Warren Gatland will name his Test team on Wednesday.

Warren Gatland To Go Early, Go Big, But Not Go Beyond Cape Town As Lions Get Ready To Roar

By Gareth James

The British and Irish Lions have brought forward their team announcement for Saturday’s first Test against South Africa by 24 hours.

Warren Gatland will name his starting XV and bench for the Cape Town Stadium showdown on Wednesday morning, with tour captain Alun Wyn Jones expected to lead the side after recovering from a dislocated shoulder.

It follows in the footsteps of the Springboks, who also revised their schedule by unveiling their 23 on Tuesday rather than Wednesday.

The Lions squad were informed of the team on Tuesday before the afternoon’s practice session at their base outside of Cape Town, which was the first opportunity for the starting XV to train together.

The competition for places following a warm-up schedule against modest provincial opposition has been fierce, with only three players thought to be certainties – Maro Itoje, Tadhg Furlong and Tom Curry.

It is the most critical team selection of the tour as only once before, in 1989, has a Lions team lost the first Test but gone on to win the series.


The Lions will play the final two Tests of their series against South Africa in Cape Town in order to reduce the risk of either camp suffering additional outbreaks of coronavirus.

After Saturday’s opener at Cape Town Stadium, the tour was scheduled to relocate to Johannesburg for the remaining games.

However, the severity of the pandemic in Gauteng, where the Delta variant is causing escalating problems, has forced a rethink in conjunction with medical experts.

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said: ‘The data pointed in only one direction. The series has already been significantly disrupted by Covid-19 and a return to Gauteng at this time would only increase the risks.

‘We now have two teams in bio-secure environments without any positive cases or anyone in isolation.

‘To now return to the Highveld would expose the series to renewed risk.


‘Everyone wants to see the two squads, at their strongest, play out an unforgettable series over the next three weekends and this decision gives us the best opportunity to see that happen.’

Siya Kolisi will captain South Africa in the opening despite only escaping Covid-19 isolation last week.

The World Cup winning skipper from 2019 will be one of several starters who have recently had the virus, including fly-half Handre Pollard, wing Makazole Mapimpi and prop Ox Nche.

Kolisi, Mapimpi and Nche only arrived in the Springbok camp on Monday, having spent 10 days in isolation up in Johannesburg, but Boks boss Jacques Nienaber thinks they are ready for the Lions.

‘Some of the players didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms at all, they have been managed according their individual needs, and they have really impressed me with their intensity and enthusiasm at training,’ he said.

‘The well-being of our players is of paramount importance, so we have been working closely with the medical team to work out what would be the best course of action for each player over the three-Test Series.


‘Siya is very important. He’s knows what we’re trying to do from a rugby perspective and he’s our captain, so I’m very happy to have him back.’

With 21 World Cup winners involved in the 23-man squad, the Boks will field a formidable line-up despite their Covid outbreak. The only two that were not in that squad are back-rower Rynhardt Elstadt and Nche.

The entire World Cup final backline that beat England is intact, with box-office superstars Faf de Klerk and Cheslin Kolbe involved alongside centres Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am and Willie le Roux at full-back.

Up front Kolisi is joined by Kwagga Smith at No 8 and Peter Steph du Toit wearing the seven shirt, with Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert forming a formidable lock partnership.

On the bench the Boks picked five forwards and three backs – not the ‘Bomb Squad’ six forwards they had at the Japan World Cup– with Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe a frightening trio in the front-row to come on in the second half.

‘The forward battle is going to be as tough as it gets, so it’s important that we pitch up physically and ensure that we make our presence felt in the set pieces and at the contact points,’ added Nienaber.

‘This, combined with their hard-running backs, will test our defensive system, but we have been looking forward to these matches since the Rugby World Cup concluded.

‘We have done our homework, so it is a case of doing everything at 100% and sticking to our structures.’


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