Gatland makes bizarre gamble ahead of must win test

Warren Gatland’s second test squad announcement has raised eyebrows; the Kiwi-born coach is often known for playing it safe, opting for experience and reliability over flair and style. 

The Welsh contingent are usually the port of call, with the likes of the ever so safe pair of hands, Jonathan Davies, leading the charge as a certainty for Gatland and his coaching staff.

This theme of substance over style has predictably continued in the second row, as Gatland has selected Alun Wyn Jones over the excellent Courtney Lawes, who excelled in Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes. The decision sees George Kruis not even make the bench; a move which the Sarries man has every right to feel frustrated by.

Gatland’s choice to continue with Jones has been a theme witnessed too often in his coaching career. The Welshman was missing in the first test, was not quick enough at the breakdown and failed to match the All Blacks physicality; the lock position was crying out for Lawes to fill these gaps missing last week.

The reinstating of tour captain Sam Warburton in the starting XV and as skipper is a deserved one for the Welshman, following his strong line speed and all-round impact coming off the bench last week.

However, where Gatland has made an out of character gamble is in the backs. The inclusion of Johnny Sexton at 10, and Owen Farrell at 12 is a big call with the pair never starting a test game together before.

It suggests a degree of poor planning. The only time this combination was used was when Gatland’s hand was forced to use it in the Crusaders game. Admittedly, it did work well, but why not test this paring more regularly before a must win game against the All Blacks?

New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen, has referred to Gatland as ‘desperate’ as the war of words in the media continue; such a move to start a novice relationship at 10 and 12 is, to be brutally honest, a tad desperate. What makes the decision more confusing is the success that Ben Te’o had in the 12 jersey last week.

The Englishman’s defensive duties against Sonny Bill Williams were outstanding in Auckland, and it wasn’t until Te’o leaving the field that the Blues man started to dominate proceedings.

It’s a big risk for Gatland, and we will find out on Saturday if the decision pays off.

The rest of the team is as follows:

Backs: 15 – Liam Williams; 14 – Anthony Watson, 13 – Jonathan Davies, 12 – Owen Farrell, 11 – Elliot Daly; 10 – Jonathan Sexton, 9 – Conor Murray;

Forwards: 1 – Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg  Furlong; 4- Maro Itoje, 5 – AW Jones; Sam Warburton (c), 7 – Sean O’Brien, 8 – Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.