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Gatland defends picking Cowan-Dickie after concussion

July 5, 2021 GMT
British and Irish Lions' hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie takes part in a training session in Sandton, South Africa, Monday, July 5, 2021. (Christiaan Kotze/Pool Photo via AP)
British and Irish Lions' hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie takes part in a training session in Sandton, South Africa, Monday, July 5, 2021. (Christiaan Kotze/Pool Photo via AP)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Coach Warren Gatland defended his continued selection of hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie in the British and Irish Lions team facing the Sharks on Wednesday, 11 days after he was knocked out.

Cowan-Dickie was knocked unconscious playing for Exeter in the English Premiership final on June 26. He was in the reserves for the Lions’ first tour match in South Africa a week later last Saturday, and played the last 11 minutes.

His selection was condemned by Progressive Rugby, an English-based lobby group of former players, coaches and medics for a safer game.

This time, Cowan-Dickie is a starter for the second tour match at Ellis Park, and Gatland said on Monday he’d been cleared to play by their medical team and “a world-renowned specialist in concussion.”

“Every player is affected differently,” Gatland added.

“Sometimes a player can be knocked out and recover and be perfect in a very short time. Other players might get a very slight knock and it can take them a while to recover from that.

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“There is no similarity in terms of what different players go through with their cases. I 100% follow the advice of the medical team. If he’s not right then he wouldn’t have been selected.”

Gatland wanted to give every Lion a start in one of the first three games, and forwards Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard will make their debuts.

Also getting first starts were prop Mako Vunipola and Zander Fagerson, scrumhalf Gareth Davies with backup from tour captain Conor Murray, center Elliot Daly, and wing Anthony Watson.

Lock Iain Henderson will captain the Lions for the first time, “a natural fit for us,” Gatland said.

Curry has recovered from a pectoral injury. Navidi and Beard joined the tour on the day the team left for South Africa as replacements after injuries to captain Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric.

Curry, Navidi and No. 8 Sam Simmonds, a replacement last Saturday, were given licence by Gatland “to go and get your hands on the ball and express yourselves.”

All three were similar in being strong defenders and exciting ball-carriers, and Gatland wanted them to play to their strengths without forgetting the graft work.

The Durban-based Sharks, meanwhile, were without their nine Springboks, including captain Siya Kolisi. They summoned captain Phepsi Buthelezi after concussion ruled him out of the Currie Cup loss to Western Province by 32-31 last Wednesday.

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Lineups:

Sharks: Manie Libbok, Werner Kok, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Thaakir Abrahams, Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Phepsi Buthelezi (captain), Thembelani Bholi, James Venter, Hyron Andrews, Ruben van Heerden, Khutha Mchunu, Fez Mbatha, Khwezi Mona. Reserves: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Wiehahn Herbst, JJ van der Mescht, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Grant Williams, Anthony Volmink.

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Josh Navidi, Adam Beard, Iain Henderson (captain), Zander Fagerson, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris.

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