SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: I fear Cheslin Kolbe’s dazzling feet will expose Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe

Warren Gatland is a coach who never ducks the hard calls and he has maintained that reputation with this exciting, bold Lions line-up.

You might be taken aback at some of the selections, and even radically disagree with them, but Warren always backs himself.

He has selected without fear or favour to such an extent that reigning Six Nations champions Wales, who nearly beat the Springboks in the 2019 World Cup semi-final with Gatland in charge, boast just three starters.

Warren Gatland has picked an exciting and bold line-up for the Lions first Test match

Cheslin Kolbe's dazzling feet could cause the Lions problems

The South African could expose Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe

However I do fear Cheslin Kolbe (left) will expose Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe (right)

As I said at the weekend, I’ve never known so many available options and so few injuries on a Lions tour ahead of a first Test, and the added complication has been that the warm-up games — with the exception of South Africa A which felt like a fourth Test — have been woefully inadequate.

But only four players who started against South Africa A, a game the Lions should have won, start on Saturday.

Gatland and his coaching team clearly saw things that night they didn’t like. Working off a slow Conor Murray pass and a poor kicking game, it was the lack of tempo among the backs that sticks in the mind and only Anthony Watson has been retained as a starter from that back division.

The only selection that really surprises me is the omission of try machine Josh Adams, with Duhan van der Merwe being preferred. To a certain extent I get it — Van der Merwe is a big, fast unit and difficult to stop.

But for me he is not a deadly, natural tryscorer like Adams and he is not as strong defensively. He will be up against Cheslin Kolbe and some pundits suggest that Kolbe might not enjoy tackling Van der Merwe.

I was really surprised to see the omission of try machine Josh Adams (above) from the squad

I was really surprised to see the omission of try machine Josh Adams (above) from the squad

They clearly haven’t seen the pocket rocket Boks wing pile into opponents twice his size. He loves the physical challenge and in attack his dazzling feet could expose the Scotland wing badly.

As for the other selections, there were so many close calls.

Gatland signposted from the start that he would use Courtney Lawes and Tadhg Beirne as blindside flankers and both have enjoyed decent game time.

Marginally, I went with Beirne to start but equally there is logic starting with the big-hitting, confrontational Lawes, with the option to bring on the rangier Beirne when bodies are tiring.

Dan Biggar or Owen Farrell at 10? I went with Farrell because of his big-match goal-kicking and a hunch that his full A game was returning in the second half against South Africa A, but Biggar is the form No 10 from the Six Nations and was a great unsung tourist in 2017. Gatland is lucky to have both.

Hooker? Any one of the three would have done a great job but there is no denying that Luke Cowan-Dickie has been playing his socks off lately and was on fire against the Stormers on Saturday.

He brings a huge amount to the table — a nose for tries, deadly chop tackling, turnover skills to match any flanker and excellent lineout throwing.

But can he handle the Boks scrummaging power? That must be his first task and that is the one aspect of his game that has not been truly tested at this elite level.

Luke Cowan-Dickie has been in fine form but will be tested by the Boks' scrummaging power

Luke Cowan-Dickie has been in fine form but will be tested by the Boks’ scrummaging power

Similarly, although the opposition has been limited, Ali Price has looked the livelier No 9 and Murray’s slow service and off night kicking against South Africa A probably settled that argument… for the time being.

Price’s selection signals that the Lions will be playing quick-tempo rugby and I applaud that.

Tom Curry or Hamish Watson at openside? Toss of a coin, both will get plenty of action. Jack Conan or Taulupe Faletau at No 8. Toss of a coin. Stuart Hogg or Liam Williams at full-back? Toss of a coin.

I went with Hogg because I sensed some real grit on Saturday after the irritation of his Covid-induced isolation in Johannesburg and the disappointment of being dropped by Exeter for the Premiership semi-final and final. The Scotland captain is a very hungry player with a point to prove as he makes his Lions Test debut on his third Tour.

The selection that I dared not hope for was Elliot Daly, whose claims to play centre for England I have been championing for five or six years. As a former outside centre, I’ve always thought he was best suited there — great pace on the outside arc, good hands and a very good kicking game. And 13 is where he always performed best for Wasps.

I was pleased to see the selection of Elliot Daly at No 13, where he played best for Wasps

I was pleased to see the selection of Elliot Daly at No 13, where he played best for Wasps

Selection is a complicated, integrated process. Firstly, Scotland’s Chris Harris has been playing well — great in defence, lively in attack — while Bundee Aki has looked strong and aggressive, although it was always likely to be him or Robbie Henshaw.

But then perhaps the choice of scrum-half is a factor.

Price getting the nod over Murray signals to me a faster-tempo game. That decision cannot be separated from the thought process as to who plays centre.

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