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Warren Gatland is still doing some ’mixing and matching’ ahead of Lions tour with the Springboks

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British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says his combination to face the Sharks tomorrow evening in Johannesburg is not a signpost to his Test team for the big July 24 kick-off against the Springboks.

British and Irish Lions’ Welsh loose forward Josh Navidi. Chistiaan Kotze/EPA via BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says his combinations to face the Sharks tomorrow evening in Johannesburg is not a signpost to his Test team for the big July 24 kick-off against the Boks.

Gatland has chosen a side vastly different to the one that beat the local Lions and which has similarities to the one that beat Japan in a pre-tour warm-up in Edinburgh.

The Sharks match is the second of five pre-Test games and Gatland said he is not going to reveal his hand to the Boks, and that it is a coincidence that at the same stage of the 2017 tour of New Zealand nearly all of his team to play the Crusaders went on to start the first Test.

“As we get a bit closer to the Tests we will start looking at potential combinations but we won’t put out a team that we think will play in the first Test against South Africa,” Gatland said yesterday. “There will definitely be some mix and matching. You do not want to show your hand too early and Wednesday night is another chance for us to have a look at a few more combinations,” he said.

For instance, Gatland said that he was interested in seeing the performance of a loose trio that contains two players making their debuts in England’s Tom Curry and Welshman Josh Navidi while the No 8, Sam Simmonds, made his debut off the bench against the Sigma Lions.

Simmonds is rated by most as the best loose forward in the UK but Eddie Jones is not among that number and Simmonds cannot get a gig with England. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the back row goes – it is an exciting mixture and one that we hope will offer something a bit different,” Gatland said.

“There is a lot of competition. If you look at all positions, particularly the back three, the competition is huge.”

Exeter Chiefs hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie will start against the Sharks despite having been knocked out in the recent English Premiership final against Harlequins but Gatland said strict protocols had been followed.

Ireland lock Iain Henderson will captain the Lions for the first time, while tour captain, Conor Murray is named amongst the replacements.

“It’s a quick turnaround from Saturday’s match against the Sigma Lions, but we’ll be ready to go by Wednesday night,” said Gatland.

“I’m pleased we managed to come through the weekend’s game unscathed, and the boys have rested and recovered well. We feel like we’re slowly building but, as ever, there’s still room for improvement in all facets of our game.

“We expect another physical test against a Sharks side that is known for their power play and ambition.”

British & Irish Lions starting XV: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Josh Navidi, Ian Henderson (capt), Adam Beard, Zander Fagerson, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris

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