Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Secretive Gatland Insists Starting XV to Face Crusaders Is Not First-Pick Test Team; Gatland Keeps Counsel over Line-Up

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Secretive Gatland Insists Starting XV to Face Crusaders Is Not First-Pick Test Team; Gatland Keeps Counsel over Line-Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Kayes in Christchurch

WARREN GATLAND says it is too soon to try to pick a Lions Test team and insists the XV he has named to face Crusaders on Saturday is not necessarily his first-choice line-up.

However, the head coach revealed that the Lions -- under fire since their defeat to the Blues yesterday morning -- are holding things back, knowing they have to keep some parts of their game secret until the First Test, in Auckland on June 24.

"We've learned a lot from the first two games," said Gatland. "We are conscious as well to try to keep a few things back and make sure we are right for that Test."

When quizzed about whether the make-up of this team was an indicator of the likely Test side, Gatland revealed he had challenged one of his coaches today to write down his Test XV -- and that he had been unable to.

"The players are going to get one or two chances to make a stance, make an impact before we start thinking about the Test team," he added.

Flanker Sean O'Brien, centre Jonathan Davies and wing George North (right) get their first games on tour here on Saturday. After that, all of the squad will have played -- and then the Test debate will heat up.

Possible Test combinations will definitely be seen and permutations unfold in the fixtures against Highlanders and Maori All Blacks. But, for now, Gatland insists: "We haven't spoken about a Test combination."

Nine of Saturday's starting XV played on the 2013 tour to Australia and Alun Wyn Jones will captain the side, as he did in the Third Test in Australia.

He played in the disappointing tour opener against the Barbarians in Whangarei last Saturday but expects this team to be more cohesive, to be able to pick up the pace of their play as the game progresses -- and to be more disciplined.

"It's probably a frustration from the Blues game," said the Welshman. "Eradicate that [the penalty count] and we're going to be in the fight for longer."

Jones will get an early taste of an All Blacks pack, with the opposition boasting an All Blacks tight five, including outstanding lock Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano. …

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