For the third tour in succession, the British and Irish Lions’ Test series goes down to a final-match decider. South Africa won Saturday’s second Test to level the series at 1-1, leaving everything on the line in Cape Town this weekend .
Lions head coach Warren Gatland has suggested he will make changes, and who can blame him after the drubbing his team received last Saturday.
With that in mind, we have asked our team or rugby writers to pick who they want to see tackle the Springboks…
Liam Williams and Josh Adams must play in the back three to address the Lions’ high-ball issues while a start for Owen Farrell at inside centre will give them extra kicking and distribution options, a combination that worked so successfully in New Zealand when he played alongside Jonathan Sexton. Ali Price's return will enable the Lions to play with more tempo, which is crucial to moving the Springboks around. I have gone for a six-two split on the bench, with Iain Henderson and Jamie George included for the first time. This will help counter the forward dominance that the Springboks achieved in the second half of the second Test when they fielded three lock forwards.
Time to roll the dice. Finn Russell and Ali Price represent the Lions most creative half-back combination and can offer an attacking threat that the Springboks have yet to face. Bundee Aki will provide an added physical gainline threat in midfield while Liam Williams and Josh Adams must surely come into the back three. Wyn Jones is an automatic pick if fit and Jamie George could also provide fresh impetus up front. Tadhg Berine would offer an additional breakdown threat and Taulupe Faletau should get the nod at No 8.
I do not think the Lions are too far away, which probably looks absurd in a team that shows seven different starters and a six-two bench split. The reintroduction of Finn Russell is an obvious gamble given his lack of game-time, but Robbie Henshaw is a defensive general at outside centre. If Russell is not ready, I would keep Dan Biggar at fly-half, with Owen Farrell at inside centre, because width is key. Bringing in Tadhg Beirne over Courtney Lawes is just a hunch. The long-limbed Ireland star caused havoc against England with Mathieu Raynal refereeing.
The Lions need to be 10 times better under the high ball, hence Liam Williams and Josh Adams coming in. Let Chris Harris actually carry the ball. Wyn Jones improves the scrum, Adam Beard will wreck mauls, while the six-two on the bench gives you bulk to match South Africa’s Bomb Squad.
There was a strong case for dropping Alun Wyn Jones in order to stack the pack with lineout options that would counter the Springbok prowess there. But leadership will be a key factor on Saturday. The Lions have to change it up radically as South Africa’s power game is in the ascendency. Scottish half-backs will bring some much-needed urgency to the attack. Liam Williams has to start.
Whatever has been tried, after a comprehensive defeat it hasn’t been working. A rethink is required. The midfield has been outmuscled so Bundee Aki must start for more oomph. The back three has looked painfully inept beneath the high ball; Liam Williams must start for backfield solidity. And the front-row replacements need a total overhaul; twice now Rory Sutherland has been annihilated in the scrummage and it cannot be allowed to happen again. The front-row replacements last weekend were crazily ill-judged; Mako Vunipola and Luke Cowan-Dickie had been two of the Lions’ brightest sparks. Dan Biggar is perhaps the unluckiest, but the back division has not fired any shots in attack so he can have few complaints.
Have your say
Our writers have picked who they think should take on the Boks in Saturday’s winner-takes-all decider, now it’s your turn. Use our team selector and then join the debate in the comments section below…
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