Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Gatland takes cautious approach

Warren Gatland has opted to rest a number of players for the first Lions Test against Australia

Warren Gatland put an emphasis on rest and recovery for players like Brian O'Driscoll and George North ahead of next week's first Test against Australia.

O'Driscoll's fellow centre Manu Tuilagi also sits out Saturday's appointment with NSW Waratahs, although Rob Kearney is set for his first tour appearance after recovering from hamstring trouble. Billy Twelvetrees will arrive in Australia from England's Argentina tour as back-line cover on Friday, while another recent arrival - Ireland wing Simon Zebo - wears the number 11 shirt.

Gatland said: "We've got a few knocks in the backs at the moment. We need to make sure that we rest a few players because the whole priority is making sure that we arrive in Brisbane next Saturday fresh and ready to go."

He added: "You saw at the end of the (Combined Country XV) game that he (O'Driscoll) said he had done the splits, and he just woke up a little bit sore. The thing with Brian is that we've got to make sure we manage him.

"We spoke about that with him specifically before the tour, saying that we didn't really want him to play more than one game a week, and at any stage if his body was a little bit sore we would make sure that we keep him fresh and didn't tire him out.

"The selection was in mind for next week as well. Some players have had two or three games in a week. We've got to think about next Tuesday - we've got a game against the Brumbies on Tuesday - and we are still looking at combinations.

"We said to the players that there is an opportunity for the players on Saturday to stake claims, but the Test team won't be selected until after Tuesday."

Wales wing North reported a tight hamstring during the Country XV encounter in Newcastle two days ago, while Tuilagi suffered a shoulder stinger three days previously against Queensland Reds, although he is now training again.

Fly-halves Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell, who were not involved two days ago, this time make the starting XV and bench, respectively. And Gatland also parades what could be viewed as his potential Test pack of Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip.

"We don't want to pick up any more knocks or injuries. A few players are coming back, which is good," Gatland added. "We've got almost a full complement of forwards, which is great, but the backs have tended to take most of the punishment, probably because of the way we have been playing."

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