Warren Gatland has signalled the British & Irish Lions’ intent to play “more rugby” in Saturday’s series-deciding final Test against South Africa after losing a turgid second game at Cape Town Stadium.
The Lions head coach made six changes to the side beaten 27-9 last Saturday and who were kept scoreless in the second half by a resurgent Springbok side that rebounded brilliantly from their first-Test defeat seven days earlier.
Gatland has made changes throughout the backline and in the front row after seeing the Lions come out second best in the aerial kicking battle and at the set-piece. Munster and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray is one of the players to drop to the bench while Bundee Aki is handed a Lions Test debut at inside centre to form an Irish midfield combination with Robbie Henshaw.
“We just felt that there were certain things from the weekend in terms of, particularly the aerial battle. We just got nothing out of that.
“That was one of the areas.
“We were disappointed with the last 20 minutes when we gave away eight penalties, four of them we considered were pretty needless and ones that we shouldn't have given away.
“We're not complaining about the result, in fairness to South Africa they finished strongly. It was a tight game. We were happy with the first half and where we were (leading 9-6 at half-time). At 60 minutes on the clock there's nothing in the game.” 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.
The back-five forwards are unchanged, meaning captain Alun Wyn Jones will earn a 12th consecutive Lions cap in the second row, equalling Graham Price (1977–1983) and Mike Gibson (1966–1974) in the list of most Lions Test appearances.
The replacements named by Gatland on Tuesday 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 has been cleared of the biting charge he was cited for having come off the bench in the second Test following a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.
“We just felt that Wyn Jones was very unlucky, he picked up that injury in the first Test. He's fit and it's that combination between Wyn and Ken in the front row. Ali did pretty well in the first Test so we've swapped our nines around.
“Bundee and Robbie have a pretty familiar combination and the midfield has always been a bit of a debate for us. We looked at the physicality that Bundee brought in the (South Africa) A game and the combination of those two working together. It gives Robbie the chance to move one out.” Of this weekend's gameplan, Gatland added: “We definitely want to play some more rugby and we just didn't get that opportunity in the second half.
“The first-half we got some of the bounces we did in the first test in terms of the aerial stuff. Basically we got nothing from the air in the second half.
“South Africa kicked the ball 22 times in the second half, we've only kicked it 10 times. We've tried to go out there, get some momentum and play some rugby, but we just never got into the game in that last 20 minutes or so.
“That's why there have been the changes. Finn Russell comes onto the bench because he's a little bit different. The two 10s are very good at what they do but are quite similar and he offers us something different.”