Smith turns Gatland's head with starring role for Lions as Springboks series looms

By Sports Desk July 17, 2021

Marcus Smith played himself into contention to start the first Test against South Africa after a debut for the British and Irish Lions that delighted Warren Gatland.

Coach Gatland also expressed satisfaction at seeing Alun Wyn Jones back in action during Saturday's 49-3 win over the Stormers, three weeks after the captain dislocated his shoulder against Japan.

There will be "robust debate" over the coming days, Gatland predicted, as he and his coaching team consider their options for the July 24 series opener against the Springboks.

"With Marcus Smith, the longer the game went on, the better he looked and more comfortable out there," Gatland said.

Smith was a late addition to the tourists' squad, summoned from England duty after winning his first caps for Eddie Jones' side, but the Harlequins fly-half brought youthful zest to the Lions in Cape Town.

His kicking was reliable too, Smith nailing the extras for each of the Lions' seven tries.

As for whether the 22-year-old should start against South Africa, Gatland said: "Those are conversations we haven't had. I thought he looked good out there, some lovely touches. He kicked for goal well and I thought he defended well.

"For a guy who's only had one training session I thought it was pretty good. He'll be part of the discussions, no doubt about that.

"A lot of people put their hand up tonight and there were some pleasing performances on Wednesday too."

Wednesday's game saw the Lions beaten 17-13 by a strong South Africa A team, and Gatland made wholesale changes for the Stormers clash, allowing him to have a good look at all his options.

The return of Jones, who arrived in South Africa only on Thursday, means he assumes the tour captaincy again. That responsibility was initially transferred to Conor Murray when it appeared Jones had no chance of being involved.

Murray was more than happy to hand over the leadership duty, Gatland said, with one caveat.

"Conor, he's the first to admit he was more than comfortable for Alun Wyn to come back," Gatland said. "He wasn't prepared to give up his bedroom suite though, because I think he got the captain's bedroom suite."

Jones had almost half an hour as a second-half replacement against the Stormers, and Gatland said Test rugby's most-capped player would benefit from getting back to action.

"I thought he put a few shots on and defended well, had a couple of touches," Gatland said in his post-game news conference.

"The big thing for him was to get through that period and then to see how he was afterwards.

"We'll have that discussion about whether there's a role for him, either as a starter or a bench player or not involved next week.

"If he is not involved, we'll look at who potentially leads the team."

Related items

  • Erasmus and SA Rugby opt against appeal and apologise for criticism of officials Erasmus and SA Rugby opt against appeal and apologise for criticism of officials

    Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby have withdrawn their intention to appeal against sanctions imposed and have apologised to match officials for misconduct during the British and Irish Lions series.

    South Africa director of rugby Erasmus was last week banned from all rugby activities for two months and suspended from matchday activities until September 30 next year.

    Erasmus was in hot water after he accused the Lions of "reckless and dangerous" play in their 22-17 win in the first Test in July and hit out at the standard of refereeing from Nic Berry.

    The World Cup-winning coach also made the claims in a 62-minute video clip posted on social media as he highlighted what he felt were a number of calls that went against the world champions.

    Erasmus also retweeted clips from an anonymous Twitter user, alleged to be one of his own accounts, highlighting "questionable calls".

    World Rugby last week revealed that an independent misconduct committee found the 49-year-old was guilty of all six charges that were brought against him.

    The 49-year-old was also warned about his future conduct and told to issue an apology to the relevant match officials, while a fine of £20,000 was issued to SA Rugby along with a warning over the governing body's conduct going forward.

    Both Erasmus and SA Rugby stated they would exercise their rights to appeal the verdicts, but both parties have now decided against challenging the sanctions.

    A statement released by SA Rugby on Thursday said: "SA Rugby and Rassie Erasmus wish to apologise to the match officials appointed to the first Test of the Springboks' Series against the British and Irish Lions.

    "We also confirm that SA Rugby and Erasmus have advised World Rugby that they withdraw their Notice of Appeal and will not lodge an appeal against the sanctions imposed by the Judicial Committee.

    "This has been a highly stressful and charged environment with unusual pressures placed on all concerned and we have no wish to prolong that experience for anyone.

    "We have drawn a line under the incident and only wish to look forward. We will respect the outcomes of the hearing, allowing our national teams and rugby operations to plan with clarity for the coming months."

    A World Rugby statement said: "World Rugby welcomes the public apology from SA Rugby and Rassie Erasmus to the match officials involved in the first test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions this year and the matter is closed."

  • Australia named as 'preferred candidate' to host Rugby World Cup 2027 Australia named as 'preferred candidate' to host Rugby World Cup 2027

    Australia is the "preferred candidate" to host Rugby World Cup 2027 under revamped selection procedures announced Wednesday.

    The World Rugby Council's move all but guarantees Australia will host the quadrennial event, but it will not be confirmed until a final vote is held next May. 

    World Rugby bestowed the same "preferred" status on England to host the 2025 women's event and selected the United States for "exclusive targeted dialogue" for Rugby World Cup 2031. 

    The new process follows the lead of the International Olympic Committee's adoption of a "preferred bid" model that led to Brisbane being awarded the 2032 Summer Olympics earlier this year. 

    World Rugby said the system should help accelerate global growth and provide a more flexible approach for future hosts. 

    "We must continue to keep up with the fast pace of change in our current world and provide value for our future host nations and unions," World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said in a release. 

    "Flexibility is a necessity to ensure good governance and to have successful sustainable men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups. We will do that while maintaining the personality of our events and our commitment to having players and fans at the heart of everything we do."

    Australia last hosted the World Cup in 2003, with the hosts falling to Jonny Wilkinson and England in the final. 

    "This is a huge step forward in our ambitions to host Rugby World Cup 2027 and for rebooting the game in Australia," Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said in a release. 

    "Throughout this process, we've held the genuine belief the time was right to bring the Rugby World Cup back to our shores. The team at Rugby Australia have worked hard on this for a number of years and today's announcement is great reward for those efforts."

    The 2023 event is set to be held in France. 

  • World Rugby rule change allows players to switch national teams World Rugby rule change allows players to switch national teams

    International players will be permitted to change allegiances, subject to meeting certain criteria, following the approval of the World Rugby Council.

    The amendment to the sport's regulations governing national team representation will come into effect from January 1, 2022.

    Following extensive discussions, the new process has been applied with the aim of benefitting players and the global competitiveness of rugby.

    In order to meet the criteria, a player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer, or have a parent or grandparent who was born in that country.

    Furthermore, a player hoping to make the switch must stand down from international rugby for a period of three years.

    Players may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee in order to preserve integrity.

    World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. 

    "We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.

    "Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36-month stand-down period. 

    "We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men's and women’s game."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.