British and Irish Lions: Richie Gray impresses

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Scotland’s Richie Gray made a strong case for a Test starting slot at the weekend, according to two former British and Irish Lions.

Gray, who began the tour solidly against the Barbarians, put in another impressive display in a Lions shirt in Saturday’s hard-fought 22-12 win over Queensland Reds.

The 23-year-old was dependable at the set-piece and heavily involved in the loose as he continued pressing for inclusion in Warren Gatland’s starting line-up for the first of three encounters with Australia on 22 June.

With Gray being handed another start in tomorrow’s match against a Combined Queensland-New South Wales Country XV, former Lions stand-off Stuart Barnes reckons the Scotland lock was one of the stand-out performers at the weekend.

He said: “A big plus for the Lions was [winger] George North, who was very good. I think Richie Gray made a case and [flanker] Dan Lydiate went the distance again. Gatland loves him and he is a big contender.”

Barnes was joined in assessing the match for Sky Sports by ex-Wales and Lions winger Ieuan Evans, who also picked out Gray and North, as well as England prop Mako Vunipola.

Evans said: “When the Lions gameplan works they create these big openings and that is what these big pacey men like George North want. North is such a good ball carrier and he is also very elusive. He is one of the guys who really stood up for me. Richie Gray and Mako Vunipola also went very well.”

Meanwhile, Lions and Scotland legend Sir Ian McGeechan believes, with just three warm-up games left, head coach Warren Gatland will be close to knowing the team he wants to send out against the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday week.

The man who last led the Lions to a Test series win, against South Africa in 1997, also reckons the squad is showing signs that they have a firm grasp of just how Gatland wants them to play.

He said: “Warren Gatland will have a good idea of Test combinations now. He might look at putting a couple of them out on Tuesday and then give them ten days to build up to the Test, others he will definitely look to put together for the Waratahs game [on Saturday].

“He will have a feel now for what he wants. The understanding is coming through the squad, though. When the subs come on, their game gets better because the understanding is the same but you are getting fresh, strong players who are delivering it for 80 minutes. That will be key for the Test matches.”