You could be forgiven for forgetting there is a Lions tour taking place this summer, what with the delayed Euros occupying much of the screen time and column inches, pushing even the most pessimistic Englishman to dare to dream that ‘it’ might be coming home… In fact, with three of the four provinces that make up the British and Irish Lions represented at the tournament (sorry to any Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland fans!) even the most hardened Rugby nut may have taken their eye off the egg-shaped ball recently.
Thankfully We Love Sport’s Shôn Douglas is here to remind you that the best of Rugby players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are coming together to take on World Cup winners South Africa in the Lions Tour 2021…and it all begins this weekend!
For the first time since 2005, the Lions will take to the field on British soil as they take on Japan at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. This will be the first meeting between the two sides and Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, is under no doubt as to the Brave Blossoms’ strengths. Speaking ahead of the match, Gatland said: “We’re anticipating a tough game against Japan – a side that likes to play at a high-tempo and shift the ball. We saw throughout the World Cup they have attacking threats across the park and a solid defence and set-piece.”
Lions Tour – The Opposition
Japan arrive in the UK ahead of games against the Lions and Ireland with a 36 player squad including 19 of the team that made it to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup two years ago and 13 uncapped players as they look towards the World Cup in France in 2023. Their astonishing win against South Africa in 2015 earned them fans across the world and the team’s talismanic captain, Michael Leitch is looking forward to running out in front of 16,500 on Saturday afternoon. He said: “Fans in the stadium, as well those watching the match back in Japan and around the world will experience rugby history when Japan take on the British & Irish Lions for the very first time. As a team, we have made our best possible preparations and we look forward to showing the world once again the exciting style of Brave Blossoms and Japanese rugby.”
Warren Gatland named his side on Tuesday (22nd June) morning, with tour captain Alun Wyn Jones selected to lead a team featuring eight Lions debutants. Selection has been influenced by 12 players being unavailable, with some yet to join the squad training camp in Jersey due to club commitments including Exeter’s Stuart Hogg, Jonny Hill, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Sam Simmonds. There are places for Saracens’ pair Owen Farrell and Jamie George following promotion back to the Gallagher Premiership, but they make do with a place on an England heavy bench. There’s no place for breakthrough prospect Louis Rees-Zammit who is the youngest player on this year’s tour.
In something of a departure from previous Gatland tours, the team contains three Scotsmen, including the Six Nations’ top try-scorer Duhan van der Merwe who will be roared on by a quarter-full stadium due to continuing COVID-19 restrictions – the spectre of which will follow the Lions as they head to South Africa on Sunday.
Japan announced their line-up on Thursday and will be looking to captain Leitch and fellow World Cup stars such as Highlanders’ Kazuki Himeno and Clermont wing Kotaro Matsushima to hopefully spring an upset and relive their heroics of 2015.
1. Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829
3. Tadgh Furlong (Leinster, Ireland) #818
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland) #808
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Captain (Ospreys, Wales) #761 CAPTAIN
6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland)
7. Justin Tipuric – (Ospreys, Wales) #786
8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)
9. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland)
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #824
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales)
15. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) #833
16. Jamie George (Saracens, England) #819
17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)
18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826
20. Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) #779
21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) #780
23. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816
1. Keita Inagaki (Toyota Verblitz)
2. Atsushi Sakate (Panasonic Wild Knights)
3. Jiwon Koo (Honda Heat)
4. Wimpie Van Der Walt (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes)
5. James Moore (Munakata Sanix Blues)
6. Michael Leitch (Toshiba Brave Lupus) CAPTAIN
7. Pieter Labuschagne (Kubota Spears)
8. Amanaki Lelei Mafi (Canon Eagles)
9. Kaito Shigeno (Toyota Verblitz)
10. Yu Tamura (Canon Eagles)
11. Siosaia Fifita (Kinetsu Liners)
12. Ryoto Nakamura (Suntory Sungoliath)
13. Timothy Lafaele (Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers)
14. Kotaro Matsushima (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
15. Ryohei Yamanaka (Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers)
16. Kosuke Horikoshi (Suntory Sungoliath)
17. Craig Millar (Panasonic Wild Knights)
18. Asaeli Ai Valu (Panasonic Wild Knights)
19. Jack Cornelsen (Panasonic Wild Knights)
20. Kazuki Himeno (Toyoto Verblitz)
21. Tevita Tatafu (Suntory Sungoliath)
22. Naoto Saito (Suntory Sungoliath)
23. Rikiya Matsuda (Panasonic Wild Knights)
Every game from the Lions Tour is available to view in hundreds of We Love Sport venue’s across the country, book your seat now with the We Love Sport App.
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Thank you to Shôn Douglas for this preview of the Lions vs Japan. Shôn can be found on Twitter @Shondo