Six changes to Lions team: Bundee Aki starts as Conor Murray drops to bench

Owen Russell is out of a Lions Test squad for the first time since the 2013 series with Australia, making way for Finn Russell
Six changes to Lions team: Bundee Aki starts as Conor Murray drops to bench

Bundee Aki is handed a Lions Test debut at inside centre to form an Irish midfield combination with Robbie Henshaw. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Warren Gatland has made six changes to the British & Irish Lions side beaten by South Africa last week for this Saturday’s deciding final Test at Cape Town Stadium.

Munster and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray is one of the players to drop to the bench after the 27-9 defeat last Saturday while Bundee Aki is handed a Lions Test debut at inside centre to form an Irish midfield combination with Robbie Henshaw.

The other changes see Liam Williams replace Stuart Hogg at full-back, fellow Welshman Josh Adams given his Lions Test debut on the right wing in place of Anthony Watson, while Henshaw’s shift to outside centre for the third Test comes at the expense of Chris Harris.

Murray returns to the bench from where he started the series opener behind Ali Price, the two nines switching their roles from the second Test, with Dan Biggar retained at fly-half and left wing Duhan van der Merwe keeping his place.

There are two changes to the front-row with a fit-again Wyn Jones named at loosehead prop after missing the first two Tests with a shoulder injury, while Wales veteran Ken Owens comes off the bench to replace Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker, with Tadhg Furlong continuing at tighthead for his sixth-successive Lions Test cap.

In an unchanged back-five of the forward pack, captain Alun Wyn Jones will double that impressive tally when he wins his 12th consecutive Lions cap in the second row alongside Maro Itoje. Jones will equal Graham Price (1977–1983) and Mike Gibson (1966–1974) in the list of most Lions Test appearances.

The back row remains the same with blindside flanker Courtney Lawes, openside Tom Curry, and No.8 Jack Conan.

The replacements named by Gatland on Tuesday, 45 minutes ahead of the Springboks naming their matchday squad, see lock Adam Beard, fly-half Finn Russell, and backrower Sam Simmonds feature for the first time in the Test Series with all three set to win their first Lions cap if they take the field.

Beard and Simmonds come into the squad at the expense of Tadhg Beirne and Taulupe Faletau, while Owen Russell is out of a Lions Test squad for the first time since the 2013 series with Australia, making way for Russell as the Lions head coach looks to bring some flair to his bench for what could be a crucial endgame.

Covering tighthead prop Kyle Sinckler is also included subject to the outcome of the disciplinary hearing he will face later on Tuesday having been cited for a biting offence in the 64th minute of the second Test last Saturday.

Gatland emphasised what was at stake for the players selected and said: “The matchday 23 have an incredibly special opportunity in front of them – to seal a Lions Series victory in South Africa.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than this and we’re excited by the challenge that faces us on Saturday.

“We’ve no excuses from last week, the Springboks put us under pressure in the second half and deserved the win. We have to be much better than that second-half performance, and I believe we will be.”

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS (v South Africa); L Williams (Wales); J Adams (Wales), R Henshaw (Ireland), B Aki (Ireland), D van der Merwe (Scotland); D Biggar (Wales), A Price (Scotland); W Jones (Wales), K Owens (Wales), T Furlong (Ireland); M Itoje (England), A W Jones – captain (Wales); C Lawes (England), T Curry (England), J Conan (Ireland).

Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (England), M Vunipola (England), K Sinckler (England) – subject to outcome of disciplinary hearing, A Beard (Wales), S Simmonds (England), C Murray (Ireland), F Russell (Scotland), E Daly (England).

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