British & Irish Lions 2013: Gatland backs Davies to shine at centre
British and Irish Lions 2013: Warren Gatland backs Jonathan Davies to shine at centre after naming his side to face Australia
Warren Gatland believes Jonathan Davies can fill the void at centre after naming him as one of eight Welsh players in the British and Irish Lions side for the first Test against Australia on Saturday.
With Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi both nursing injuries, Davies has been given the nod for the No12 jersey, along with seven other Welshmen who successfully defended their Six Nations title earlier this year.
Sam Warburton captains the side while Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and George North comprise the back three while Mike Phillips is one of seven players selected to feature against South Africa in 2009.
Up front, Adam Jones is selected at tighthead while Alun Wyn Jones teams up with Paul O’Connell in the second row. The selection of eight Welshmen is one behind the record of nine selected for Tests 1971 and 1977.
Davies is an outside centre by trade and Roberts made formidable contributions in the warm-up matches before suffering his injury, but Gatland is convinced the Scarlets man is up to the task.
“I don’t think Jonathan Davies at 105kg is a small midfielder,” he said. “Just because he is not as tall as the other two, I don’t see him lacking a physical element at all,” said Gatland.
“We’ve also got George North coming in and our nine [Phillips] and ten [Sexton] are both big half-backs too. What it does give us is a few more subtleties in midfield and we have got some pace and firepower in the team as well.”
Completing the front row are English duo Tom Youngs and Alex Corbisiero while Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip are alongside Warburton in the back row and Jonny Sexton will marshal the troops from fly-half.
North’s availability, announced on Thursday, is a major boost for the Lions and attack coach Rob Howley, who in Gatland’s absence guided Wales to the Six Nations title this year, believes his best is yet to come.
“It is great to have someone of his physicality, power and speed,” said Howley.
“We have only seen glimpses of George so far. He is probably one of the best athletes I’ve been involved with.
“I remember his debut and he had 21 or 22 touches. His work-rate is phenomenal. You want your best players on the ball as often as possible, and he works tirelessly at his game.
“It is good for the Lions to have someone like George.”
British & Irish Lions starting XV: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Wales), George North (Wales), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Mike Phillips (Wales); Alex Corbisiero (England), Tom Youngs (England), Adam Jones (Wales), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Paul O’Connell (Ireland), Tom Croft (England), Sam Warburton (Wales, capt), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland).
Replacements: Richard Hibbard (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Dan Cole (England), Geoff Parling (England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), Owen Farrell (England), Sean Maitland (Scotland).