Dan Sheridan/INPHO Taulupe Faletau works on his high ball skills.
# Showdown
This Lions tour is about to go up a few notches tonight in Cape Town
Conor Murray leads the Lions for their biggest challenge yet.

THE SOUTH AFRICA A team sheet makes for impressive reading, with 11 World Cup winners in the starting XV and a few more on the bench.

It’s little surprise that this evening’s clash [KO 7pm Irish time, Sky Sports] with the Lions in Cape Town has been dubbed the ‘fourth Test’. We can expect brutal physicality and a ferocious contest as both sides look to make their points ahead of the Test series proper.

Stars like Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk, Damian de Allende, and Lukhanyo Am make their first appearances in a South Africa jersey since the 2019 World Cup final and while this might not be an official Test game, it is certainly no second-string South African side. 

It’s all the more impressive for the fact that captain Siya Kolisi, prolific wing Makazole Mapimpi, out-half Handré Pollard, locks Lood de Jager and RG Snyman, number eight Duane Vermuelen, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, tighthead Frans Malherbe, and utility back Frans Steyn are among those missing due to Covid-19 or injury.

The majority of them should be back in time for the Tests, presuming Covid doesn’t strike again. The Boks had more than 20 positive cases in their set-up and it’s worth remembering ahead of tonight that the entire group self-isolated in their hotel rooms for six days of last week before returning to training on Sunday.

It has been disastrous Test series preparation for the Boks, whose planned Test against Georgia last Friday was cancelled. Hence, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber – the latter of whom is still in isolation back in Johannesburg – have picked the strongest team available to them for this evening.

Erasmus’ open desperation for another South Africa A clash with the Lions this Saturday underlines their worries about being undercooked for the Test series. The tourists have had some disruption, of course, but their last few weeks have been smooth in comparison with the Boks’ drama.

conor-murray-speaks-to-the-team Dan Sheridan / INPHO Captain Conor Murray speaks to his team. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

And so, the Lions should be in a far better position to win this evening. Yes, it’s a warm-up game and results might not really matter here but it feels like it would be a big psychological blow to lose to the South Africans after the build-up they’ve had.

Warren Gatland has a very strong team out as Conor Murray gets his first chance to captain the team since being appointed as the tour skipper after injury to Alun Wyn Jones, who is now set to re-join the Lions in South Africa after a remarkable recovery.

For Murray and the rest of the Lions, this is a massive audition in which they can essentially nail down Test places or force Gatland to change his mind. This is easily the strongest opposition on tour so far – impressing here will go a long way towards Test selection.

While the South Africans’ preparation has largely consisted of analysis sessions on Zoom and a few workouts in their hotel rooms, they have undoubted world-class quality across their matchday squad. 

Erasmus and Nienaber will feel they’re in something of a win-win situation tonight. Winning after the week they just had would be a major achievement and inject belief into their group. Lose and there will be little judgment.

Whatever happens, it is guaranteed that this Lions tour is going to go up a few notches this evening in Cape Town.

South Africa A:

15. Willie le Roux

14. Cheslin Kolbe

13. Lukhanyo Am (captain)

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


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


15. Anthony Watson (Bath, England) 

14. Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales) 

13. Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland) 

12. Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland) 

11. Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales)

10. Dan Biggar (Northampton, Wales) 

9. Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland) (captain)

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)

2. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales)

3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol, England) 

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England)

5. Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland)

6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff, Wales)

7. Tom Curry (Sale, England) 

8. Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales)


16. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, England) 

17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England)

18. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow, Scotland)

19. Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales)

20. Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland)

21. Sam Simmonds (Exeter, England)

22. Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales)

23. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England).

– First published 06.00, 14 July

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