VIDEO: The 20-minute man is the leader of the Pride again
REACTION: The Lions wrapped up their pre-series preparations with a 49-3 win over the Stormers, as coach Warren Gatland got a final look at some Test candidates.
However, the most significant post-match announcement was that veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones has been restored as tour captain.
Jones capped a remarkable recovery from a shoulder injury – suffered in the pre-tour encounter with Japan – with a solid performance as a replacement in the final quarter at the Cape Town Stadium at the weekend.
It was a game in which rookie flyhalf Marcus Smith made his tour debut.
“A lot of players put their hands up,” the B&I Lions coach, Gatland, said.
Jones arrived in Cape Town on Thursday, after defying medical opinion that ruled him out of the tour.
“He put a few shots on, he defended well and there were a few touches,” said Gatland.
“The big thing for him was to get through that period and see how he was afterwards.
“I have not really spoken to him to see how the lungs are, but I know how hard he was worked over the last year.
“He has really been exceptional in the way he has prepared for this tour. It was a shame he copped that injury, but it is great to have him back.”
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Gatland said that the selection of the four-tour veteran was one of many that would be discussed over the next 72 hours in the build-up to the first Test against South Africa at the same venue next Saturday.
“We will have that discussion about whether there’s a role for him, either as a starter or on the bench.”
Whether or not Jones plays, he has resumed his role of tour captain.
Irish scrumhalf Conor Murray was named as his successor after Jones was injured during a match against Japan the day before the Lions left for South Africa.
“Alun Wyn has come back into that role.
“Conor is comfortable with that, which is a measure of the man,” said Gatland.
Gatland has suggested the back three and the loose forwards will be the two most difficult areas to decide on when he sits down to select the Lions XV for next Saturday’s first Test versus the Springboks in Cape Town.
The coach said he was satisfied with the build-up to the Test series, especially having played a Springbok-packed South Africa A team in a midweek match this past Wednesday.
He said this was justified after seeing a much-changed South Africa ‘A’ team lose 14-17 to the Bulls in an earlier match at the stadium on Saturday.
“It has been a brilliant week for us because we got exactly what we wanted in terms of Wednesday and what is coming next week.
“I do not think we would have got that with the A team that they put out against the Bulls. We possibly would not have been tested like we were on Wednesday.”
Five of the B&I Lions’ six warm-up matches have been won.
“I don’t go in with preconceived ideas [about Test selection],” he said, explained that he never starts a tour with a potential XV in his head as he wants to allow a proper and fair selection battle to unfold.
“I will let the media do that and the other rugby experts – who all have their own opinions and they are all very different from each other which is great and I don’t have any issues with that. I try not to go in there with thoughts about players that this is potentially a Test side.
“I allow that to develop and allow players to have that opportunity to put their hand up.
“There is going to be some tight calls with regard to the back three and the make-up of the loose forwards and how that mix is going to look as well.
“They are probably the tightest calls we have got to make in terms of getting the balance right in those positions.
“We will go through the process and make sure we go through everyone and look at the starting XV and also it’s important that we consider the impact that the bench will have as well and having the right players come on.
“I have started to get some names in my head and started thinking about combinations.
“It’s getting a lot closer.
“We will sit down and have a look at the game [versus the Stormers], talk to the medics as well.
“From a fitness perspective, I think we are pretty good and then we will start thinking about getting those right combinations together.
“That is sort of the next 48, 72 hours when we will go through that process. It will be some robust debate I presume.”
Sources: RugbyPass & AFP