British and Irish Lions: Warren Gatland expects 'robust' selection debate for first Test

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Tadhg Beirne performed well against the Stormers, but will he be picked for the first Test against South Africa?

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says he expects a lively discussion about selection for the first Test with South Africa.

Gatland says he thinks the toughest decisions will be made in “the back three and the loose forwards”.

“We will go through the process over the next 72 hours and there will be some robust debate,” he added.

The Lions begin their three-Test series with the Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday 24 July, with Gatland expected to announce his side on Thursday.

“There are going to be some tight calls with regards to the back three and the loose forwards, and how that mix is going to look,” he added.

“They are probably going to be the tightest calls, but we will make sure we look at the starting XV and also the impact off the bench as well.

“We will sit down and have a look at the game and sit down with the medics. Then we will start thinking about those right combinations.”

‘I know how hard he has worked’

Alun Wyn Jones
Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones played for 30 minutes on his return to the side from injury

The Lions also welcomed back captain Alun Wyn Jones after the 35-year-old recovered from the dislocated shoulder he sustained in the pre-tour win over Japan on 26 June.

The Welshman came through unscathed off the bench in the second half on Saturday, but Gatland says a decision still needs to be made over the lock’s involvement in the Test series.

“I thought he put a few shots on and defended well,” said Gatland.

“The big thing was his lungs and getting through the period. I haven’t spoken to him after the game but I will.

“I know how hard he was worked to be on this Lions tour. It was a shame he got that injury but we are delighted to have him back.

“We will have a conversation to see if he is involved as a starter or on the bench, or not at all.

“He is a competitor and he was desperate to get back. It shows how much it means to the players to go on a tour and hopefully be successful. The boys are pretty happy in the changing room.”

‘He will be in the conversation’

One player who impressed on debut was fly-half Marcus Smith, who had a hand in two tries and produced a perfect kicking display off the tee.

The Harlequins player, 22, joined the squad as injury cover for Finn Russell on Wednesday after making his England debut earlier this month, and Gatland says the Premiership winner “looked good”.

“He had some lovely touches, he kicked well for goal and I thought he defended well,” said 57-year-old Gatland.

“He will be part of the discussions and he is like everyone else.

“A lot of people put their hand up tonight and there were some pleasing performances.”

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