The failure to select Liam Williams at fullback in the first two tests, came back to bite Warren Gatland as Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe looked like ducks out of water in the face of the Springboks kicking game. The momentum now sits with the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions will need to make some personnel changes ahead of the 3rd and decisive test on Saturday.
There is no doubting the class of Stuart Hogg when it comes to attacking play, but when a slog-fest ensues as was the case this weekend, he just doesn’t have the impact needed in the last line of defence. Liam Williams, aptly named “the bomb diffuser” was sorely missed in the back 3 as Handre Pollard and co found them wanting under the high ball.
It was a full scale U-turn from last weekend’s fixture where the Lions came out on top in the aerial battle, but a more settled Bok side put them under pressure up front and got into their groove with their tactical kicking as the fixture wore on. Normally reliable Anthony Watson struggled on the day, but none more so than winger Duhan van der Merwe and fullback Stuart Hogg.
If the Lions want any chance of regaining a tactical advantage, the deployment of Williams to the last line is a no-brainer. His aerial skills, pace and kicking prowess are desperately needed to keep the Boks out of the red zone. I would also select Josh Adams on the wing in the place of van der Merwe. Adams is in my opinion the most unlucky player to have missed out on test selection after a string of solid performances in the build up to the tests.
It is less likely that Watson will be replaced, however if a full scale revamp is on the cards, Rees-Zammit may also be called up to duty on the other wing. In the centers Robbie Henshaw should be shifted to 13 with the power of Aki included at 12 and Ali Price should be elevated to the starting side after a surprise omission in the 2nd test.
In the forwards there will also be changes and I believe Faletau will get his start at the back of the scrum. There is a lot of talk about Tadhg Beirne being included but it would be a mistake to take out the physicality offered up by the battle hardened Courtney Lawes, even if he was a little off the pace this weekend. Hamish Watson and Tom Currie will also be a toss-up for who rounds out the loose trio.
The locks are unlikely to change and the engine room is well served by Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje. Wyn Jones may however be restored to the front row after missing out due to injury and other than that I don’t expect much shifting in the tight 5.
Whilst this weekend proved that momentum can change in a single test, the British & Irish Lions will be under pressure this week. The Springboks have more game time under their belts and will likely be even more settled come test 3. Gatland will be looking at every aspect of his team selection ahead of this fixture as he tries to ensure his tenure as British & Irish Lions head coach, ends with a series victory.