Centre choice will be Test tester says Lions boss
Head coach Gatland insists he is yet to even think about his line-up for the three-Test New Zealand series, despite fielding a potent XV to face runaway Super Rugby leaders the Crusaders tomorrow.
The Lions have refused to risk Sam Warburton, who is carrying an ankle niggle, but aside from that Gatland has named a starting team for the Crusaders that boasts a host of potential Test-match combinations.
Gatland is excited to see Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies forge a formidable duo in the centres – but admitted the battle for midfield spots could give him serious headaches.
“It will be interesting to see how they go, Ben went very well in that first game,” said Gatland of tomorrow’s centre duo Te’o and Davies.
“We picked Ben because he’s got more to his game than just crashing up.
“He’s got offloading ability, good footwork, he’s explosive over a short space. And he’s a good, strong defensive player, particularly at 12.
“And Jonathan’s been playing very well recently in the last few weeks for the Scarlets. He brings that experience.
“When it comes to picking the Test side, that’s probably going to be one of the hardest to pick, getting that combination right.
“You’ve got Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Joseph, and we could put Elliot Daly in there. I’m looking forward to seeing him getting another run-out as well.
“So it’s going to be one of the toughest calls on the tour, getting the balance and the combination right.”
Alun Wyn Jones will captain the Lions in Warburton’s absence, with Conor Murray, George North, Davies and Sean O’Brien all winning their first starts on the tour.
Full-back Stuart Hogg is the only one of the three Scots tourists selected.
The Lions will be desperate to atone for Wednesday’s 22-16 loss to the Blues in Christchurch this weekend, but will face down a Crusaders outfit boasting 14 wins from 14 Super Rugby encounters.
Conjure a fine performance to fend off the frustrations of the Blues defeat, and the Lions who face the Crusaders could well sit in pole position for Test shirts.
The three-Test series against the All Blacks starts on 24 June, but Gatland maintains the Lions are yet to even consider their line-up for those New Zealand showdowns.
“I said to one of the coaches today, I said ‘write down your Test team’ and he couldn’t get anywhere near it at the moment,” said Gatland.
“Players are going to get one or two chances to make an impact before we start even thinking about any kind of Test line-ups.
“We haven’t spoken about a Test combination.”