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Warren Gatland explains his decision to start Ali Price over Conor Murray

Warren Gatland Conor Murray

Warren Gatland has explained some of the major selections he has made for the Lions’ first test, namely starting Alun Wyn Jones and benching Conor Murray.

Murray was named as the Lions’ tour captain after Jones suffered what had looked to be a tour-ending shoulder injury, but the Welshman resumed his role as skipper after making a remarkable recovery.

Ireland scrum-half Murray was still expected to start in the first test against the Springboks, but Scotland number nine Ali Price has gotten the nod for Saturday.

Lions head coach Gatland was speaking at a press conference after he announced his match-day squad and explained that he felt he needed to start Jones after deciding to hand Price the nine jersey.

‘We felt we needed Alun Wyn Jones’ leadership.’

“It’s great in terms of him first of all making a brilliant recovery to make himself available again. He had a run out the other day and had some time on the pitch,” Gatland said of Jones.

“It’s fantastic. Just in regards to selection there was a lot of discussions and we did discuss whether we started him on the bench again and brought him on.

“When the decision was made that we were going to go with Ali Price at nine we felt we really needed his leadership and experience in terms of starting in the second row.

“That’s pretty important to us and it’s a great boost to the squad and everyone else to have him back.”

Warren Gatland on benching Conor Murray.

While Murray will not start for the Lions in the first test with South Africa, Gatland still expects the Irishman to have a crucial role to play in Saturday’s game.

Murray is one of the most experienced players on tour, having won test caps for the Lions against Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, and will likely be sprung from the bench against the Springboks.

Gatland explained that the Lions’ bench is of the utmost importance for Saturday’s game, and that Murray and his fellow replacements could prove to be decisive.

“We’ve been really impressed with [Price]. I thought his running game against the Stormers was really good, he had some nice variation and he was getting the ball away very quickly. But in saying that, it’s not just about the starting 15,” Gatland explained.

“We were looking at South Africa particularly up front on their bench and we wanted to make sure that the balance was right and how important our bench was going to be and the experience of players coming off the bench.

“So you’ve got players like Conor Murray and Liam Williams and Owen Farrell who were disappointed not to be involved but having that experience they’ve got a chance to come on and hopefully close the game out for us.

“So we’re really happy about the depth of our bench and how important they’re going to be for us on Saturday.”

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