VIDEO: Gatland plans to unleash his own 'bomb squad' on Boks
REACTION: The headlines centred around returning captain Alun Wyn Jones and his ‘miracle’ recovery from a shoulder injury.
The 35-year-old Jones will captain the British and Irish Lions in the first Test against South Africa at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
He fronted up to the media, alongside coach Warren Gatland, at the team announcement media briefing on Wednesday.
Understandably it was Jones who attracted a lot of the attention – given the remarkable events of the last three weeks.
From what appeared to be a ‘tour-ending’ shoulder dislocation against Japan in Edinburgh on June 26, he recovered to be flown in last week and will face off with the Boks on Saturday.
Jones will make his 10th consecutive B&I Lions Test appearance on his fourth tour.
He will lead an impressive starting XV
Jones will be partnered at lock by England’s Maro Itoje, in a repeat of the pairing that did duty for the Lions in New Zealand four years ago.
Ireland’s Jack Conan edged out Taulupe Faletau at No. 8 in another selection based on tour form, with England pair Tom Curry and the towering Courtney Lawes completing the loose forward trio.
In the front row Luke Cowan-Dickie, was preferred to fellow England hooker Jamie George and Ken Owens of Wales.
Scotland scrumhalf Ali Price was selected ahead of Ireland’s Conor Murray, who started in all three Tests on the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand. Price will partner Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar in what is likely to be a crucial pairing.
However, Gatland said the team selection was “not just about the starting XV” and that the bench will play a vital role.
“Looking at South Africa, particularly up front and their bench – we wanted to make sure the balance was right,” the B&I Lions coach told a virtual media briefing.
He said the tourists’ bench was going to play a vital role in the series opener.
“It is the experience of players like Conor Murray, Owen Farrell and Liam Williams – who would be disappointed not to be involved [in the starting XV].
“However, with their experience, they get a chance to come on and hopefully close the game out for us.
“We are really happy with the depth of our bench and how important they are going to be for us on Saturday.”
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* Meanwhile Jones was at a loss for words when asked about his remarkable recovery.
“I can’t swear on here, so I won’t go into too much detail,” he said, adding: “However, the first few days after that and getting home, I was at home on the sofa before the guys had even got to the airport on the Sunday so that was a tough one.
“Fast forward to the Tuesday where I was told there was a chance, it was bordering on surreal.
“To be here taking the knocks and bumps, it means more in the fact that I spent two weeks with the guys.
“I was getting to know people, we were bedded into the rugby, I had the seven minutes [against Japan] and for the two days I was ‘tour done’, but I had the decent news on the Tuesday and sometimes all you need is a chance.
“I was willing to work hard and make it difficult for the guy next to me [Gatland].
“There weren’t many thoughts I can share with you [from that Tuesday].
“It was a quick couple of phone calls to get the apparatus I needed to start the recovery, to be ready for the next day, and I made sure I didn’t dwell on that and the situation for too long.
“It was about being proactive and starting the recovery and that is what I did and I guess that is why I am here.
“It has been pretty whistle stop for me since I spoke to Warren and some of the management about being involved last Saturday literally off the plane.
“I was fortunate enough to get game time on Saturday and put myself in contention. To be sitting here now and be involved in the Test week is everything I worked for really over the last four years.
“To be sitting here now is a very, very special thing.”