Murray replaces injured Jones as Lions captain for SA tour
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Shock and panic is not the right reaction for the British and Irish Lions to losing their captain a day before the tour of South Africa, their coach says.
Alun Wyn Jones, selected for his fourth Lions tour and first as captain, dislocated his left shoulder in the 28-10 win over Japan on Saturday and was out of the tour along with another injured Welsh forward, Justin Tipuric.
Coach Warren Gatland, despite admitting to his own deep disappointment at losing a player he’s coached for a dozen years, said they all needed to project composure.
“If you go into a shock scenario and look as if you are panicking then it will reflect badly on us,” Gatland said. ”Let’s make the right decisions and do it as quickly as we can in the calmest way that we can.”
Within hours, Irish scrumhalf Conor Murray, on his third tour, was the new Lions captain. Wales lock Adam Beard and flanker Josh Navidi — both Lions for the first time — were the squad replacements for countrymen Jones and Tipuric. Beard and Navidi will join the flight to South Africa on Sunday.
Jones and Tipuric were hurt being cleared off rucks in separate first-half incidents. The shoulder popped back in easily for Jones and he watched the game from the stands, but such injuries prevent heavy lifting for at least six weeks.
The tour will be finished in six weeks.
“It’s devastating news. It’s very disappointing for him,” Gatland said.
Jones was an easy pick as Lions captain. He played every test of the previous three Lions tours, and the Wales skipper is also the world record holder for test caps.
Murray as tour captain was a surprise choice as he doesn’t lead Ireland or Munster. But he has an impressive record; he was the Lions scrumhalf against New Zealand in all three tests in 2017, he has been Ireland’s starting scrumhalf for a decade, he’s popular, and a class above rivals Gareth Davies and Ali Price.
“Alun Wyn will be ably replaced by Conor,” Gatland said. “Conor is an outstanding rugby player and is held in the highest regard with both the players and coaches. I am certain he will lead the squad with excellence.”
Tipuric is the third loose forward injured before the team flies south. Hamish Watson, the Six Nations’ best player, was concussed in training midweek and Jack Conan was withdrawn against Japan with 10 minutes left so a hamstring issue didn’t worsen.
Also, tighthead prop Zander Fagerson was withdrawn from the starting XV after a back spasm.
The injuries blighted what was otherwise a convincing tour warmup for the Lions in front of their first and last crowd, a limited 16,500. All eight games in South Africa will be without spectators.
In Jones’ absence, Lions veterans stepped up and the lineout didn’t miss a beat. Lineout takes by Iain Henderson launched two first-half tries, and hooker Ken Owens, man-of-the-match flyhalf Dan Biggar and center Robbie Henshaw pulled the strings.
Just five minutes after Jones departed, midfielder Bundee Aki sliced through off lineout ball and right wing Josh Adams stepped two defenders and reached out to score the first try.
From an intercept by Henshaw, the Lions worked the ball left and right, and wing Duhan van der Merwe took ruck ball to the tryline without a defender in sight. Biggar converted both tries from the right sideline.
From another Henderson lineout take, Henshaw burst off the ruck pass and barged across.
Japan, playing the Lions for the first time, was full of energy but not accuracy, and the Lions defence upheld the 21-0 lead into halftime.
Courtney Lawes, who replaced Jones, blew a try when he lost control trying to ground it, but minutes later flanker Tadhg Beirne screamed over between the posts after a great pass from Biggar.
Japan finally got over the tryline it had been threatening, after replacement loosie Kazuki Himeno ran over Lions forwards Taulupe Faletau and Jamie George.
The Lions played the last 10 minutes with 14 men after Conan went off and the bench had been cleared. The Lions came under severe pressure. Himeno was denied a second try when he was held up by Henderson and Beirne, and a crosskick into the Lions in goal was barely defused by Anthony Watson.
For all their enthusiasm and cleverness, Japan was well contained by the Lions.
Japan moves on to Ireland next weekend, when the Lions will be playing their namesake Lions in their tour opener in Johannesburg.
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