5 changes Warren Gatland could make to Lions XV for second Test vs South Africa

The old adage dictates it’s wrong to change things that aren’t broken, but British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland may defy tradition in search of a second Test win over South Africa.

Gatland’s surprise selection for Saturday’s opener in Cape Town was justified after storming to a 22-17 victory over the Springboks, with the Lions now just 80 minutes from winning the tour.

Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Alun Wyn Jones may now sit atop the small group of players considered all but ‘undroppable’ for the rematch following key displays in the curtain-raiser.

However, there’s a lot of quality present throughout the 40-man Lions group, with a raft of world-class talents hoping to earn a place in Gatland’s plans this week.

Some changes could come down to tactics while others may be forced upon the Lions as Mirror Sport breaks down the potential tweaks Gatland will make in search of a second Test win.

In: Mako Vunipola, Out: Rory Sutherland

Mako Vunipola may have played his way into starting the second Test

England loosehead Mako Vunipola can afford to feel content with his contribution off the bench on Saturday—particularly because he wasn’t even in the squad until hours before kick-off.

A shoulder injury forced Wyn Jones out of contention on the morning of the first Test, with Rory Sutherland taking his spot while Vunipola moved onto the bench as cover.

Defence coach Steve Tandy said on Monday that Jones is still “doubtful” to return, and after Scotland’s Sutherland showed signs of struggle at the scrum, Vunipola could be promoted again to starting duties.

The Saracens man may not be quite as effective with ball in hand, but with seven Lions caps and counting, his early impact at the set piece could help establish a stronger start this time around.

In: Chris Harris, Out: Elliot Daly

Elliot Daly in the first Test
Elliot Daly struggled to hit top speed in the first Test

One of the curveball calls that had people talking prior to the first Test, Elliot Daly at outside centre didn’t work out to be the inspired decision many Britons hoped it would.

Opposite number Lukhanyo Am made his intentions clear early with a rattling hit on the Sarries utility, and Daly never quite got up to speed in showcasing the invention we saw earlier on tour.

Instead, Scotland’s Chris Harris should be a candidate to partner Robbie Henshaw in midfield, having already underlined his place as probably the best defensive centre in this Lions squad.

Gloucester star Harris had an unselfish, industrious display in the defeat to South Africa ‘A’ and may be the perfect answer in how to wear down the Springboks attack early on.

In: Owen Farrell, Out: Dan Biggar

Biggar kicking in the first Test win over South Africa
Biggar kicked four conversions and a penalty in the first Test win over South Africa

The key talking point in regards to who survives among Gatland’s back line for the second Test—will fly-half Dan Bigger be deemed fit after he suffered a blow to the head during the first instalment?

The Northampton Saints star must pass head injury assessment protocols if he’s to do so, and Tandy told reporters Biggar “should be available to train on Thursday” at the earliest.

Owen Farrell did a fine job as Biggar’s replacement, and even though there’s room to argue the England captain fits best as a late finisher, he’s naturally first in line if a new starter is needed.

Owen Farrel is among the candidates to replace Biggar if needed
Owen Farrel is among the candidates to replace Biggar if needed

As well as standing up well in defence, Farrell kept enough of a cool head to convert a crucial penalty in the closing stages of the first Test, forcing South Africa to chase a try in the final seconds.

Squad newcomer Marcus Smith and Scotland No. 10 Finn Russell—who has recovered from an Achilles injury—are also among the wild-card picks, but Farrell is Gatland’s best back-up.

In: Ken Owens, Out: Luke Cowan-Dickie

Ken Owens is on his second Lions tour
Ken Owens is on his second Lions tour after travelling to New Zealand in 2017

Harsh as it may be to call for a player to be dropped after scoring on their Lions Test debut, there were enough holes in Luke Cowan-Dickie’s performance to expect improvement.

Although his mauled try early in the second half helped make up for some of those errors, the England No. 2 looked wobbly at the line-out and may be better off providing a late impact.

Enter, The Sheriff.

Gatland stuck with Ken Owens as his replacement hooker over Jamie George on Saturday, and it’s the Wales veteran who should get the nod in preparation for the South African onslaught that’s to come.

Only a handful of players in the Lions squad boast more international experience, and Owens is the man for the job—both at the set piece and in the loose—as the visitors seek a steady hand at hooker.

In: Josh Adams, Out: Anthony Watson

Josh Adams celebrated a try against Japan at Murrayfield
Josh Adams scored eight tries across the Lions’ first three warm-up games

The back three of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Anthony Watson was probably the most talked-about section of Gatland’s XV before the first Test, but it may not survive for the second.

Specifically, England speedster Watson should be considered most droppable if any among that trio is cut, with Cardiff Blues ace Josh Adams standing to benefit.

Many were left asking what more Adams had to do to earn a starting place after he scored eight tries across the Lions’ first three warm-up fixtures.

It quickly became evident on Saturday that part of Gatland’s strategy was to test the Boks under a high ball, in which case 6’2” Watson is perhaps more of an asset over the slightly shorter Adams.

But like Welsh team-mate Leigh Halfpenny before him, Adams has proved in the past height isn’t the only factor in the airways, and Watson didn’t show enough to suggest he should be nailed down.

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