Simon Zebo Swims towards his place in Lions Den
Warren Gatland today put an emphasis on rest and recovery for players like Brian O’Driscoll and George North ahead of next week’s first Test against Australia.
O’Driscoll’s fellow centre Manu Tuilagi also sits out the appointment with New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, although Rob Kearney is set for his first tour appearance after recovering from hamstring trouble to be named on the bench and Ireland wing Simon Zebo will wears the number 11 shirt this weekend.
Along with Jonny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip, the Irish contingent in the matchday squad is five-strong.
“You saw at the end of the (Combined Country XV) game that he (O’Driscoll) said he had done the splits, and he just woke up a little bit sore,” Gatland said. “The thing with Brian is that we’ve got to make sure we manage him. We spoke about that with him specifically before the tour, saying that we didn’t really want him to play more than one game a week, and at any stage if his body was a little bit sore we would make sure that we keep him fresh and didn’t tire him out.
“The selection was in mind for next week as well. Some players have had two or three games in a week. We’ve got to think about next Tuesday - we’ve got a game against the Brumbies on Tuesday - and we are still looking at combinations. We said to the players that there is an opportunity for the players on Saturday to stake claims, but the Test team won’t be selected until after Tuesday.
“We’ve got a few knocks in the backs at the moment. We need to make sure that we rest a few players because the whole priority is making sure that we arrive in Brisbane next Saturday fresh and ready to go.”
Wales wing North reported a tight hamstring during the Country XV encounter in Newcastle two days ago, while Tuilagi suffered a shoulder stinger three days previously against Queensland Reds, although he is now training again.
Out-halves Sexton and Owen Farrell, who were not involved two days ago, this time make the starting XV and bench, respectively.
Gatland also parades what could be viewed as his potential Test pack of Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, O’Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton and Heaslip.
“We don’t want to pick up any more knocks or injuries. A few players are coming back, which is good,” Gatland added. “We’ve got almost a full complement of forwards, which is great, but the backs have tended to take most of the punishment, probably because of the way we have been playing.
“We have been moving the ball a lot and playing a heck of a lot of rugby, and some of the metreage that some of our backs have covered and the amount of work they’ve done, it has taken its toll a little bit.”
Gatland today stressed that Gloucester back Billy Twelvetrees, a recent arrival, like Zebo, would be covering midfield and can expect to start against the Brumbies in Canberra.
“We know he (Twelvetrees) can play 10 as well, and he can goal-kick, but it was specifically that we felt we had a lack of midfield cover,” Gatland said. “And when we looked at it and went through the side there was the potential that, for next week, there could have been three or four players that could have been going into their fifth game in a row.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep a number of those players fresh for the first Test. I was impressed with the Waratahs against the Force (last weekend). Their breakdown is excellent; they are a really good outfit. They are missing a few players, but to go to Perth and win that game would have given them a huge amount of confidence.
“They had a poor start to the season by their own admission, but they look as though they are getting better as the season has gone along.”
Lions (v Waratahs): L Halfpenny; S Maitland, J Davies, J Roberts, S Zebo; J Sexton, M Phillips; M Vunipola, T Youngs, A Jones, A-W Jones, P O’Connell, T Croft, S Warburton (capt), J Heaslip. Replacements: R Hibbard, A Corbisiero, D Cole, G Parling, D Lydiate, B Youngs, O Farrell, R Kearney.