Warren Gatland says Farrell talks helped sway Lions captaincy decision

Here are your rugby morning headlines for Tuesday, July 6.

Lawes making himself “indispensable”

Former Lions star Ben Kay believes Courtney Lawes is making himself indispensable after two impressive performances on the 2021 tour so far. The 32-year-old started in the tourists’ 56-14 triumph over Sigma Lions on Saturday while he also featured as a replacement in the 28-10 success against Japan at Murrayfield following Alun Wyn Jones’ injury. And ex-England international Kay believes the Northampton Saints man’s versatility could be key for Warren Gatland’s squad against South Africa this summer.

“All the plaudits went to Hamish Watson after a man-of-the-match performance, but I thought Courtney Lawes was sensational,” he told Rugby Pass. “Gatland picked Lawes after a long injury and I assumed his role would be as a hybrid back-five player for the Tests, someone who was defensively aggressive so Gats could pick another second-row or an out and out openside. After that performance, I don’t think Courtney is nailed on for a starting place just yet, but I do think he’ll make the Test 23.

He’s starting to make himself indispensable. “His reputation is as a defensive, Exocet tackler but where he’s evolved his game over the last two years is his ball-carrying. Eddie Jones has always wanted him to improve in that area, but maybe through the influence of Chris Boyd, it has gone through the roof.”

He went on to add: “He had a 90 per cent collision success when he carried but he didn’t just truck it up, he beat three defenders and tipped on some beautiful passes to give the likes of Maro Itoje and Taulupe Faletau one-on-ones with defenders so they could easily win the collision. That’s game intelligence. “The variety in his game made him difficult to defend against.

If you had him starting at No 6, you wouldn’t necessarily need an extra second-row on the bench.” :Warren Gatland Q&A: My message to Gareth Davies, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard

Habana’s standout Lions trio

Springboks legend Bryan Habana hailed Hamish Watson, Stuart Hogg and Josh Adams following their efforts in the Lions’ triumph over Sigma Lions. The trio all impressed as Gatland’s men secured a convincing 56-14 success on Saturday ahead of Wednesday’s clash with the Sharks in Johannesburg.

And Habana – who featured against the British and Irish Lions in 2009 – singled out Watson, Hogg and Adams when assessing the tourists’ victory last time out. “The man of the match in Hamish Watson was astounding,” he told Sky Sports. “I think he was gutted to miss the Japan game at Murrayfield through concussion, but he again showed why he was named Six Nations player of the year.

“He’s effective on both attack and defence, his try-scoring, he showed his sheer power within his stature. “Josh Adams scoring four tries. People are saying he was at the end of a lot of them, but to score four tries on the international circuit is exceptional.

“For me, Stuart Hogg’s leadership was really good. His decision making from a counter-attack perspective in terms of when to kick and when to run, the manner in which he chased down the Sigma Lions flanker Sibusiso Sangweni just showed his experience, tenacity and leadership abilities because he could have easily given up. “For me, that was a moment of the match which laid a marker down in terms of how much business the Lions actually mean.”

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Gatland explains Henderson captaincy decision

Gatland has revealed conversations with Ireland boss Andy Farrell helped convince him to appoint Iain Henderson as captain for the Lions’ clash with the Sharks on Wednesday. The Ulster forward will become the third different player – after Alun Wyn Jones and Hogg – to lead out the Lions on this year’s tour.

And Gatland says Henderson was the “obvious choice” to captain the Lions in what is their first midweek match of the tour. “He’s experienced, been a previous Lions tourist, captain of Ulster, captained Ireland as well and he just brings a calm approach to it,” said Gatland. “He’s well aware there are other experienced players in the side and leaders in the side that are going to be there to support him and there were a couple of others we could have looked at.

“I thought Iain was an obvious choice for us given his experience and stature in the game. I spoke to Andy Farrell during the Six Nations and he was full of praise for Iain. “He talked about his leadership and what he was bringing to the Ireland side, so I thought it was a natural fit for us and a great honour for him as well.”

McBryde’s South Africa influence revealed

Mako Vunipola believes the Lions must focus on their own strengths over negating South Africa’s infamous power.

Gatland’s side are in for a physical battle when they locks horns with the reigning world champions this summer. The Springboks’ scrum power played a key role in ensuring they lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019. And while Vunipola says the Lions need to make sure their own game is spot on, the 30-year-old says forwards coach Robin McBryde’s experience of coming up against Jacques Nienaber’s side could prove pivotal.

“We watched their games and Robin McBryde has a lot of experience playing and coaching against them, as well as the coaches and players around him,” said the Saracens prop.

“There’s a lot of experience of playing against them but we have to try and concentrate on what we can do as well as we can.

“They have different threats that they pose but we have to look to get our stuff right before we can start looking at what we do to negate their strengths.”