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Gatland challenge 'patched-up' Lions

Sun, 16 Jun 2013 10:09
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To give us the best chance for the Test we thought we'd be proactive
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Coach Warren Gatland has challenged his patched-up British and Irish Lions to maintain their momentum and remain unbeaten on tour with victory over the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday.

With an eye on Saturday's opening Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Gatland will give three players their Lions debuts while veteran Welsh wing Shane Williams will be 'dropping in' for a three-day stint.

The Lions are unbeaten in five tour games and on Sunday named six players of their matchday 23-man squad from outside their original 37-strong selection.

Christian Wade, Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt will be making their Lions debuts in the backline, having flown in over the weekend, while Williams will come out of his international retirement to join the squad to play on a third Lions tour from his stint in Japanese club rugby.

Two forwards were previously called in as replacements, Ryan Grant and Alex Corbisiero (who is on the subs bench).

"We just went through picking a team last [Saturday] night, trying to look through the looking glass towards Saturday [the first Test] a little bit and thinking about the players," Gatland said Sunday.

"The decision was made in terms of Christian and Brad to bring them in.

"We felt that there were a number of players who were either sore or had backed up and, again, if you look at our back three we felt we were pretty short there at the moment.

"To give us the best chance for next week, rather than potentially playing someone on Saturday, Tuesday, then Saturday, we thought we'd be proactive and call someone in now."

Gatland said Test spots were still up for grabs for the Brisbane series opener with the Wallabies.

"The players who play on Tuesday, the responsibility is, one, yes they get a chance to put their hand up to be selected for the Test side, but they keep that momentum and they keep that morale in the squad going. That's going to be a key for us."

Gatland said his decision to call for 36-year-old Williams to join the tour was a 'one off'.

"We just said we needed him for one game. He is already halfway here and part of the reasoning behind that is that he is still playing," Gatland said.

"We spoke to Shane and just said the proviso is he comes in Monday, trains, plays on Tuesday and he leaves the squad on Wednesday. He was perfectly happy with that.

"We know that he's fit and in training and I'm sure he'll come in and do the jersey proud and do himself proud."

Injuries are mounting in the Lions squad with Jamie Roberts having a scan on his injured right leg and George North struggling with a tight hamstring. Tommy Bowe has a broken hand, Brian O'Driscoll was fit enough to play on Tuesday, but wasn't considered, and Manu Tuilagi is treating an injured shoulder.

"Fingers crossed with Jamie. He has never pulled a hamstring before and he is not 100 percent sure whether that is the injury. We're hoping Manu is going to be fit, but at the moment his shoulder's still sore. He's out in training and we're hoping he's going to be fit and available for Saturday.

"We are trying to give potentially our Test side the best possible chance of being fit. We want to have everyone fresh to try to win the first Test match.

"The games have been tough and physical and Saturday night against the NSW Waratahs was no different to anything else we would have expected."

AFP

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