ALUN WYN JONES and Justin Tipuric have been replaced by fellow Welshmen Adam Beard and Josh Navidi in the Lions squad which will fly out to South Africa this evening. Meanwhile, Irish scrum-half Conor Murray has taken over captaincy of the squad from Jones.
Both Jones and Tipuric picked up shoulder injuries during yesterday’s 28-10 victory over Japan at Murrayfield in the Lions’ only pre-tour match. While Warren Gatland made clear immediately after the match that Jones – who suffered a dislocation – would struggle to be back in time for the Test series which starts on 24th July and would therefore not travel at all with the Lions, the head coach had been hopeful that Tipuric would make it. Clearly, further assessment has identified that the damage to Tipuric’s shoulder is worse than first hoped.
The selection of Beard in particular will be a bitter pill to swallow for Scotland’s Jonny Gray and Ireland’s James Ryan, who would be widely regarded as the next two cabs off the ranks in terms of second-row options for the Lions.
“We’re all incredibly disappointed for Alun Wyn and Justin,” said Gatland. “The timing of these injuries seem particularly cruel given we fly to South Africa tomorrow, but unfortunately they’re part of the game.
“Alun Wyn will obviously be a big loss, both on and off the field, but will be ably replaced by Connor.
“Conor is an outstanding rugby player and is held in the highest regard with both the players and coaches. As a three-time Lions tourist, he knows what will be required as captain and I am certain he will lead the squad with excellence. He will also be well supported by an experienced leadership group.
“We plan for Adam and Josh to join up with the touring party before we depart for South Africa tomorrow evening.”
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs quartet, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Stuart Hogg, Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds will also link up with the 37-man touring party as planned in Edinburgh on Sunday 27 June.
No8 Jack Conan came off with 10 minutes to go, after the lions had used all their subs, so the team had to play the final period with just 14 men, but Gatland indicated that he is not too concerned about the Irishmen being fit for the tour.
“Just before kick-off, Jack’s hamstring was a little but tight and he did brilliantly to get through 70 minutes,” he said. “We made the decision to take him off and play with just 14 men for the last 10 minutes because it wasn’t worth losing, potentially, another player before we get on the plane
Gatland did not hide his disappointment at losing Jones at this early juncture but stressed that he and his squad will be able to move on quickly.
“No one is in shock because if you are in shock then it reflects back into the whole squad,” he reasoned. “We understand that things are different, we’ve got to be fluid, we’ve got to be able to move on, and we’ve got to be able to react and make decisions. That’s the only way you can deal with it. If you kind of go into a shock scenario and look as though you are panicking about it then that is going to reflect badly on us.
“It is disappointing for Alan Wyn, it is disappointing if Justin Tipuric is not right, but we’ve just got to make the right decisions and do that as quickly as we possibly can in the calmest way we possibly can.”
The Lions will play eight matches, including three Tests against the world champions Springboks, in South Africa over the next six weeks.