Lions 22 Highlanders 23: Five talking points from Dunedin

The backrow and frontrow places are up for grabs while Webb stakes a serious claim

All to play for in the backrow

Given Sean O’Brien’s performance against the Crusaders and Warburton’s against the Highlanders, you would pick O’Brien at openside flanker in the first Test. But that’s unlikely to happen with Warburton now needing to play against the Maoris after returning from injury.

Gatland will strongly want to pick his captain and if that happens O'Brien could be shunted across to six, where Maro Itoje and Peter O'Mahony will also make a claim. Maybe Iain Henderson too.

Given the current form it would be O'Brien at seven, Itoje or strong lineout option O'Mahony at six and Toby Faletau at number 8. Itoje, like Henderson, can also play secondrow and with Courtney Lawes struggling with a bad head injury, that's another option.

With a game against the Marois at the weekend, there is now a serious scramble for positions.

It might be remembered though, that last time out in Australia captain Warburton and 2009 captain Paul O’Connell didn’t play in the last Test because of injury (O’Driscoll was dropped for Jamie Roberts) , one The Lions won to win the series 2-1. Gatland knows how to drop a player alright.

But the lowdown is that Warburton must play on Saturday to show he has form and the ability to lead on the pitch.

Rhys Webb shows battle for number nine jersey not forgone conclusion

Rhys Webb went off injured and at the time or writing and we don’t know how serious that is. His 48 minutes was a cameo of sniping and breaking and pugnacity and highlighted the aggressive player he is. He’s a player to which other teams take a dislike and that is a strength in a scrumhalf.

Given Conor Murray's fine performance last week, it leaves Gatland with one of those pleasant kinds of headaches that Joe Schmidt keeps talking about. Murray is the physically bigger player and provides different options. Greig Laidlaw has not done enough to come into consideration but Webb has shown Gatland he has enough in his armoury to cause trouble around the park.

Henshaw or Te’o?

Robbie Henshaw was man of the match in the eyes of several experts. His excellent defensive work and taking the ball up was again making a demand of Gatland to pick him for the opening Test match. But the question is not how good he was but whether he was better than Ben Te’o.

Te'o has had two excellent outings and at the moment Owen Farrell, on performance, is ahead of Sexton in the outhalf pecking order. Farrell can obviously play at 12 as well.

After today it is easy to see Henshaw as the first pick at inside centre through blinkered partisan eyes but the former Leinster and England centre, who moved to outside centre against Crusaders, gets forward and gains valuable yards. Henshaw has made a real claim alright but is it enough?

Prop picks

The crushed scrum in the secondhalf will have worried Gatland and the type of frontrow he will want to pick is more like those who played against the Crusaders than the Highlanders, with Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong combining scummaging and power around the pitch.

Props at Test level have to be dynamic and be seen in every aspect of the game including the provision of a solid attacking set piece platform. Kyle Sinckler and Jack McGrath can provide those things from the bench, although for all Sinckler's eye catching play he is still green and has a tendency to give away penalties, one of the areas in which this Lions side must improve. At this stage Marler and Cole can't be seen as impact players. They will not hugely change a game. Gatland has to pick an obvious solid scrum but he also badly needs players who can actually hurt the All Blacks.

Head injuries

HIA or Head Injury Assessment has now become critical for the Lions and the Test selection. Two key players, centre Jonathan Davies and lock Courtney Lawes, will have to go through the protocols to see if they are available to play over the next week or so. Lawes was dominant until he was removed after 27 minutes and he was missed. He did not look good as he left the park helped by two medics. The two players will come under scrutiny and as head injuries have become a political issue, if either plays on Saturday against Maoris or Tuesday against Chiefs, people will want to know exactly how that is.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times

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