Finn Russell in Lions contention as Warren Gatland plans to change team

Warren Gatland is likely to mix up selection for the British and Irish Lions' first encounter on South African soil.

Head coach Warren Gatland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Head coach Warren Gatland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

The Lions will face the Emirates Lions in their first in-country tour clash in Johannesburg on Saturday, following on from last weekend's 28-10 victory over Japan in Edinburgh.

Head coach Gatland remains determined to field all his tourists in match action across the opening matches on tour, in a bid to hand as many chances as possible for players to impress.

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Scotland fly-half Finn Russell missed out in Edinburgh due to the after-effects of a minor ankle issue, so could well come into contention to feature at Emirates Airline Park.

Gatland knows full well the temptation of honing in straight away on Test match selection - but the experienced Lions chief also remains acutely aware of the dangers that would pose.

Asked if all the players will be given opportunities to play in the first three matches, Gatland said: "Yes absolutely; if you were being totally focussed just on the Tests, you might not engage with that practice.

"But we feel that it is so important for the squad that the players do get a chance to start in those early rounds.

"I have often spoken about the harmony in the squad and players feeling that they've had an opportunity.

"From that point of view, we think it's really important.

"As an ex-player, you would understand that if you started in one of those opening games, you'll feel like you've put yourself in the shop window, you've given yourself a chance of impressing and given yourself an opportunity for Test selection.

"That is very much in our thinking. We want everyone to feel that they are a part of it and getting an opportunity."

The team are on the back of two defeats to Ireland and England and Lineen makes seven changes to his starting XV. Murray Redpath retains his position, but Christian Townsend, son of national coach Gregor, drops to the bench.

Alex Samuel returns to captain the side while Archie Smeaton also returns after his exams at Cambridge University forced him to miss out against England.

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