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‘They should be disappointed’: Warren Gatland urges left-out stars like Iain Henderson to stay tuned in ahead of Lions Tests


Warren Gatland explained how tough his decision-making was. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Warren Gatland explained how tough his decision-making was. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Warren Gatland explained how tough his decision-making was. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Warren Gatland says Conor Murray will have a big role to play in the Lions' first Test against South Africa after naming the scrum-half on the bench.

The Munster and Ireland star loses out to Scotland's Ali Price who partners Dan Biggar in the starting side, but the head coach emphasised the importance the replacements will have in Cape Town on Saturday.

The decision to go with Price partly impacted the call to start tour captain Alun-Wyn Jones in the second-row, given Murray had been named stand-in captain when the Welsh legend dislocated his shoulder against Japan.

The Limerickman is likely to be the on-field skipper when the game reaches its conclusion and the coach wants him and England captain Owen Farrell to park their disappointment at missing out and make a big impact.

"We've been really impressed with him (Price), I thought his running game against the Stormers was really good," Gatland said.

"His variation in terms of getting the ball away quickly, but in saying that it's not just about the starting XV.

"In saying that, it's not just about the starting XV and looking at South Africa and particularly up front and the bench, we wanted to make sure the balance was right and how important our bench is going to be with experienced players coming off the bench.

"You've got players like Conor Murray, Liam Williams and Owen Farrell who are disappointed not to be involved but having that experience, they will have a chance to come on and hopefully close the game out for us.

"So we're really happy with the depth of our bench and how important they're going to be for us on Saturday."

Although he is unhappy that his starting XV appeared in the Times of London a day before he named it publicly, Gatland is happy that the debate over selection was so robust and that the final decision was so difficult.

He revealed the extent to which the coaches were at loggerheads before deciding on a match-day 23 that almost nobody saw coming.

"No, that wasn't our thinking at all. We just looked at the team and picked what we felt was the best team for the weekend.

"I said it was robust, we were an hour and a half in selection and it was the hardest selection I've ever been in.

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"I asked the coaches to come along with their 23s, we were all different.

"We all had to compromise and debate different positions, that's the way it should be.

"I know a lot of people think it's the team that I select, but that's never been the way whether with the Lions or with Wales. It's important that, as coaches, we all have an input into the make-up of the squad.

"I can tell you that not one of the coaches got the 23 they came along to the meeting with, I think that's a credit to the players - we were all thinking about different permutations and combinations and what the make up of the 23 looked like.

"There was a long discussion and, to give you an idea, in the forward pack we had four of the same eight and in the backline we had three of the same seven between the five of us.

"It just goes to show how tough it was in terms of that selection, but it's a great place to be because there are so many players in the squad putting their hands up and making it difficult for us."

Gatland made some bold calls, with Jack Conan edging out Taulupe Faletau who started the last four Tests at No 8 and the in-form Josh Adams missing out entirely as well as, of course, Ulster captain Iain Henderson.

"I expect guys to be disappointed and that was the chat. They should be disappointed about missing out on selection but we spoke about how important is it that it's not just the 23, it's the whole squad," he said.

"Everyone has been putting up their hands and we're really pleased with the form of a lot of players in the squad. It's how they respond to that and it is their responsibility in helping that Test side prepare for Saturday,

"I must say they've been absolutely brilliant in the last couple of training sessions - nobody has taken a backwards step.

"We had a pretty tasty training session yesterday, a little bit of niggle and stuff.

"That's exactly what we wanted, I take my hat off the guys that were helping that Test team, they really fronted up and trained exceptionally well.

"You couldn't ask for more from coaching perspective.

"You have to give credit to the players. There is so much competition in the squad and so many different choices in terms of options and the way we want to play. That has been fantastic and in the lead up games there have been a lot of players who have put their hands up. In previous tours you would probably go into the meetings and have a consistency of 19-20 players that everyone was on the same page as because they were the players who were in form and put their hands up leading into the Test matches but this has been completely different.

"There are so many players who have made this selection really difficult for us. It makes it hard but is where we want it to be.

"From a positive point of view if there are knocks and injuries we have got players with the depth we have in this squad at the moment that we can handle losing a few players and I would like to think we possibly have a bit more depth than the South Africans squad as at the moment if they did pick up the same number of injuries."

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