Gatland has stated that there are still test places up for grabs. You might think that in the words of Mandy Rice Davies –‘he would say that wouldn’t he?’
But with Gatland it seems you never know what he’ll do next.
It’s hard to take him seriously when he has openly dismissed the mid-week games as being of no importance in the context of whether the tour will be a success. In essence this is true and everything hangs on the next three weekend games. This is just as well as they have lost both midweek games so far.
But try telling the starting players against the Chiefs that they are mere cannon fodder for those who will be in the 23 against the All Blacks.
Last summer the Chiefs beat the Wales mid- week team by 40-7 on their tour of NZ.
Gatland said after that game that a lot of his fringe players “didn’t perform”
His attitude towards the ‘fringes’ seems to have changed in the last year though!
Like then, the NZ franchise will be without their All Blacks (including Cruden, Retallick and Cane) – but this time they are also missing their Maori ABs.
The Lions XV will be desperate to win and for a last chance to make a case for one of Saturday’s 23 shirts. This seems a bit of a forlorn hope bearing in mind Gatland’s stated intention to protect the test side – why would he risk anyone who might play a few days before the series starts?
This is underlined by his decision to load the bench with the Saturday call-ups.
However, there are many players starting who would not let the team down against the All Blacks
British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams,14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jared Payne,12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 1 Joe Marler, 2 Rory Best (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 James Haskell, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill , 20 Alun Wyn Jones, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Tommy Seymour
The fact that AWJ is on the bench suggests that he may have to settle for that on Saturday too.
The Lions starting XV is loaded with class players and should have more than enough to take the Chiefs down by at least 20 points.