British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has again stressed that his entire squad could yet have a big part to play in the destiny of this series after his side to face the Springboks in the second Test showed three changes.
With the tourists leading 1-0 after last Saturday’s victory, Gatland resisted the temptation to keep the faith with the same 23 who seized the upper hand against the world champions, bringing in Conor Murray, Mako Vunipola and Chris Harris to his starting side.
While Ali Price, Rory Sutherland and Elliot Daly have all reverted to the bench, the only other change to the replacements sees Taulupe Faletau take the spot of Hamish Watson.
The selection leaves senior figures like Ulster’s Iain Henderson, Bundee Aki and Jamie George, as well as the in-form Welsh wingers Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammitt, among those who have been on tour for the duration but yet to experience the Test series.
“Yeah, it’s been really tough on some of those players,” said Gatland. “You think about it, a lot of them are used to being No.1 selections for their home nations and then you come on a Lions tour and you’re not making the 23. I understand that and appreciate it.
“That’s the hardest part of the week, when you’re picking a Test team or you name it and you know that you’re going to have a number of guys who are incredibly happy to be selected but also a group that are going to be incredibly disappointed.
“I expect that. It’s the hardest thing, having to deliver those messages and it’s a real challenge. But I’ve spoken to the group about that.
“Hopefully for those guys that have missed out there’s still a lot of motivation for them to stay focused, stay involved. The tour isn’t over and they potentially have a chance for the following week.”
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber has also made three changes from his side that started last week. After the side’s famed ‘bomb squad’ failed to make an impact from the bench, the first Test’s replacement props will instead start this time around with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe brought into the side.
Kwagga Smith, who started brightly but was later targeted by the Lions, has been replaced in the starting line-up by Leicester Tigers man Jasper Wiese.
Nienaber was joined at yesterday’s team announcement by his predecessor as head coach, South Africa’s director of rugby/water-carrier Rassie Erasmus.
The presence of the former Munster man after he generated so many headlines earlier in the week made for a lively, if sometimes bizarre, media session with Erasmus quick to deny he was behind the infamous ‘Jaco Johan’ Twitter account that has been posting clips of controversial refereeing decisions that have gone against the hosts.
The World Cup winner also responded to the accusation in a column penned by Sir Clive Woodward that confusion over his position since he ascended to an overseer role and left Nienaber in the head coach’s chair was “killing the Springboks”.
“I don’t know if his ‘Sir’ is so important in South Africa, but in England, I’m not sure,” Erasmus said. “That’s his opinion. Myself and Jacques are great mates. I am the water-carrier at this stage, so I think he is higher than me in rank.
“We have always worked together since the military in 1990. The way we work together, if you look at that match on Saturday, when it was 71 (minutes), we almost scored a try, it was called back. Then our working relationship might have been (viewed as) perfect. Then people say it’s working really well.
“So, I wouldn’t listen to too much of Clive Woodward, he doesn’t really matter to me.”