Warren Gatland is set to go for broke on Wednesday when he names his first-Test side to face South Africa, with the Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg among some fascinating potential inclusions for Saturday’s series opener. Hogg is poised to start in a team galvanised by the return from injury of Alun Wyn Jones and with a posse of English forwards also in line to be involved.
It is less than a month ago that the 29-year-old Hogg only made the bench for Exeter Chiefs in their Premiership final against Harlequins but he has now been entrusted with a key role in a game the Lions can ill afford to lose. Barring any 11th-hour changes of heart, it is also understood Jones will feature following a remarkable recovery from a dislocated shoulder, with Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie also set to play a part.
With props Wyn Jones and Tadhg Furlong having emerged as the Lions’ most reliable scrummagers, Gatland is also considering big calls at scrum-half and No 8 where Ali Price and Jack Conan are hoping to be rewarded for their energetic tour form. Further out there could be some other proactive choices, with Elliot Daly and Duhan van der Merwe among the names discussed at length at the management’s selection meeting.
Gatland has also now decided to bring forward his team announcement by 24 hours to Wednesday morning and is clearly keen to take the game to South Africa from the outset. While the Boks can be relied upon to kick the ball regularly, it would seem Gatland is keen for the Lions to offer a genuine counterattacking threat and operate at a high tempo, which is exactly how Hogg likes to play.
It represents a major turnaround in Hogg’s fortunes, with the former Glasgow full-back having been involved on two previous Lions tours without playing a Test. Last time, in New Zealand, en 2017 he was forced to return home prematurely through injury and it took him a long time to get over it.