 win over Stormers, on Saturday, will not play for the British & Irish Lions again. We are now entering the Test window and Warren Gatland has tough choices to make.
Following his side's comfortable win over the Stormers, the Lions head coach was fielding plenty of questions about the next game up - next Saturday's First Test against the world champion Springboks.
"I'm probably only repeating what everyone else is saying," Gatland commented.
"There are going to be some tight calls with regard to the make-up of the back three. Also the loose forwards and how that mix is going to look. They're probably the tightest calls that we've got to make in terms of getting the balance right in those positions. But we'll go through everyone and look at the starting XV. And also it's important that we consider the impact the bench will have as well."
"I've started to get some names in my head and thinking about combinations," the Kiwi added. "So we're starting to get closer and we'll sit down and have a look at this game and talk to the medics about all the players.
"From a fitness perspective, I think we're pretty good so we'll start thinking about getting those combinations together. That's the next 48 or 72 hours where we'll go through that process."
Gatland is on the money when he says how hard it will be selecting his back three and back row. We could find ourselves in a position, when Gatland names his team, of Duhan van der Merwe (five tries and 463 metres made off 28 carries) missing out on the match-day squad entirely.
Stuart Hogg's Covid isolation period has damaged his Test hopes and Liam Williams looks to have the edge there. Some would have Anthony Watson on the right wing - and he may well get the nod - but Josh Adams has done enough to get the 14 jersey for the First Test.
The big dilemma for Gatland in the back row is Tom Curry or Hamish Watson for the openside spot. For as good as Watson has been, Curry is a class operator and was the Lions' best player against South Africa 'A'.
Conor Murray's box-kicking sees him get in ahead of the in-form Ali Price while we would start with Iain Henderson as starting Alun Wyn Jones after his three-week shoulder injury lay-off does not sit right with us.
OUR LIONS XV
15. Liam Williams
14. Josh Adams (Anthony Watson)
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Dan Biggar
9. Conor Murray
1. Wyn Jones
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Iain Henderson (Alun Wyn Jones)
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Tom Curry
8. Jack Conan (Toby Faletau)
REPLACEMENTS: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Simmonds, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson.
While that is the team we feel would provide the biggest Test for the Springboks, we feel Gatland's final XV will have a few different selections.
We see Toby Faeltau getting the No.8 nod, Anthony Watson starting on the right wing and Alun Wyn Jones edging out Iain Henderson.
Also, don't be surprised if Elliot Daly makes Gatland's midfield, with either Henshaw or Aki. If Daly gets the 13 jersey, it opens up the possibility of Gatland going with a 6-2 [forwards to backs] split on his bench.
LISTEN TO HOUSE OF RUGBY'S LIONS SERIES: EPISODE 4