The global situation means there were real fears that this summer’s series between the British & Irish Lions and South Africa would not go ahead, but, after a fraught few weeks, the first Test takes place on Saturday in Cape Town.
Both teams have had to battle injuries and illness, but thankfully everyone seems to be as fit as they can be in a global pandemic.
A titanic tussle is expected and although the Springboks have been written off in some quarters, the chance to tame the Lions will be a challenge the world champions will rise to.
No Warm-Ups, No Worries
Just as in 2009, South Africa host the Lions as the world champions, having defeated England in the final, beating the Red Rose 32-12 in Tokyo two years ago.
Few would have predicted that they would have played just one Test match since toppling Eddie Jones’ men, but their 40-9 warm-up win over Georgia is their sole top-level outing over the last 20 months.
That’s why they picked a significantly strong side for the recent ‘A’ match against the Lions and it paid dividends as they ran out 17-13 winners.
Coach Jacques Nienaber has named 11 of the starting XV from that World Cup final win and clearly hopes familiarity breeds success.
It is a different story for the Lions, the
20/23 favourites, with Warren Gatland’s plan undoubtedly to move the gigantic Bok pack around.
The Kiwi has picked a team to play with tempo, but will be ready for the difficult decisions if his side lose on Saturday. That’s exactly what happened four years ago in New Zealand and he reacted by jettisoning captain Peter O’Mahony.
While the tourists have had the slightly easier preparations, there are huge question marks over their line-up and the hosts look the team to side with at
Boks to Spring Out of the Traps
The Lions have failed to win the first Test on three of their last four tours and expect South Africa to come out firing in a bid to exploit any nerves in the visitors’ camp.
In that aforementioned ‘A’ match, they hit hard and early and while they were second best after the break, their defence held firm as they hung on.
Saturday’s game will not be pretty, with doubts over their fitness and the decision to go with a gargantuan pack making it almost unfathomable that South Africa will open the play up too often in the first half.
Expect Pollard to kick deep at the first time of asking, the home pack to put the squeeze on, and on the occasion of his 50th cap, the fly-half to open the scoring.
Count on Classy Kolbe
Rugby union has historically been a game for people of all shapes and sizes, but in an era where size seems to dominate, Cheslin Kolbe breaks the mould.
The diminutive 27-year-old’s dancing feet make him one of the most exciting players in world rugby. However, it would be foolish to see him as a one-trick pony, with him skilful enough to have featured in the number 10 shirt at club level for a star-studded Toulouse side.
Kolbe scored his country’s second try in the 2019 World Cup final, but while he more than punches above his weight, the Boks are likely to be working on a plan to ensure he doesn’t get isolated against his direct opponent, the giant Duhan van der Merwe.
They will, though, be desperate to get him one-on-one with the Lions debutant and he is
9/4 in the Anytime Tryscorer market.
Kolbe vs Van der Merwe is a real David vs Goliath clash and the Scotland wing has something to prove against the country of his birth and is even shorter in the market at
2/1, but Kolbe is all class and will be relishing their match-up.
*All odds correct at time of writing