herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Skipper Rory out to take his Best shot

Gatland devalues Lions amid anger at undeserving recruits

Rory Best will captain the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday
Rory Best will captain the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday

Your heart has to go out to Jonny Gray - above everyone else.

The grievances over Warren Gatland's choice of four Welshmen and two Scottish men as British & Irish Lions add-ons are legitimate and likely to be long-lasting.

This will be only accentuated by the vision tomorrow morning of all six sitting on the bench and, presumably, introduced at some stage against The Chiefs (KO 8.35am, Sky Sports 1) in Hamilton.

The geographical argument mentioned by Gatland is an insult to all the legends of the game that have spilled blood for the honour of wearing the red shirt.

For once, it is not about who starts, but about those on the bench.

Okay, it is no shame to see Gareth Davies make it for The Chiefs, who have been denied access to their Maoris and their All Blacks .

Second row Cory Hill, prop Thomas Francis and hooker Kristian Dacey are another matter entirely.

Mantra

Removing the 'best of the best' mantra of four nations combining as one, how did Gatland come to the conclusion that Gray wasn't worth the flight from Sydney because Hill was in Auckland?

Quite simply, it is an insult to Gray that Hill, capped just six times by Wales, has been given the invitation ahead of the man at the heart of the Scottish pack's unbelievable win against Australia on Saturday.

Twenty-five years old Hill has started just two of his six internationals, none of them in the Six Nations.

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland and Rory Best are pictured during a press conference at the Hamilton Novotel ahead of tomorrow’s clash with The Chiefs. PA
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland and Rory Best are pictured during a press conference at the Hamilton Novotel ahead of tomorrow’s clash with The Chiefs. PA

Gray, just 23, was mentioned all along as a real contender for the tour and has rarely played a bad game in his 34 internationals.

Remarkably, Dacey made his first international start for Wales against Tonga on Friday for just his fourth cap.

There can be little debate about the secondment of Finn Russell.

However, the addition of Dell is another sleight on what it means to be a Lion.

Gatland was unmoved and unapologetic by the devaluation of what it means to be a Lion.

"In terms of devaluing the shirt, I can see some people's point of that," he said. "But, we're here to win a Test series."

Then came the ultimate insult.

"This is something we had planned from the start and informed the coaches and this is what we were looking to do," he said.

Why not request England's Eddie Jones to release Joe Launchbury after the first test in Argentina?

Why not have Cian Healy on standby to be flown out to Auckland last week?

Even then, the choice of Hill over Gray must have come as a real gut check to the Scot.

It doesn't make sense. No way, no how. In terms of The Chiefs, Gatland was adamant that there are test places up for grabs this Saturday and, especially, for tests two and three.

"The players can put themselves in the frame for potential selection for Saturday, we will need players to double up, and for later in the Tour," he said.

"If you look at 2013, we made nine changes between the three Tests, players have to stay on form and be positive, be confident.".

Rory Best will lead out the Lions for the second time, having the honour four years ago when the tourists ran aground against The Brumbies in Canberra.

"The last time I captained the Lions it didn't go perfectly for us but personally I'll be looking to set that record straight for me," he said.

The Ireland centre pair of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, lock Iain Henderson and number eight CJ Stander will be right there with him.

It is highly unlikely Gatland will involve anyone outside of Alun Wyn Jones in the first test unless Best can find his top-form to nudge out for a seat on the bench.

The Chiefs: S Stevenson; T Pulu, T Nanai-Williams, J Faauli, S Alaimalo; S Donald, F Christie; S Fisi'ihoi, L Polwart, N Laulala, D Bird, M Allardice, M Brown, L Boshier, T Sanders.

Lions: L Williams; J Nowell, J Payne, R Henshaw, E Daly; D Biggar, G Laidlaw; J Marler, R Best (capt), D Cole, I Henderson, C Lawes, J Haskell, J Tipuric, CJ Stander.

Replacements: K Dacey, A Dell, T Francis, C Hill, AW Jones; G Davies, F Russell, T Seymour.

Verdict: Lions.

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