WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Warren Gatland wants more physicality from his British and Irish Lions in this weekend’s second test against the All Blacks and that desire looks likely to inform his selection for a match they need to win to keep the series alive.
The All Blacks forwards won the battle of the breakdown in their 30-15 first test victory at Eden Park last weekend and a disappointing showing from Welshman Alun Wyn Jones means an overhaul of the Lions second row is likely.
Maro Itoje is expected to start after bringing his usual energy when he came off the bench in Auckland and strong performances from Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson against the Wellington Hurricanes added more alternatives to the mix.
The locking pair impressed Gatland both in contact as well as with the ball in hand in the 31-31 draw with the Super Rugby champions on Tuesday, the final midweek match of the tour.
“I thought Courtney Lawes carried well in the first half,” Gatland, who names his second test side on Thursday, told reporters.
“Lock is a position right from the start that we knew we had a lot of strength in. Those two guys had really strong games ... to give us some food for thought. It will be a toss up in terms of selection.”
Henderson possibly blotted his copybook when he was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Jordie Barrett, which allowed the Hurricanes to storm back from 31-17 down.
That ill discipline could count against the Ulsterman and Lawes coming off in the 54th minute could be a sign that Gatland had seen enough to include him in his second test squad.
George Kruis organises the lineout, which went well at Eden Park, so should retain his starting spot in the second row with Lawes possibly coming onto the bench and Wyn Jones dropping out of the matchday squad.
The loose forward mix is another area that looks ripe for an overhaul as Gatland seeks more grunt from his pack.
The New Zealander, who lost his biggest ball-carrying threat when number eight Billy Vunipola pulled out of the tour through injury, enjoyed the go-forward the Lions got from CJ Stander and James Haskell against the Hurricanes.
British media reports suggest tour captain Sam Warburton will start in Wellington after coming off the bench for stand-in skipper Peter O‘Mahony in Auckland.
A straight swap at blindside flanker, with Sean O‘Brien retained at openside and Taulupe Faletau again slotting in at number eight, would again leave Stander disappointed despite some outstanding performances on tour.
With the test series on the line, Gatland said he had been pleased with the mentality demonstrated by the first test squad in Wellington as they regrouped from the loss to a physical All Blacks side last weekend.
“I’ve been really happy with the response of those players who were involved on Saturday,” he said.
“(They) have been incredibly focussed and realising what a big challenge it is to play the All Blacks here on Saturday night.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney