The British & Irish Lions tour kicks off in earnest in South Africa this weekend with a game against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg at 17:00 BST on Saturday. This is no doubt going to be an attritional tour and the “warm-up” game against Japan last w/e has already cost the tour squad their Captain in Alun Wyn Jones (second row) and a key player in Justin Tipuric (flanker). Both were injured in the Japan Game and subsequently ruled out of the Tour.
Warren Gatland, the Head Coach has already had to call in other players to replace them in Adam Beard and Josh Navini (both Welsh) and no doubt will have to consider others to bring in should anyone else get injured. He also had to quickly appoint another Captain for the side in Conor Murray the Irish scrum-half.
South Africa is a tough place to tour. The “Bokke” are renowned for playing a very physical and uncompromising style of Rugby. In the lead up to the main tests, you can be sure that the provincial sides such as the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers will want to get stuck in. It’s going to be bruising, the Lions will not only need to front up physically but also have to find a way to play their own game.
On this epic tour, the British & Irish Lions will play eight matches three of which will be test matches against the reigning World Champions South Africa. To minimise the risk of COVID-19 disruption all eight matches are currently scheduled to be played in Gauteng or Cape Town. This schedule allows stable team bases and training venues whilst significantly reduces travel. At the time this blog was written no crowds were planned to be at the games, but that might change.
The British & Irish Lions have arrived safely in South Africa, but uncertainty still hangs over their tour itinerary. Rising Covid-19 infection rates in the province of Gauteng have raised concerns. Although South African officials remain keen to stick to the existing schedule the possibility of staging the majority of the tour games, and potentially all three Tests, in Cape Town, is under discussion.
If the situation deteriorates further, the wisdom of trying to host a rugby tour during an intense Covid third wave will become an increasing topic of debate, let’s hope for all concerned that the Tour can be completed and not further interrupted by Covid.
In 2009, The Lions lost the Test series 2-1 but following their series draw against New Zealand in 2017, will have high hopes of victory. To do so they will need to survive the opening games without losing further key players to injury.
The schedule of games is as follows and can be found here: https://www.lionstour.com/2021/match-dates/
Emirates Airline Park
Emirates Airline Park
Cape Town Stadium
Cape Town Stadium
Cape Town Stadium
All the games are being televised on Sky.
The Lions remain the iconic side for British & Irish rugby. So, who’s going out to represent the Lions on this tour – the squad will face the gruelling eight-game tour and the might of the South African’s, the 37-man party will now be skippered by Conor Murray (Ire) Scrum Half and is as follows:
Stuart Hogg, Full Back, Scotland
Liam Williams, Wing/Full Back, Wales
Anthony Watson, Wing/Full Back, England
Louis Rees-Zammit, Wing, Wales
Josh Adams, Wing, Wales
Duhan Van de Merwe, Wing, Scotland
Elliot Daly, Wing/Full Back/Centre, England
Robbie Henshaw, Centre, Ireland
Bundee Aki, Centre, Ireland
Chris Harris, Centre, Scotland
Owen Farrell, Fly Half/Centre, England
Dan Biggar, Fly Half, Wales
Finn Russell, Fly Half, Scotland
Conor Murray, Scrum Half, Ireland (Capt)
Gareth Davies, Scrum Half, Wales
Ali Price, Scrum Half, Scotland
Taulupe Faletau, Back Row/No.8, Wales
Sam Simmonds, Back Row/No.8, England
Jack Conan, Back Row/No.8, Ireland
Tom Curry, Back Row, England
Hamish Watson, Back Row, Scotland
Josh Navidi, Back Row, Wales
Tadgh Beirne, Back Row/Second Row, Ireland
Courtney Lawes, Back Row/Second Row
Iain Henderson, Second Row, Ireland
Maro Itoje, Second Row, England
Jonny Hill, Second Row, England
Adam Beard, Second Row, Wales
Zander Fagerson, Prop, Scotland
Tadhg Furlong, Prop, Ireland
Wyn Jones, Prop, Wales
Kyle Sinckler, Prop, England
Rory Sutherland, Prop, Scotland
Mako Vunipola, Prop, England
Luke Cowan-Dickie, Hooker, England
Jamie George, Hooker, England
Ken Owens, Hooker, Wales
Warren Gatland has some fantastic players to select from and it will be really interesting to see who comes to the fore as the tour goes on, for me, here are three players to watch and that could have a real impact on the Lions, they are:
Louis Rees- Zammit,
Aged twenty with only nine international caps for Wales he was possibly the standout player in the six nations, this flyer has it all. In 2019 Louis Rees-Zammit became Gloucester’s youngest player in Premiership history and his rapid rise has led to selection for The British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa two years later. He is capable of playing on the wing or at full-back, he will now get his chance in the red of the Lions to continue his remarkable rise.
Expect some amazing tries and you won’t be disappointed.
Aged twenty-six, with only seven international caps, he is Exeter Chiefs prolific try-scoring No.8, with twenty tries in the Premiership this season, ten more than any other player and he has all the attributes to set the stage on fire for the Lions. He has been rewarded by Warren Gatland with selection for his first-ever British & Irish Lions Tour after a sensational few years’ for Exeter Chiefs, in 2019/20, he was named European Player of the Year and despite not being selected for England’s 2020 autumn squad or the 2021 Six Nations, Simmonds has continued to score tries for fun for Chiefs to get the Lions call-up.
Expect him to show exactly why he was included.
Aged twenty-nine with twenty-two international caps, he has shown for Munster, Ireland and the Lions against Japan, just what an athlete he is. He won nine turnovers during the 2021 Six Nations Championship, more than any other player and can play at second row or back row, most think he will feature most at no.6 for the Lions. His uncompromising approach, together with his undoubted skill make him an ideal Lion, with the height of a second row, Beirne is virtually unrivalled in his ability to turn the ball over, while he has the athleticism to pop up as a support runner and leave even backs in his wake.
Beware the Bokke!