Ronan O’Gara has pinpointed the area that he believes the Lions selectors will focus on most when picking their team to face South Africa in the second Test next weekend.
Warren Gatland’s side struck a mighty blow with a 22-17 victory in the opening game of the series.
Now they will be looking to seal the deal by winning the next encounter between the sides.
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But Sky Sports pundit O’Gara reckons the coaches will turn the selection spotlight on the half-backs and the centres as they look to close out the series.
O’Gara said: “I think there will be a discussion around who starts at 9,10, 12 and 13 and the fact that Damian de Allende is a handful.
“Do you put an imposing Bundee Aki in front of him? Or do you put Robbie Henshaw at 13 for combinations?
“Do you start Conor Murray and Owen Farrell or do you keep Farrell as an option at 12?
“They have so many to play with — Liam Williams, I think, for high ball, may come in as well.
“You are spoiled for choice in what combination you go for.”
The Lions started with Ali Price and Dan Biggar at half-back, with Robbie Henshaw and Elliot Daly in the centre.
Daly had earned his spot at No. 13 after some bright form in the warm-up games, but opposite number Lukhanyo Am steamed into him with a monster hit early on and the Englishman failed to make any ground from six carries while missing three out of nine tackles.
Fellow Sky pundit Sam Warburton agreed with O’Gara about where the selectors’ main focus would be, with Sir Ian McGeechan predicting a change in midfield.
Ex-Wales captain Warburton said when he’d played in big games under Gatland and the side had won, it was normally a case of turning up on the training field, saying ‘starting XV, same as last week’ and cracking on.
But it would be different this time, he suggested.
“I do feel there will be changes,” he said.
“There were still problems that could be fixed.
“I’m fascinated to see 9,10, 12, 13. I think that’s the place where there could be changes.”
He wasn’t sure about specific alterations but counselled against overdoing the reshuffle in such a key area. “I don’t think you can reinvent the wheel and go ‘Murray, Farrell, Aki, Henshaw’, even though that sounds great.
“You’ve almost wiped the slate clean then.”
The challenge for the Lions is to nullify the carrying threat of de Allende in midfield, with the Munster man making 38 metres from his 13 carries in the opening Test.
According to McGeehan, an all-Ireland midfield combination could be the selectors’ choice, with the Lions legend saying: “I think you’ll probably see Henshaw at 13 and Aki at 12.
“Especially in that opening 40 minutes, you (try to) take take away all the advantages in terms of the way South Africa want to play and make it as difficult as possible.
“Then as the game goes on they know there’s a lot of power, strength and guile that can come off the Lions bench.”
Warburton, who captained the Lions in Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017, would make an alteration in the back-row as well, floating the idea of Taulupe Faletau replacing Jack Conan.
“I would put Faletau at No. 8,” he said.
“When the game opens up, even if it’s Faletau on the bench and coming on, in those wide channels Toby Faletau is the most gifted player we have in those channels.
“That would be the only tight call, between Taulupe and Jack Conan.
“Other than that I expect Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes to keep their sports.”
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There was special praise for Lawes who, with Maro Itoje, was superb in the series opener.
“Some people weren’t picking Courtney Lawes in their Lions squads because he didn’t play for England in the Six Nations,” said Warburton.
“I certainly had him in my squad.
“Playing with and against him, he’s one man I would always want in my pack.
“He’s a brilliant lineout option.
“I’ve tried jumping against him. I had absolutely no chance of getting near him. He’s a phenomenal lineout athlete, attack and in defence.
“He sets the tone defensively with how hard he comes off the line. He’s ball carrying a lot more than he used to in his earlier days.
“I just think he’s been a massive player for the Lions.
“When I heard he was playing six I thought what an obvious choice, because he’s the most physically dominant player out of the four countries. He’s been cutting people in half in defence for the last 10 years. Gatland knows the value of that.
“He was fully justified at No. 6.
“He’ll be in that six shirt again next week.”
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