Cape Town calling but first Gatland's Lions will clash with local Lions

It looks almost certain that the three Tests will be moved to the Western Cape.

The Lions had a pool recovery session yesterday.
The Lions had a pool recovery session yesterday.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE TOUR IS up and running – if a tour is what it is.

Having landed in Johannesburg yesterday morning, the Lions proceeded to get sprayed down with sanitiser, boarded their bus, and entered the bubble that they’re under serious pressure not to burst over the next six weeks.

It will be a touring experience like no other but Warren Gatland and his 37-man squad have enough on their plate on the rugby front to keep their minds occupied for now at least.

With the Springboks back in training yesterday, the Lions have three-and-a-half weeks to get ready for a Test series that now looks almost certain to be played in its three-game entirety in Cape Town.

The original schedule has two of the Tests taking place in Johannesburg but given the severity of the Covid-19 situation there, SA Rugby has been looking at moving things over to the Western Cape. It remains unclear exactly when the tour will shift to Cape Town but the Lions will play at least one game, and potentially up to four, in Johannesburg and the nearby Pretoria.

First up this Saturday, the tourists are set to take on the local Lions – let’s call them the Gauteng Lions for clarity – at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

iain-henderson-has-his-gear-sanitised-upon-arrival-in-south-africa Iain Henderson's luggage is sanitised. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Gauteng Lions yesterday named an extended squad for this weekend that was short on well-known names aside from the 38-year-old former Springbok Jannie du Plessis, but they usually play with attacking intent and will obviously relish this once-in-a-lifetime shot at the tourists.

Gatland’s Lions, of course, will not be short on star names. The head coach has promised to give every player in his squad a start within the first three games of the campaign so we can expect sweeping changes from last weekend’s win against Japan in Edinburgh.

The likes of Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Louis Rees-Zammit, Elliot Daly, Chris Harris, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Tom Curry, and Mako Vunipola could feature. Given that all seven Irish Lions started last weekend, it seems likely that Ireland’s influence will be diminished this time out.

All seven of them did their Test hopes plenty of good last weekend and it’s certainly better to have credit in the bank with a good performance behind them. 

Even with the expectation of cohesion issues with another new team, Gatland’s side should have too much quality for the Gauteng Lions, who will be playing in the United Rugby Championship next season and whose Elton Jantjies and Wandisile Simelane are part of the current Springboks squad.

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bundee-aki-has-his-temperature-checked-on-arrival-in-south-africa Bundee Aki has his temperature checked on arrival in Johannesburg. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions’ preparations for Saturday began with a recovery session yesterday following their flight from Edinburgh but things will move up a gear today, while they also carry out their first media duties from South Africa.

Conor Murray the Lions captain is sure to be discussed, as is the currently worrying Covid-19 situation in the province of Gauteng – where Johannesburg and Pretoria are situated – but all indications right now are that SA Rugby is pushing ahead with this tour.

A switch to Cape Town for the three Tests at the very least is expected to be confirmed soon but for now, the Lions go about their business in a strict bubble in the locked-down Johannesburg.

Originally published at 06.45

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