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Lions look to sink teeth into Sharks after a day of Covid chaos in SA

Warren Gatland is sending out an exciting team this evening.

The Lions at Ellis Park yesterday.
The Lions at Ellis Park yesterday.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AFTER ALL THE Covid-related chaos of yesterday, it feels a little strange that the Lions are back in action on the pitch this evening against the Sharks [KO 6pm Irish time, Sky Sports].

The tourists’ camp remains virus-free for now but the Springboks have 12 cases, Georgia – who are due to face the Boks on Friday – have four cases, and the Bulls – who were supposed to play the Lions on Saturday  – have five cases.

The line at the end of SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux’s brief statement yesterday evening said it all.

“The priority is to maintain the integrity of the Test series and we will continue to focus on that.”

It would be fair to point out that the safety and wellbeing of players, coaches, support staff, and the general South African public should be the one and only priority, but SA Rugby and the Lions are bullishly determined to get their payday.

As Roux highlighted yesterday, the Test series is where the big bucks lie and so they will do everything in their power to get those three showpiece games played. It remains officially unconfirmed but the expectation is that all three will be moved to Cape Town.

For now, the Lions and the Boks are still in Johannesburg – the epicentre of the third wave of Covid-19 in South Africa. While the hosts deal with their outbreak, which has left Friday night’s clash with Georgia in severe doubt, Warren Gatland’s tourists have the pleasure of playing this evening.

iain-henderson Iain Henderson captains the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is plenty to look forward to in the actual rugby at Ellis Park. Tom Curry and Josh Navidi will make their Lions debuts in a dynamic back row completed by Exeter’s Sam Simmonds. They will be riveting to watch.

Wales lock Adam Beard is the other Lions debutant as he partners first-time captain Iain Henderson, who is very much in the frame for a Test start.

Luke Cowan-Dickie starts at hooker having come off the bench against the Sigma Lions on Saturday, just a week after being knocked unconscious while playing for Exeter in the Premiership final. He is alongside the three-time tourist Mako Vunipola and Scotland’s Zander Fagerson in the front row.

Elliot Daly’s second appearance at outside centre will be intriguing as Robbie Henshaw continues to rehab his hamstring injury, while Ireland’s Bundee Aki gets another chance to impress outside a Welsh halfback pairing of Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar.

Anthony Watson and Liam Williams were Test Lions back in 2017, while Duhan van der Merwe also looks to shine out wide. There is a strong Irish influence on the Lions’ bench, which should be able to help them finish over the top of the Sharks.

Their only Springbok is twice-capped out-half 24-year-old Curwin Bosch, a clever player and good kicker, who doesn’t have any household names around him with the Boks not releasing players from national camp for these warm-up games. Given the Covid situation, that’s understandable but it’s also a huge shame.

curwin-bosch-kicks Curwin Bosch will be key for the Sharks. Source: Photosport/John Davidson/INPHO

Young talents like 21-year-old wing Thaakier Abrahams and 22-year-old captain Phepsi Buthelezi, who starts at number eight, have a chance to make a name for themselves on a big stage, but the Lions’ array of Test stars should have too much quality.

The Lions put 56 points on the Sigma Lions last time out and while the Sharks should certainly be a step up in providing a test for the tourists, it’s hard to see beyond anything other than a convincing win for Gatland’s men.

What happens with this tour beyond this evening remains to be seen.

Lions:

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

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1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England)
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, England)
3. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow, Scotland)
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland) (captain)
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales)
6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff, Wales)
7. Tom Curry (Sale, England)
8. Sam Simmonds (Exeter, England)

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales)
17. Rory Sutherland (Worcester, Scotland)
18. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland) 
19. Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland)
20. Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland) 
21. Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland)
22. Stuart Hogg (Exeter, Scotland)
23. Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland)

Sharks:

15. Manie Libbok
14. Werner Kok
13. Jeremy Ward
12. Marius Louw
11. Thaakir Abrahams
10. Curwin Bosch
9. Jaden Hendrikse

1. Khwezi Mona
2. Fez Mbatha
3. Khutha Mchunu
4. Ruben van Heerden
5. Hyron Andrews
6. James Venter
7. Thembelani Bholi
8. Phepsi Buthelezi (captain)

Replacements:

16. Kerron van Vuuren
17. Ntuthuko Mchunu
18. Wiehahn Herbst
19. JJ van der Mescht
20. Reniel Hugo
21. Dylan Richardson
22. Grant Williams
23. Anthony Volmink.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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