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Much-changed Lions aim to make best of the rematch nobody wanted

Yesterday’s negative PCR results were a great relief to the Lions camp.

Tadhg Furlong starts against the Sharks.
Tadhg Furlong starts against the Sharks.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THIS CERTAINLY WON’T be in the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier mould, nor will it be a distant relative of Joe Louis v Max Schmelling II.

Let’s hope it’s not like the Holyfield vs. Tyson rematch.

The Lions players never dreamed of playing the Sharks in back-to-back matches in South Africa but, to their credit, they have learned to roll with the punches in this strangest of rugby seasons.

Warren Gatland’s much-changed team will make the best of the circumstances again, with eight of them relieved to be out of their brief isolation due to a false positive in the Lions’ camp this week.

Yesterday’s PCR testing confirmed no new positives across the board for the Lions squad meaning that only one player and four members of management remain in isolation due to Wednesday’s positive test for one of those management figures.

“It was fantastic,” said Gatland of the relief of yesterday’s testing results. “The case that we had, we’re very unsure where that came from.”

The Lions will move on to Cape Town on Sunday, with the five people currently isolating in Johannesburg expected to follow on Wednesday. Before moving the party down to sea level, the Lions have one more task up on the Highveld in Pretoria. 

Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Chris Harris, and Tadhg Beirne all start this evening [KO 5pm Irish time, Sky Sports] after being pulled from Wednesday’s first clash with the Sharks, while Conor Murray is back on bench duty and ready for his first appearance since being appointed tour captain.

conor-murray Conor Murray is back in the Lions 23. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Outside centre Elliot Daly and left wing Duhan van der Merwe are the only players who started on Wednesday to do so again today, with the Englishman having a real chance to impress in the number 13 shirt and the Scotland wing keen to continue his solid form.

Hooker Jamie George steps up as captain while the Irish interest in the starting XV is provided by Test favourite Tadhg Furlong, in-form number eight Jack Conan and blindside flanker Tadhg Beirne, a real game-changer.

After the chaos of Wednesday, the Lions will hope for a calm build-up to this one against the Sharks, who have also rung the changes – no surprise given the huge demand of backing up against Gatland’s world-class players. They have been allowed to name 11 replacements, although they are due to use only the standard eight.

Sean Everitt’s side were the only possible opposition for the Lions this weekend given Covid regulations, but they are not close to being genuine contenders.

“It’s going to be a really good test for us because despite the scoreline they did put us under pressure at times,” insisted Gatland.

“We’re looking to do a few things differently and this gives us an opportunity to do that.

“We need to be a little bit adaptable so we will play a bit differently in how we approach the game. We need to be able to do that because we need to be strong and competitive in certain areas for when we come up against the Springboks.”

Lions:

15. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales)
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England)
13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England)
12. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland)
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester, Scotland)
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton, Wales)
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales)

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1. Rory Sutherland (Worcester, Scotland)
2. Jamie George (Saracens, England) (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland)
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England)
5. Jonny Hill (Exeter, England)
6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland)
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland)
8. Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland)

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales)
17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)
18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol, England)
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton, England)
20. Sam Simmonds (Exeter, England)
21. Tom Curry (Sale, England)
22. Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland)
23. Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland)

Sharks:

15. Anthony Volmink
14. Marnus Potgieter
13. Werner Kok
12. Murray Koster
11. Thaakir Abrahams
10. Lionel Cronje
9. Jaden Hendrikse

1. Nthuthuko Mchunu
2. Kerron van Vuuren
3. Wiehahn Herbst
4. Le Roux Roets
5. Reniel Hugo
6. Dylan Richardson
7. Mpilo Gumede
8. Phepsi Buthelezi (captain)

Replacements:

16. Dan Jooste
17. MJ Majola
18. Khutha Mchunu
19. Thembelani Bholi
20. Jeandre Labuschagne
21. Cameron Wright
22. Boeta Chamberlain
23. Jeremy Ward
24. Lourens Adriaanse
25. Rynhardt Jonker
26. Curwin Bosch.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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