Gatland: Lions can’t afford another slow start

British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is expecting an “arm wrestle” in the first Test match against the Springboks after making his “hardest” team selection yet.

On Tuesday, Gatland named his side for the first Test against the Springboks at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, which will be captained by the returning Alun Wyn Jones, having recovered from a dislocated shoulder sustained 24 days ago.

The starting XV also includes three Scots for the first time since the 1997 tour to South Africa when current Lions assistant coach Gregor Townsend was named alongside Alan Tait and Tom Smith for the first and second Tests.

Duhan van der Merwe has been preferred to Josh Adams on the left wing, while Ali Price has been named ahead of Conor Murray at scrumhalf. In another surprise selection, Jack Conan take his place at No 8, with Wales’ Taulupe Faletau left out of the match-day 23 entirely.

“In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.

“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA A last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.

“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack