The Lions and Boks' changes indicate another brutal, heavyweight Test

The South Africans have reverted to a 6/2 bench as the Lions reshuffle their XV.

Chris Harris, Mako Vunipola, and Conor Murray are in for the Lions.
Chris Harris, Mako Vunipola, and Conor Murray are in for the Lions.

THREE CHANGES APIECE and plenty of insight into how the Lions and Boks believe their second Test is going to go on Saturday.

Warren Gatland was upfront yesterday in talking about how his three selection alterations could help the Lions to deal with the tight, direct, kick-heavy opening half that he’s anticipating in Cape Town.

Conor Murray is at his best in those circumstances, with his kicking a strength, his composure usually high, and his physical presence making him well suited to contributing defensively.

Chris Harris is certainly a more direct outside centre than Elliot Daly, who he has replaced in the Lions’ starting XV. Again, Harris is an excellent defender who is strong in contact on both sides of the ball and generally makes very few errors.

Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead after his impact off the bench last weekend, most notably in winning a key scrum penalty in the second half. Rory Sutherland wasn’t as strong in that area of the game having started the first Test, so it was probably a relatively straightforward decision for Gatland as he seeks the advantage at scrum time.

The Lions boss believes he has reinforced his team for the onslaught that is coming their way from the Springboks, who will be fighting to keep this series alive.

It’s disappointing for them that impressive loosehead prop Ox Nché has been ruled out injured, with the experienced Steven Kitshoff promoted into the starting team with a big point to prove after failing to make an impact last weekend.

south-africas-frans-malherbe Frans Malherbe starts at tighthead for the Boks. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

There is also a change at tighthead where Trevor Nyakane makes way for Frans Malherbe, who will also be out to show what he’s all about and give the Boks the kind of scrum dominance that was pivotal in their World Cup final win over England in 2019 – when he was opposite Vunipola.

Interestingly, Nyakane drops to the bench to provide cover at loosehead, where he first broke into professional rugby and made his first two Test starts for the Boks. He’s been focusing on tighthead in recent years but Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber are backing him to impress in his old position as Vincent Koch covers the other side.

Kwagga Smith’s tough second half always made him susceptible to being dropped and so it is that Leicester number eight Jasper Wiese brings his confrontational ball-carrying to the party on what will be just his second Test cap. The Boks missed Duane Vermeulen dearly last time out, so Weise will hope to make a heavyweight impression.

Unsurprisingly, the Boks’ first-choice backline is unchanged but they will hope to get more from talents like Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, who had just five touches of the ball between them in attack last weekend.

The Boks have reverted to the 6/2 bench that was also a key part of their World Cup success, as the versatile Damian Willemse covers 10, 12, and 15 from the bench.

With Malcolm Marx and Lood de Jager sure to be better for their runs last weekend, Erasmus and co. can also call on the dynamism of back row Marco van Staden – who was excellent in South Africa A’s win over the Lions – while Smith may be better suited to his bench role.

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The Boks squad definitely also missed the firepower of RG Snyman and Francois Louw as part of their ‘bomb squad’ last weekend but the 6/2 split should allow them to keep the pressure on up front.

taulupe-faletau Taulupe Faletau has come into the Lions 23. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions’ bench also includes a fresh face in Taulupe Faletau, who replaces openside Hamish Watson. The Welshman is excellent in the wide channels but is also adept at battling it out closer to the ruck and while he hasn’t been at his peak yet on this tour, Gatland has great faith in him.

His fellow replacement Tadhg Beirne can cover the second row – as can starting blindside flanker Courtney Lawes – and also the back row.

While the Lions’ don’t have a like-for-like replacement for Tom Curry when it comes specifically to openside – which caused issues from scrums when Faletau came on there against Japan – Gatland clearly believes Beirne, Faletau, and the starting locks and back row can cover most roles between them.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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