So here we are, the Lions Tour is finally upon us! The Rugby equivalent of Christmas, if Christmas only happened every four years and on the other side of the world…
The British and Irish Lions come into the three-match series with high hopes, but world champions South Africa lay in wait.
“I need your clothes, your boots and your scrum cap”
Warren Gatland has said that the selection was the hardest he’d had to make in three tours, a nod to both the depth of the squad and form of individuals so far in South Africa. There are players missing out who many feel should be starting, but the squad Gatland has picked drips talent.
The story of stories has to be Alun Wyn Jones back to captain the tourists after dislocating his shoulder against Japan in Edinburgh. There is plenty of speculation that the Wales lock is actually The Terminator, but the proof will be in the pudding when the collisions start raining in. Adam Beard, Jonny Hill and Iain Henderson will all feel hard done by, but having the captain back will inspire plenty around him.
Duhan van der Merwe is picked ahead of Josh Adams, who became a father midweek, while Ali Price starts at scrum-half, stand-in captain Connor Murray occupying the bench with Owen Farrell.
Gatland has been bold with his selection, picking more on form than reputation, but with only three tests the margin for error is minimal.
Bok to basics
South African head coach Jacques Nienaber has named an experienced line-up for the first test and there is no shortage of talent among the reigning world champions’ squad.
‘Boks captain Siya Kolisi has recovered from Covid-19 to feature in the back row, looking to replicate John Smit’s success in 2009 and win the tour. The rest of the pack is no less impressive, as regulars Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth will be looking to use their experience and physicality.
Elsewhere, Munster centre Damian de Allende starts despite suffering burns in a firepit accident, saying he was “lucky” to avoid any more serious damage. The backline consisting of diminutive superhuman Cheslin Kolbe will be looking to punish any handling errors the Lions may be guilty of, with the returning Handrè Pollard forming a formidable 9/10 partnership with Faf de Klerk.
Not all heroes wear cape(s) town
To avoid further outbreaks of Covid-19 between either squad, the decision has been taken to play all three tests in Cape Town – welcome news to the tourists who will not have been looking forward to playing at the high-altitude venues in Johannesburg originally earmarked for tests.
Whether the loss of the high-altitude advantage will pay dividends remains to be seen, but it’s one less excuse if it doesn’t!
The South Africa ‘A’ game was a bitter pill for the Lions to swallow, and though victory against DHL Stormers will have lifted spirits they will need to be at their best against the physical Springboks on Saturday.
Both sides will be hoping to stay on the right side of referee Nic Berry, neither side wanting to lose players to the sort of red card seen last weekend between Australia and France, in what will be a tight contest decided by the slimmest of margins.
The Lions will hope South African enter the fray a little ring rusty and they managed to cross the whitewash early on, but maintaining their discipline will be vital to coming away with a win and setting up a tour decider a week Saturday.
Predicted Final Score: South Africa 24 v Lions 30
Thanks once again to our We Love Sport Rugby Union expert Shôn Douglas for this preview blog.
Every game from the Lions in South Africa 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.
The We Love Sport app is the destination for all your pub sport. Check the latest fixtures and book your seat at the biggest games across all sports . The We Love Sport app is available for download from the Apple App Store and Google Play store.