The British and Irish Lions face their toughest test of the tour so far when they collide with a South Africa ‘A’ side containing 522 caps in their XV and seven starters from the crushing 2019 World Cup final victory over England.
Springboks in all but name?
The match has been billed as a fourth Test after the South Africans selected 18 World Cup winners in their squad in a desperate attempt to give players game-time with the side having featured in just a single Test against Georgia in the build-up to the Lions series that starts on July 24.
World Cup winner Lukhanyo Am, who captains South Africa ‘A’, says a week isolating in a hotel room was far from ideal preparation for the Test series but has allowed several players to get over injury.
Am was one of the key performers when they won the 2019 World Cup and has been rewarded with the captaincy of the ‘A’ side.
“We couldn’t do much in six days of quarantine. In terms of physical readiness, the most we could do was stretch and basic workouts in the room but in terms of mental preparation, we did a lot of Zoom meetings, analysis and video work on the phones and laptop,” he said.
“That’s pretty much the preparations we could do but I think, on the other hand, we go into this game fresh with guys who had niggles and injury having had enough time to recover.
“We’ll see where we are at on Wednesday but well be pushing as hard as we can.”
After producing an avalanche of tries in three matches against provincial sides so far on tour, Wales hooker Ken Owens insists a real gauge of the Lions’ progress will come at Cape Town Stadium.
“For us it’s a great challenge, we’re playing a very strong side. We knew that South Africa ‘A’ would be one of the biggest challenges on this tour outside the Test series,” Owens said.
“You look back four years ago when the Lions played the Maori All Blacks, that was the unofficial fourth Test.
“You get one on every tour and South Africa ‘A’ was always going to be that match on this tour – the extra Test match, the unofficial Test match. We were expecting a strong team to be picked.
“We’ve been building with some good wins. We’ve been going in the right direction so it’s good to have this step up in intensity. It’s the perfect timing for this challenge.
“We need this step up in intensity as a squad 10 days out from the Test series to see where we’re at and what we need to brush up on. Yes it’s a strong South Africa ‘A’ team but it’s also a strong Lions team.”
The Lions have been training in the wind and rain in Hermanus, an hour away from Cape Town, which has been a change from the crisp, sunny winter conditions in Johannesburg.
“It was a bit of the shock to the system, especially when we have been training at altitude. Everybody feels a lot fitter,” Owens says.
“Coming down to sea level, in some ways we had it easy in Johannesburg with the great conditions there.
“Now we have the wind and rain, which we have not had for two or three weeks. It is really testing our skills and execution in tough conditions.”
Players to watch
The dramatic news that Alun Wyn Jones could make a “miracle” recovery from his dislocated shoulder and rejoin the Lions tour is all the motivation Iain Henderson needs to empty the tanks against the shadow Springboks.
His second-row partnership with Maro Itoje has the appearance of a Test combination and an imposing display against strong opponents will underline the value of this abrasive, physical lock who can also play in the back row.
The most intriguing duel of all is unfolding at openside flanker where Tom Curry and Hamish Watson are competing fiercely to face the world champions. Curry made a delayed start because of a pectoral injury and Watson capitalised on his absence by excelling in the clash with the Sigma Lions. Against a formidable South Africa line-up, however, England’s high-energy openside has the opportunity to make a statement to Warren Gatland.
Leicester fans know all about Jasper Wiese and he has the chance to really shine for South Africa ‘A’. With Duane Vermeulen out, Wiese’s big ball carrying skills could see him get the nod for the Bok Test side.
South Africa ‘A’: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Faf de Klerk; 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Joseph Dweba, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Marco van Staden, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Jasper Wiese.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Damian Willemse, 24 Kwagga Smith, 25 Elton Jantjies.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Conor Murray (c); 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Iain Henderson, 6 Josh Navidi, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Tadhg Beirne, 21 Sam Simmonds, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Elliot Daly.
Source: Read Full Article