The auditions for the British and Irish Lions Test squad are complete and following the Lions 31 – 31 draw the Hurricanes on Tuesday, coach Warren Gatland should now know his 23 players tasked with rescuing the Test series against the All Blacks.
Having lost the first Test in comprehensive fashion, Gatland has been left with much to mull over. The Lions showed genuine moments of brilliant, mainly through the efforts of the scything runs of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson.
In the set piece, the Lions were also strong, particularly in the lineout where captain Peter O’Mahony ruled with impunity. His superior control of that area over Sam Warburton offers a strong platform upon which to build and he is certainly deserving of his place. To have Warburton available as an impact player is a huge asset heading into the final third of the game.
There was certainly much positivity to take from the first Test. the problem was the tourists’ inability to match the intensity of the All Blacks at the breakdown. The home side’s domination in that area and the quick ball that resulted, gave the waiting back line ample time to pick and choose just how they would carve up the Lions defence.
If Gatland and his coaches can address this imbalance, there is a real shot for a thumping great second Test and the possibility of a series-deciding third on July 8th.
It is a prospect that even All Blacks fan might concede to wanting. The excitement of a decider is always far more enticing than a battle where the victor is already determined.
The All Blacks have not lost at home at Eden Park for some 48 Tests so make no mistake, the Lions are at the foot of Everest. If they can record a series-leveling victory in Wellington on Saturday, the 23 men chosen by Warren Gatland will have the chance to rewrite the record books.
So, with the final audition in the bag, who has made the final cut? Who starts? Who finishes?
1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Peter O’Mahony (c)
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Taulupe Faletau
9. Conor Murray
10. Owen Farrell
11. George North
12. Ben Te’o
13. Jonathan Davies
14. Anthony Watson
15. Liam Williams
16. Ken Owens, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Sam Warburton, 21. Rhys Webb, 22. Jonathan Sexton, 23. Jack Nowell.
Following the immensely physical encounter of the first Test, big ball carriers are needed to protect Lions possession and earn the hard yards. The inclusion of Sean O’Brien over Justin Tipuric and George North over Elliot Daly has been decided on that basis.
However, it must be said that both Tipuric and Daly more than warrant their place in the squad and as such could very well be who Gatland turns to.
On the bench, Leigh Halfpenny loses out to Jack Nowell. The Welshman has not been his superior self this summer and the contrasting fortunes of both players during the Lions final midweek clash against the Hurricanes on Tuesday rubber stamps Nowell’s credentials.
Now we just have to wait to see what the Lions coaches decide.