British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland defended the decision to name Luke Cowan-Dickie in the team for their tour clash with the Sharks on Wednesday despite criticism of his playing at the weekend, seven days after being knocked unconscious in the English Premiership final.
Exeter’s Cowan-Dickie was taken off after an hour of their final with Harlequins at Twickenham on June 26. He lay motionless for several seconds after a tackle, but was able to get to his feet and walk off.
The next day Cowan-Dickie flew to SA and was used as a substitute when the Lions opened their tour on Saturday with a 56-14 win over their Johannesburg namesakes.
But Gatland on Monday said Cowan-Dickie had passed all concussion protocols and been declared fit by the Lions medical team. “If he wasn’t right he would not have been selected. People who are a lot more educated than me have said that he is fit to be selected. Luke has been checked by a world-renowned specialist and successfully gone through all the protocols,” he told a news conference.
Cowan-Dickie’s appearance at Ellis Park on Saturday drew criticism from Progressive Rugby, a lobby group of former players, coaches and medics.
As promised, Gatland picked a fresh team for the midweek match, with Irish lock Iain Henderson named captain, and Adam Beard, Tom Curry and Josh Navidi to make their Lions debuts. There is also a first international start in three years for No 8 Sam Simmonds, ignored over the past years by England coach Eddie Jones.
Gatland feels excited by the back-row combination. “I’ve told them they have a licence to get their hands on the ball,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how they play.
“Wednesday night is another chance for us to have a look at a few more combinations. I’m looking forward to seeing how the back row goes. It’s an exciting mixture and one that we hope will offer something a bit different.
“We expect another physical test against a side who are known for their power play and ambition,” he said.
Lions squad: 15-Liam Williams, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Elliot Daly, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Duhan van der Merwe, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Gareth Davies, 8-Sam Simmonds, 7-Tom Curry, 6-Josh Navidi, 5-Adam Beard, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-Zander Fagerson, 2-Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1-Mako Vunipola Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Rory Sutherland, 18-Tadhg Furlong, 19-Tadhg Beirne, 20-Jack Conan, 21-Conor Murray, 22-Stuart Hogg, 23-Chris Harris
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