British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has said Adam Beard was unlucky not to start the first Test against the Springboks after naming the Welsh lock on the bench for the decider against the world champions on Saturday evening.
The inclusion of the giant Ospreys lock as a replacement means there will be no Test cap for Ulster’s Iain Henderson for the second tour in succession, while it is his Irish team-mate Tadhg Beirne who drops out of the match day 23 after being limited to just 16 minutes across the two games against South Africa so far.
While Beard’s original call-up to the touring party was something of a surprise – coming as it did at the expense of more established locks such as James Ryan and Jonny Gray – few could argue with his performances since arriving.
In the party as an injury replacement for the long-since recovered Alun Wyn Jones, Beard’s maul defence and power in the scrum could go a long way to counteracting the set-piece dominance enjoyed by the Springboks in the second Test once both sides went to their benches.
“The two second-rows have both played 80 minutes and one of the strengths of someone like Adam Beard is that his maul defence was outstanding in the South Africa ‘A’ game,” said Gatland.
“He was obviously quite unlucky not to start in the first Test in the second-row.
“We felt we need someone like that to negate one of their strengths if they go to that in the game.”
With six changes to the starting side and a further three to his replacements, Gatland has once again rolled the dice when it comes to selection.
Liam Williams, Ali Price, Ken Owens, Josh Adams, Bundee Aki and Wyn Jones all come into the run-on side, the latter trio seeing their first Test action.
Given that Williams and Adams, Owens and Jones, and Aki and Robbie Henshaw are all well known to each other from international rugby though, a lack of familiarity shouldn’t be much of a concern.
There is a return to the bench for Finn Russell after his injury struggles too, while Sam Simmonds is another who has been brought into the squad after three weeks without a game.
When asked about the changes, Gatland was clear that his side must improve in key areas that were lacking last weekend.
“We felt that there were certain things from the weekend, particularly the aerial battle,” he said.
“That was one of the areas. Disappointed with the last 20 minutes and giving away eight penalties - four we considered needless. We’re not complaining about the result, it was a tight game and with 60 minutes on the mark, it was close.
“We felt Wyn Jones was very unlucky to pick up that injury. He’s back fit so it’s that combination with him and Ken. Ali has done well in the first Test.
“There have been some really, really tough calls.
“Stuart (Hogg) has had the first two games. One of the definite strengths of Liam’s game is the aerial game. We felt we needed changes there.”
One position that Gatland did not have to change was his replacement tight-head after Kyle Sinckler’s citing for an alleged bite was dismissed at a hearing yesterday.
Sinckler appeared before an independent judicial committee via video link for a bite on Franco Mostert that was alleged to have taken place in the second half of Saturday’s 27-9 defeat by the Springboks.
The England prop denied the offence and the committee decided that “on the balance of probabilities, it could not be satisfied that the player committed an act of foul play”.