The British and Irish Lions face a South Africa ‘A’ side on Wednesday evening as a real test of their credentials.
Wins over Japan and Sigma Lions began the Tour, before Warren Gatland’s side produced back-to-back victories over Cell C Sharks last week. Coming up from 24 July will be three successive Test matches against the Springboks, which makes this fixture all the more enticing and important – a number of that side will feature here for South Africa A. Gatland feels that strength of opposition will be a big positive, saying: “They’ve gone as strong as they possibly can given that they still have some players unavailable. It’s going to be a good test for us. It helps our preparation immensely.”
Alun Wyn Jones has made a faster-than-expected recovery from a shoulder injury and will rejoin the squad for the Tour – but not until Thursday, meaning he won’t be involved in this game. Flanker Tom Curry and Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit are among those hoping to push their claims against South Africa ‘A’ as they look to earn a regular spot for the Lions. Follow all the live updates from the British and Irish Lions vs South Africa A here:
Lions vs South Africa A: Jasper Wiese a danger
As, effectively, a team of World Cup holders, it is little surprise that this South Africa side is chock full of threats, but perhaps chief among them is a number eight perhaps with a place of his own to push for.
One of this South African side who wasn’t involved at the World Cup is Jasper Wiese, though his place in this side will come as no surprise to those who watched him tear up trees at Welford Road after joining Leicester last summer. A freakishly powerful carrier, with Duane Vermeulen seemingly struggling to have major involvement in the Test series, Wiese might be the favourite to start at the back of the scrum.
He does have a slightly too regular habit of putting himself in disciplinary hot water, but there are few who can generate consistent go-forward in such a destructive maner. He’ll fancy a statement showing in his first start in a South African jersey.
Lions vs South Africa A: More breaking news
More breaking news, as rumoured heavily over the last few days but now all but confirmed by Sky Sports – Ronan Kelleher has been called up to the British and Irish Lions squad.
The Irishman was heavily involved in the pre-Tour Jersey training camp, covering for Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George while they completed their club business, though never officially part of the squad, but will now travel to South Africa to give Warren Gatland another option at hooker.
Lions vs South Africa A: Rassie Erasmus speaks to Sky Sports
On a tough couple of weeks: “Although there are things are going wrong, the only thing we can control is putting smiles on people’s faces. There are things that have happened that we can’t change. The players see it as an opportunity.”
On his former Munster charge and tonight’s Lions captain Conor Murray: “I’m big friends with Conor. He was always the quiet one with the plans, and a wonderful player.”
Lions vs South Africa A: Civil unrest continues
Concerning reports cotinue to emerge from South Africa at the moment, with violence and rioting across large parts of the nation after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma last week and wider issues related to inequality, excacerbated by the pandemic.
There have been mixed messages about whether this Tour will now remain entirely in Cape Town, as Warren Gatland has stated, or return to Gauteng for the final two Tests, as South Africa have emphasised remains the plan, but the news of widespread looting in Johannesburg makes for an increasingly distressing backdrop.
Ahmed Aboudouh reports.
Death toll rises to 72 as violence continues in South Africa
Ex-president Jacob Zuma’s arrest has unleashed deep grievances against economic hardship and inequality
Lions vs South Africa A: Breaking late team news
We do, however, have some late alterations to the Lions team: Dan Biggar has a “minor ankle sprain which is not worth risking”, so Owen Farrell has been sent for to step in at fly-half, and there’s a bit of reshuffle in the back three, too.
Anthony Watson moves to the left wing while Liam Williams is called in at full-back to cover for the absence of Josh Adams, who is hopping on a Zoom call to hopefully witness the safe arrival of his first child. Just how he’d have dreamt it. Warren Gatland notes that this had always been planned, and that “family comes first”. Very best wishes to the Adams family.
The backline thus now looks like this:
15.Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) 14.Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales) 13.Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) 12.Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland) 11.Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) 10.Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) 9.Conor Murray – captain (Munster Rugby, Ireland)
Lions vs South Africa A: Final push for places
The Lions have just arrived at the Cape Town Stadium, slightly later than planned. Nothing like the chaos of this time last week, though.
South Africa A have had a little more time to settle in.
Three British and Irish Lions players looking to push Test claims against South Africa A
Iain Henderson, Tom Curry and Louis Rees-Zammit will be out to impress coach Warren Gatland.
Lions vs South Africa A: Team news as Lions look to push Test case
This has not been the easiest Lions tour to manage for Warren Gatland, with Stuart Hogg still isolating in Johannesburg along with a couple of coaches and similar Covid issues forcing him to perhaps stray from his original intentions with selections. Still, he’ll have earmarked this game and Saturday’s clash with the Stormers as a chance to look at some combinations he thinks might have involvement come Saturday week’s fist Test.
As such, the pairing of Conor Murray and Dan Biggar at half-back feels instructive, and before Alun Wyn Jones’ visit to the shaman then Maro Itoje and Iain Henderson looked the likeliest lock pairing. With back-three and back-row places predictably competitive, messrs Navidi, Curry and Faletau, and Adams, Rees-Zammit and Watson cannot really afford an off evening against high-quality opposition – and potentially Test opposite numbers…
Lions vs South Africa A: Team news in detail
We’ll take a closer look at the Lions side selected for tonight in a moment, but let us first focus on a formidable South Africa A side selected by head coach Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, now Director of Rugby.
And we may as well drop that A. This is a South African side comprised mostly of World Cup winners, shorn of its captain but otherwise an almost perfect pastiche of the team that so brilliantly captured that crown in Tokyo nearly two years ago. The South Africans have had just one hit out since that final against England, and their preparation has been complicated by coronavirus in the camp, which has left Nienaber in isolation and forced Erasmus, having stepped up from a day-to-day coaching role after the World Cup, to retake the reins for this fixture.
Joseph Dweba gets a debut after a season of fine vintage in Bordeaux, while reigning World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit is joined in the back row by Jasper Wiese and Marco van Staden, who will team up at Leicester next year. Morne Steyn is involved in a second Lions summer, having been so influential in the Tests twelve years ago, and Lukhanyo Am will combine his captaincy with his crucial stewardship of Nienaber’s fearsome defensive structure.
Lions vs South Africa A: Alun Wyn Jones to rejoin Lions squad
Somehow, he’s back. This Lions tour has hardly been short of news so far, and there were yet more major developments confirmed by the Lions today. After a remarkable recovery, Alun Wyn Jones has been cleared to rejoin the squad in South Africa just 18 days after dislocating his shoulder in the summer opener against Japan, and will fly to Cape Town tomorrow after proving his fitness at Wales training over the last week or so. It appears the lock will retake the Tour captaincy from Conor Murray, who skippers the side tonight, and will be very much in the mix come the Tests.
“We are delighted to welcome Alun Wyn back,” said Warren Gatland when confirming the news. “It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows Alun Wyn that since injuring his shoulder against Japan, he’s done everything he can to get himself back.
“He’s obviously raring to go and from what I’ve seen on video and the feedback we’ve received, he’s certainly not been holding himself back in training. It’s a massive boost for the Lions to welcome a player of Alun Wyn’s stature back.”
Lazarus-like or what? 18 days!
Lions vs South Africa ‘A’: The fourth unofficial Test
That’s right, things are getting serious as the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour arrives in Cape Town for a much-anticipated meeting
South Africa A were always likely to provide the Lions their toughest opposition of the tour but this is an ‘A’ side in name only, with Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber’s 25-man squad very much resembling a fully-fledged Springboks team.
Indeed, while the Lions traditionally have used the fixture against their opponents’ second-string international side as the proving ground for their own potential Test starters, this year’s tweaked schedule, Coronavirus chaos and the loss of South Africa’s second Test against Georgia means this South African side is likely closer to the Test side that will run out in a week and a half than Warren Gatland’s chosen matchday squad.
Still, there will be plenty to learn as the intensity ratchets up significantly for Gatland’s side after back-to-back victories over the Sharks. Kick-off at the Cape Town Stadium is less than 90 minutes away…
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