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A Lions Second Test 23 Driven By The Head Vs A 23 Driven By The Heart

Auckland , New Zealand - 24 June 2017; The British and Irish Lions face the haka prior to the First Test match between New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The British and Irish Lions will, in the early hours of Thursday morning, name a make or break squad for the second Test against the All Blacks on Saturday. 

Faced with a must-win scenario, speculation is rife among fans over just who Warren Gatland will entrust with his legacy.

Following a first Test that offered much hope to the Lions as an attacking entity, there was no escaping the fact that the home side manhandled the visitors at the breakdown, thus providing them with endless opportunities to attack.

As the game progressed and the Lions tired, the onslaught yielded the same result as the previous 47 Tests at Eden Park, that being an All Blacks victory.

Now, as Gatland and his coaches look to level the series in Wellington on Saturday, there is much to consider. Following their inferiority in contact last weekend, should the Lions change things up and introduce some bigger men? Or, should they keep the faith in the rampant back line that gave fans so much to cheer?

Wellington , New Zealand - 27 June 2017; British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland during the match between Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Having watched the Lions conclude their midweek fixtures on Tuesday, Gatland will be all too aware that the likes of Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, Justin Tipuric, Tommy Seymour and George North have all thrown their hats into the ring for a Test call-up.

Based on some of the comments from Gatland following the first Test, it could easily be suggested that he plans to restore Sam Warburton to the starting XV.

The absence of Alun Wyn Jones from the midweek squad might also suggest the 31-year-old is in line for another Test outing. Similarly, the exclusion of Ken Owens from the side that faced the Hurricanes would also suggest some Test rugby in his future.

Ultimately, there are two versions of the Lions Test squad that could be named, one that is driven by the suggestive comments from the coach, the use of certain players and, dare it be said, the employment of blind loyalty. It could be a squad directly influenced by the All Blacks’ physical dominance in the first Test. This is a Lions side ruled by the head, a side we expect to see.

The other Lions 23 available is one driven by the heart, one where players are named on merit and form, where players are rewarded for their tour performances to date. It is one that ignores outside influences such as that All Black physicality and backs the skills of the Lions to prevail. It is an iteration of a side we hope to see.

Overall there are many points of convergence between the potential squads. However, it is where they diverge, particularly among the replacements, that the discussion has been raging all week.

So here are two potential options based on the criteria set forth.

Lions 23 – Head-Driven Lions 23 – Heart-Driven
1 Mako Vunipola Mako Vunipola
2 Jamie George Jamie George
3 Tadhg Furlong Tadhg Furlong
4 Maro Itoje Maro Itoje
5 Courtney Lawes Courtney Lawes
6 Sam Warburton Peter O’Mahony
7 Sean O’Brien Justin Tipuric
8 Taulupe Faletau Taulupe Faletau
9 Conor Murray Conor Murray
10 Owen Farrell Owen Farrell
11 George North Elliot Daly
12 Ben Te’o Ben Te’o
13 Jonathan Davies Jonathan Davies
14 Anthony Watson Tommy Seymour
15 Liam Williams Liam Williams
16 Ken Owens Ken Owens
17 Jack McGrath Jack McGrath
18 Kyle Sinckler Kyle Sinckler
19 Alun Wyn Jones Iain Henderson
20 Peter O’Mahony Sam Warburton
21 Rhys Webb Rhys Webb
22 Jonathan Sexton Dan Biggar
23 Leigh Halfpenny Jack Nowell

Both sides will throw up contentious selections in more than one positions. The ‘Head-Driven 23’ sticks with what we have already seen, with some changes coming with the introduction of size and power to try balance the scales against the All Blacks.

Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes come into the second row, with Alun Wyn Jones sliding to the bench. However, given that either Lawes or Itoje would work well as impact subs, Jones could still keep his starting spot. The notable exception here is Iain Henderson.

The Irishman does feature as an impact sub in the ‘Heart-Driven 23’ as it is difficult to justify his omission following his performance against the Hurricanes.

North’s inclusion in the ‘Head-Driven’ side, at the expense of Elliot Daly, will certainly rank among the most contentious selections. However, with North showing glimpses of the skill set that makes him so awesome, we simply cannot overlook the chance that Gatland could favour power over speed.

Conor Murray retains the No. 9 jersey in both potential sides, although some will certainly argue that Rhys Webb offers a more dangerous and exciting dynamic than the Irishman.

Across the back row, the inclusion of Sam Warburton was hinted at following the first Test so Peter O’Mahony would be the man to, perhaps unfairly, lose out here. On the other side of the scrum, Sean O’Brien remains in place in the ‘Head-Driven’ squad although he is replaced with Justin Tipuric in the ‘Heart-Driven’.

Gatland could very well name Tipuric at openside flanker on Thursday morning in place of O’Brien, however. His form has been immense, particularly against the Hurricanes. Where O’Brien could get the nod is if the Lions boss picks brawn and ball carrying over a natural ability to ruck and tackle all day long.

__________

More than any other selection on this Lions tour, the choices made by the coaches for the second Test will throw up some debatable choices. While there will always be someone left disappointed and fans left disgruntled, it is hoped that whatever 23 is named for the do-or-die clash at the Westpac Stadium on Saturday, that they ensure that the selection for the third Test is one that will contest for the series win.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.