The British & Irish Lions face the Sigma Lions on Saturday in their opening fixture in South Africa. Below, we look at the key talking points…
A number of contenders staked their claim to start in the Test team following last Saturday’s impressive 28-10 win over Japan at Murrayfield.
With Josh Adams the only player to retain his place from that game, others will now get the chance to show their worth to Warren Gatland as the Test series fast approaches.
Here are some of the key talking points ahead of Saturday night’s game…
Will Russell’s partnership with Farrell work?
Perhaps the most intriguing selection decision sees Finn Russell form the 10-12 axis with Owen Farrell – one of his potential rivals for fly-half duties against the Springboks.
Farrell has long been utilised at 12 by Eddie Jones for England and the 29-year-old starred in that position on the last tour alongside Johnny Sexton as the Lions secured an improbable draw against New Zealand.
Russell, meanwhile, is renowned for his flair, although he has brought much-needed control into his game, as demonstrated in away wins for Scotland in the Six Nations against England and France.
The hope is the pair will complement each other well, with Farrell bringing pragmatism and an additional playmaking option to proceedings.
After Dan Biggar was named man of the match against Japan, both Russell and Farrell will be keen to stake their claims for starting spots in the upcoming Test series.
Can Itoje replace Jones?
The Lions suffered a huge blow with the loss of inspirational captain Alun Wyn Jones due to a dislocated shoulder against Japan.
Although Jones remains optimistic of a ‘miracle recovery’, it’s hoped that England talisman Maro Itoje can fill the void if the 35-year-old is unable to join up with the squad.
Itoje had been one of the favourites to lead the touring party, but it’s Conor Murray who has been named as the replacement captain after the Welshman’s withdrawal.
The lock didn’t perform at his sensational best as a struggling England side finished a disappointing fifth in this year’s Six Nations.
However, he’s appeared rejuvenated in recent times, leading his club Saracens back to the Gallagher Premiership, with the 26-year-old now hoping to help the Lions secure their first Test series win over South Africa since 1997.
Hogg leads Scottish contingent
Stuart Hogg, who will skipper the side, is one of five Scots to start following last Saturday’s pre-tour curtain-raiser at Murrayfield.
With eight in the 37-man squad, it’s the largest Scottish contingent in 32 years.
Russell, Ali Price, Chris Harris and Hamish Watson, with Zander Ferguson on the bench, join Hogg in featuring versus the Sigma Lions.
Things haven’t been smooth sailing for the Scotland captain in recent weeks, with the full-back having been dropped by Exeter for the closing stages of their Premiership title push.
He, along with his Scottish counterparts, will be keen to prove that away victories in England and France during the spring were no fluke.
English dominated pack
England provide five starters in the pack, with hooker Jamie George, prop Kyle Sinckler, locks Itoje and Jonny Hill, and flanker Courtney Lawes all included.
The battle of the forwards will be pivotal in determining who emerges victorious in the Test series.
That was proven in the 2019 World Cup Final, as England saw their hopes dashed after being decimated in the scrum.
Sinckler was a crucial member of Eddie Jones’ pack, but the Bristol man was forced to leave the final early on after being knocked unconscious.
After initially not being selected for the tour, the 28-year-old now has the chance to press for Test selection as he seeks redemption against the Springboks.
The back-row battle
Perhaps the area of greatest strength for the Lions is in the back-row.
Lawes, Watson and Taulupe Faletau have been given the chance to press their cases first up.
With the likes of Tom Curry, Jack Conan, Josh Navidi and Sam Simmonds waiting in the wings, the trio will have to shine if they’re to make the starting XV for the Test series.
Every match from the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa will be exclusively live on Sky Sports; fans who don’t have Sky will be able to catch all the action via streaming service NOW TV, which offers day and month passes.
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