Warren Gatland has named his 23 for the final provincial game of the 2017 Lions tour, reinforcing that Test places are still up for grabs
Warren Gatland has named his 23-man squad to face the Hurricanes on Tuesday night at the Westpac Stadium. He has named the experienced Rory Best as his skipper and was in no doubt that the onus is on the squad to continue the momentum kick-started against the Chiefs a week ago and give the Test team an adrenalin-shot.
With the Lions smarting from a 30-15 loss in the First Test in Auckland, Gatland, has picked a side with a smattering of players with a realistic chance of featuring in the Second Test. Among them are George North, dropped for the first time in his career, and the Lions management will be looking for a reaction from the 2013 Lions star.
Elsewhere George Kruis, who played 80 minutes on Saturday, is named on the bench, with Gatland intimating that it was solely down to rotation – and nothing more – with Alun Wyn Jones covering against the Chiefs in the 34-6 win.
The smattering of controversial late call-ups are named on the bench again, with Gatland saying they’d be heading home in the next couple of days and playing no further part in the tour.
Another player with the chance to impress his claims on a squad berth on the weekend is the industrious Jack Nowell, who has been picked at full-back, and he’ll be intent on making the sort of impression Liam Williams did as a broken-field runner, after a sluggish start to the tour.
The Lions back three, which is completed by Tommy Seymour, will have their work cut out with the news the All Blacks Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Jordie Barrett will be filling the back three shirts for the free-scoring ‘Canes.
In midfield, Jonathan Joseph, so close to a place in the Test 23 on the weekend, has a chance to reprise his relationship with Robbie Henshaw but they will have a busy night with the explosive ‘Canes duo Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape facing them.
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In the pack, it’s ‘as you were’, as James Haskell, Justin Tipuric and CJ Stander will offer ballast, pace and workrate in the backrow and Iain Henderson and Courtney Lawes, pushing hard for a bench spot will be looking to maintain their industry in the engine room.
Gatland, like he had done against the Chiefs is adamant Test places can still be earned, with certain elements of the First Test performance frustrating him. “My mind is open in terms of selection for the second Test. There are areas we need to improve on from Saturday. Having looked at the game, there were lots of things that we did well. We need to improve on the collisions. The contact area was the one area that was disappointing for us.
“This week is really, really important for us.”
The Lions tour is reaching a critical juncture, and the next five days could define the 2017 Lions tour.
Hurricanes v British & Irish Lions, Tuesday 27 June, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), Westpac Stadium, Wellington, live on Sky Sports and TalkSport
British & Irish Lions: Jack Nowell, Tommy Seymour, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, George North, Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler, Rory Best (captain), Dan Cole, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, George Kruis, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Jared Payne
Hurricanes team: Jordie Barrett; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea. Black, Tahuriorangi. May, Riccitelli, To’omaga-Allen; Abbott, Lousi; Fifita, Gibbins, Shields.
Replacements: Apisai, Eves, Kainga, Blackwell, Prinsep, Hauiti-Parapara, Goosen, Cory Jane