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The Lions need to get creative: Talking points ahead of Saturday's first Test with South Africa

Warren Gatland’s side take on the Springboks in Cape Town this weekend.

THE BRITISH AND Irish Lions face reigning world champions South Africa in the first of three Tests on Saturday. 

Ahead of the much-anticipated game in Cape Town, Ciaran Kennedy brings you his key talking points with the latest prices from William Hill… 

south-africa-british-and-irish-lions-rugby South African-born Lions wing Duhan van Der Merwe breaking through the Stormers defence. Source: Halden Krog

The Lions must get creative

The Springboks are not exactly a team that do surprises. When Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber returned from Munster to take charge of South Africa in 2018, the pair quickly set about making the Boks’ physicality their outstanding point of difference.

Opposition teams know what is coming when they play the Boks. As well as that frightening physicality, South Africa always bring huge work rate and a highly-effective, organised defensive unit, all of which was on display when the British and Irish Lions took on South Africa A – effectively the Springboks in disguise – last week.

Warren Gatland won’t have learned too much about the Boks from that experience, but he will have got a clearer idea of what it will take to beat them in this Test series.

The Lions will not be able to go toe-to-toe with the Boks in the physicality stakes. Even after the disruption of 2020 – which saw the Boks play no international rugby – this South Africa team are built to keep absorbing that pressure and come out on top in a collision contest.

If the tourists are to win in South Africa, they will need to get creative. Stretching the Spingboks’ defence isn’t easy, but it’s one of the only ways of asking them serious questions. Varying the point of attack in a bid to open up some space will be key.

Gatland is clearly aware of this based on his half-back pairing for Saturday, opting for the tempo and variety Scotland’s Ali Price offers at scrum-half ahead of the composure and experience of Conor Murray. They will need to get quick ball from their forwards and keep the Springboks guessing. Crucially, they will also need to be clinical when opportunities arrive. The Springboks don’t offer up many entries into the game. The Lions need to bring invention in their play and take their chances when they come.

William Hill odds: Duhan van der Merwe first try scorer – 9/1

Superiority at scrum time

The Springboks’ rock-solid scrum was one of the pillars of their 2019 World Cup success, but there are signs the South African set-piece is not the force of old. During last week’s warm-up clash between South Africa A and the Lions, the tourists were able to cause their hosts a number of issues around scrum-time.

This could be an unlikely area of strength for the Lions in the Test series, with the Springboks seemingly unsure of their strongest front row.

cell-c-sharks-v-the-british-and-irish-lions-castle-lager-lions-series-emirates-airline-park Ireland's Tadhg Furlong starts for the Lions. Source: PA

Long-serving scrum king Tendai Mtawarira retired following the World Cup, and a player of his power, presence and experience is not easily replaced. For the first Test in Cape Town, Sharks’ loosehead Ox Nché will make just his third start for the Springboks, and the Lions will also be sure to target Trevor Nyakane after his own struggles at the scrum against the Lions last week.

The Lions will take huge confidence from that South Africa A game and have plenty of powerful front-rowers who can put the Boks under pressure.

Should they manage to get the edge at scrum time, it will go a long way to putting Gatland’s team on the front foot.

William Hill odds: Tadhg Furlong anytime try scorer – 8/1

Are the Springboks ready?

The obvious area of concern heading into this Lions tour was that South Africa would not be in a position to give a proper account of themselves given the difficulties of the past 18 months.

The Springboks played no Test rugby in 2020, and their preparations for this tour have been far from ideal, with Covid complications resulting in the cancellation of some warm-up games and leaving a number of their most important players self-isolating in hotel rooms instead of getting the necessary work done on the training pitch.

south-africa-v-georgia-summer-international-loftus-versfeld-stadium South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber. Source: PA

The hosts went a long way towards silencing any doubters with South Africa A’s impressive defeat of the Lions last week, but some question marks still hang over this squad.

It was interesting to see the Springbok coaches opt for a 5/3 bench split for the opening Test, rather than the 6/2 split favoured during the 2019 World Cup. This was surely welcomed by the Lions coaches, who would have been fully aware of the threat posed by the Boks’ famed ‘bomb squad’ of six replacement forwards.

The reason for the change, according to South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber, is based on the lack of game time afforded to some of the Springboks’ backs in the lead-up to the Test series.

During Tuesday’s team announcement, Nienaber pointed out that starting out-half Handre Pollard hasn’t played much rugby recently, while winger Makoze Mapimpi and prop Ox Nché only returned to squad training on Monday following a period of self-isolation. Regardless of how well drilled those players are, getting up to pitch for Test level won’t be an easy ask.

The Lions have had their own disruptions of course, but not to the same extent experienced by the Boks squad. In that regard, you would have to feel they go into the opening game against the Springboks better prepared for the demands of a three-game Test series.

William Hill odds: Springboks to win the first Test by 1-5 points – 9/2

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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