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Lions get final chance to earn Test spots in Cape Town clash with Stormers

South Africa A face the Bulls this afternoon with the first Lions Test now just a week away.

Stuart Hogg, Alun Wyn Jones, and Robbie Henshaw.
Stuart Hogg, Alun Wyn Jones, and Robbie Henshaw.

THE BUILD-UP to the Test series is simmering away very nicely now, with Rassie Erasmus deciding to turn up the heat just a little yesterday.

His videos flagging what he seemingly viewed as high tackles by Owen Farrell last Wednesday when his Springboks – under the moniker of South Africa A – met the Lions spiced things up just a little more.

Today, one week out from the first Test, the tourists and the hosts will get one last chance to warm-up on the pitch as the Lions face the Stormers [KO 5pm Irish time, Sky Sports] after a genuine South Africa A team clash with the Bulls [KO 12pm Irish time].

There is clearly much more on the line for the Lions today, with their entire matchday 23 desperate to stand out in the final audition before Warren Gatland picks his Test team.

The returns of Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Hogg are of major interest, but it’s the remarkable comeback that Alun Wyn Jones is set to complete off the bench this evening that is most captivating of all. If he gets through a solid 20 or 30 minutes, there’s every chance Jones will captain the Lions for the first Test, a scenario that looked unthinkable when he walked off in apparent resignation with a shoulder injury three weekends ago against Japan.

In truth, there are points of interest across the board. Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe look to grab Tests spots in the back three along with Hogg, whose period of isolation has stunted his ambitions on this tour.

josh-adams-runs-in-a-try Josh Adams returns after joining his partner on Zoom for the birth of their daughter on Wednesday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw has had to overcome a hamstring injury but if he can get through today’s encounter, it’s hard to see him not starting the first Test. Outside him, Elliot Daly will be a versatile option for the matchday 23 against the Boks.

Gatland was effusive in his praise for scrum-half Ali Price this week, raising fears for stand-in tour captain Conor Murray’s Test spot, although 22-year-old out-half Marcus Smith surely won’t storm into contention to face the Boks after his late call-up.

Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan have much to gain in the back row alongside the explosive Hamish Watson, while locks Adam Beard and Jonny Hill are in the mix for Test spots too.

Luke Cowan-Dickie gets the final audition in the hooker slot, as prop pair Rory Sutherland and Tadhg Furlong look to nail down their Test jerseys too. On the Stormers’ side, keep a close eye on wing Edwill van der Merwe in a quick, elusive back three.

Meanwhile, the Springboks have named a much-changed, weakened team for their South Africa A clash with the Bulls.

Out-half Elton Jantjies captains a side that includes only Damian de Allende, Marco van Staden, and Joseph Dweba from the XV in Wednesday’s win over the Lions. Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber are keen to get a few more minutes into Munster man de Allende’s legs after a long stint without action.

The Bulls have former Springbok Johan Goosen making his debut after returning from Montpellier, with another pair of South Africa internationals in captain Nizaam Carr and centre Cornal Hendricks. Ex-Munster man Arno Botha is on the bench.

owen-farrell-is-tackled-by-damian-de-allende Damian de Allende starts for South Africa A again today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

De Allende could be the only Test starter in the South Africa A line-up today, with Nienaber yesterday confirming that even players who haven’t played for several weeks – captain Siya Kolisi, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, out-half Handré Pollard, wing Makazole Mapimpi, and others – will feature in the Tests as long as they’re cleared to come out of their Covid-19 isolation ahead of next week.

In short, the Boks will be fully locked-and-loaded for that first Test, even if some of their key players will be short of game time.

So, these are two different-looking contests today for the Lions and the Springboks as they continue to build towards what promises to be an epic first Test in Cape Town in a week’s time.

Erasmus made a big play about trying to organise a South Africa A vs. Lions rematch this weekend but in some ways, it’s better for supporters watching on from home to have to wait another seven days for the battle royale. The anticipation is high.

For today, there is more than enough Test-selection debate to be enjoyed as the Lions take on the Stormers in their last warm-up game. Gatland needs to see players putting their hands up emphatically.

Stormers (v Lions):

15. Sergeal Petersen

14. Seabelo Senatla

13. Rikus Pretorius

12. Dan du Plessis

11. Edwill van der Merwe

10. Tim Swiel

9. Godlen Masimla

1. Leon Lyons

2. JJ Kotze

3. Neethling Fouche

4. Ernst van Rhyn (captain)

5. JD Schickerling

6. Nama Xaba

7. Johan du Toit

8. Evan Roos

Replacements from:

16. Andre-Hugo Venter

17. Kwenzo Blose

18. Sazi Sandi

19. Justin Basson

20. Marcel Theunissen

21. Thomas Bursey

22. Abner van Reenen

23. Juan de Jongh

24. Lee-Marvin Mazibuko

25. Niel Otto

26. Leolin Zas

27. Cornel Smit.

Lions (v Stormers):

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15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter, Scotland) (captain)

14. Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales) 

13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) 

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland) 

11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester, Scotland) 

10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, England)

9. Ali Price (Glasgow, Scotland) 

1. Rory Sutherland (Worcester, Scotland) 

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, England) 

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland) 

4. Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales) 

5. Jonny Hill (Exeter, England) 

6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland) 

7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland) 

8. Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland) 

Replacements:

16. Jamie George (Saracens, England) 

17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) 

18. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow, Scotland) 

19. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) 

20. Sam Simmonds (Exeter, England) 

21. Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) 

22. Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland) 

23. Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales) 

South Africa A (v Bulls):

15. Aphelele Fassi

14. Yaw Penxe

13. Wandisile Simelane

12. Damian de Allende

11. Rosko Specman

10. Elton Jantjies (captain)

9. Cobus Reinach

1. Coenie Oosthuizen

2. Joseph Dweba

3. Vincent Koch

4. Jean-Luc du Preez

5. Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg

6. Marco van Staden

7. Rynhardt Elstadt

8. Kwagga Smith

Replacements from

16. Fez Mbatha

17. Thomas du Toit

18. Wilco Louw

19. Jasper Wiese

20. Sanele Nohamba

21. Sbu Nkosi

22. Jesse Kriel

23. Damian Willemse

24. Lizo Gqoboka

Bulls (v South Africa A):

15. FC du Plessis

14. Marco Jansen van Vuuren

13. Harold Vorster

12. Cornal Hendricks

11. Stravino Jacobs

10. Johan Goosen

9. Zak Burger

1. Simphiwe Matanzima

2. Schalk Erasmus

3. Jacques van Rooyen

4. Walt Steenkamp

5. Ruan Nortje

6. Nizaam Carr (captain)

7. Muller Uys

8. WJ Steenkamp

Replacements from:

16. Johan Grobbelaar

17. Gerhard Steenekamp

18. Mornay Smith

19. Janko Swanepoel

20. Arno Botha

21. Keagan Johannes

22. Chris Smith

23. David Kriel

24. Jan-Hendrik Wessel.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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