Gatland names eight debutants for Lions' clash with Japan

By Sports Desk June 22, 2021

Warren Gatland has named eight debutants in the British and Irish Lions side to face Japan on Saturday.

The Lions will take on Japan for the first time at Murrayfield before heading on tour to South Africa for a three-Test series with the Springboks.

Their first tour match in South Africa takes place on July 3 against former Super Rugby side the Lions, who finished as runners-up three times in that competition.

None of the 11 England players in the Lions squad feature in the starting XV for the Japan game, which will be witnessed by 16,500 fans in Edinburgh.

Four Scotland players will make their first appearance for the Lions, with props Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson primed to make their bow along with flanker Hamish Watson and wing Duhan van der Merwe.

Inside Centre Bundee Aki and wing Josh Adams are set to make debuts among the backs, while back-rows Tadgh Beirne and Jack Conan will get their first taste of Lions rugby.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones will make his 21st Lions appearance.

"The crowd will give the players an enormous lift," said head coach Warren Gatland.

"We're anticipating a tough game against Japan - a side that like to play at a high tempo and shift the ball.

"We saw throughout the World Cup they have attacking threats across the park and a solid defence and set piece.

"I'm pleased with the progress we've made during our training camp in Jersey so far, but we've a long way to go.

"You can see that the squad are starting to get to grips with our game strategies, but, as always with a Lions Tour, this takes time to bed in."

British & Irish Lions team: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Josh Adams, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Rory Sutherland, 2 Ken Owens, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Tadhg Beirne, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Jack Conan.

Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Ali Price, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Anthony Watson.

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  • Kolisi: We know the people of South Africa will be behind us Kolisi: We know the people of South Africa will be behind us

    Siya Kolisi hopes South Africa's rugby team can lift the spirits of a nation as they prepare to take on the British and Irish Lions in front of an empty Cape Town Stadium.

    The first Test of the three-match series takes place on Saturday, though no fans will be at the venue to watch the action unfold due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

    South Africa has seen an upsurge in COVID-19 cases during the past month - there were over 14,000 positive tests in the country on Thursday - while there have been 69,075 deaths connected to the virus amid the ongoing global health crisis.

    Springboks captain Kolisi tested positive himself earlier this month, though the World Cup winner has been cleared to lead a team that understands the importance of the upcoming games.

    "Obviously, we are South Africans before we are Springbok rugby players. What affects our people affects us as players," Kolisi told the media on the eve of the opening Test.

    "We are going to do everything we can to focus on the job we have to do. Like coach Rassie Erasmus said at the World Cup, what we do is in a place of privilege.

    "We're doing what we love every single day, and that we're able to put a smile on someone's face, or we're able to, for a moment in time, let everybody else forget and put their problems aside and focus on what we're doing. When we win, they feel like they win too.

    "No matter how difficult the situation is, we are always able to pull together. We've got families, we've got friends, we've got people out there suffering during this time. We want to make sure that, while we still have the privilege to be able to do what we love, we give it our ultimate best.

    "We know the people will be behind us, no matter what it is they are going through. We want to make sure we give it everything and give it our best on Saturday.

    "If we are able to put a smile on someone's face, that will obviously make us happy and drive us even more to make sure that we don't give up and give our ultimate everything."

    Cape Town will now stage all the Tests, a change from the original schedule as Johannesburg was due to host the second and third matches.

    The Springboks also saw their series with Georgia cut short due to COVID-19 cases in both camps, meaning Kolisi has not played since July 2. However, despite the lengthy absence from the field, the 30-year-old remained heavily involved in the build-up.

    "Honestly, I didn't have a lot of symptoms. I was fortunate with that. I didn't have anything at all," he said. "I think I was fine by the second day. That didn't play a big role with me. It was all the mental things, isolating in the room.

    "What helped me the most is that I was still part of the meetings, talking to the team, viewing videos, adding input to the guys who were playing before, talking to Marco (van Staden, who started at flanker in Kolisi's absence for South Africa A against the Lions), making sure that Marco knows every single role before Saturday, because that's what we're about.

    "Just because you're not playing with us, it doesn't mean you're off. The next thing for you to do is to make sure the next guy around you knows his job and he's prepared as much as he can. At the end of the day, the most important thing in our group is the Springboks.

    "We want to make sure, whether you're playing or not, that you're actually adding value some way or another. In that regard, I was fine because I had a lot of things to keep me positive and keep me active during the time."

  • Springboks and Lions ready to collide in almighty Cape Town clash Springboks and Lions ready to collide in almighty Cape Town clash

    After months of uncertainty over whether the tour will go ahead, the British and Irish Lions start their quest to secure a series win over South Africa on Saturday.

    The two sides will go into battle at Cape Town Stadium without the roars of partisan Springboks fans and passionate Lions supporters who have made the trip, as no spectators are allowed in due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

    However, neither team should require a raucous atmosphere to get fired up for a first contest between South Africa and the Lions in 12 years.

    Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has selected 21 of the 23 players who were World Cup winners in Japan two years ago in the matchday squad for such an eagerly awaited opening showdown. The world champions' preparation has been far from ideal, with 14 players and six members of the management team having tested positive for COVID-19 this month.

    Captain Siya Kolisi was among those to have contracted the virus, but he will lead a formidable side that will be so tough to beat on home turf.

    As for the Lions, Alun Wyn Jones has made an astonishing recovery to captain the tourists only four weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder against Japan.

    South Africa can win consecutive series against the Lions for the first time since they were successful in both 1962 and 1968, having come out on top by a 2-1 scoreline in 2009.

    Yet the Lions have been racking up the points in their tour matches ahead of the three Tests, scoring 39 tries in six games in 2021 - which is 21 more than they managed in the entire 2017 trip to New Zealand.

    Warren Gatland's men were beaten 17-13 by a strong South Africa A team during the warm-up fixtures, though, getting a taste of the sort of power they know they will come up against when facing the Boks.

     

    TMO CHANGE STOKES THE FIRES

    There is never a shortage of off-field sub-plots to fan the flames ahead of a Lions series - and this trip has been no different.

    Lions head coach Gatland is said to be fuming over a chance of TMO for the first Test, with South African Marius Jonker replacing New Zealander Brendon Pickerill, who was unable to officiate due to coronavirus-related travel issues.

    Robin McBryde, forwards coach for the Lions, said: "It [Jonker stepping in] was a bit unexpected. We only found out on Wednesday. There's a slight like lack of foresight because there's a reason why that position is neutral. There's no plan B put in place. You've just got to get on with it really."

    Jonker was the TMO in a clash with South Africa A that saw Faf de Klerk avoid a red card for a high tackle on Josh Navidi.

    VAN DER MERWE READY TO BE TARGETED

    Duhan van der Merwe gets the nod to start against his country of birth, with the Scotland wing accepting he will be targeted.

    Gatland said: "It's a challenge for him. I've spoken to him about what's coming on the weekend and he's fully aware.

    "I presume every time he touches the ball, they'll be trying to hit him with everything they've got and there will probably be some verbals as well. So he's well aware of what's at stake and he's been incredibly relaxed."

     

    South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kwagga Smith.

    Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.

    British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alan Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

    Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

     

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - This is the 14th Test series between South Africa and the Lions, with the Springboks winning eight of the previous 13 editions and the Lions triumphant in four.
    - South Africa hold the head-to-head advantage in individual Test matches between the sides, winning 23 of their 46 previous Test encounters (L17, D6).
    - The Lions are unbeaten in their past two Tests (W1, D1) and have not enjoyed a longer such run since a six-game run spanning the 1971 and 1974 tours (W4, D2).
    - South Africa have lost just one of their previous 13 Tests (W11, D1), winning the last seven in a row – their longest winning run since 2013-14 (W8)
    - Lions captain Jones will win his 10th Lions Test cap, becoming the eighth player to achieve that feat and the first this century.

  • Alun Wyn Jones fit to captain Lions in first Test with South Africa Alun Wyn Jones fit to captain Lions in first Test with South Africa

    Alun Wyn Jones has been deemed fit enough to skipper the British and Irish Lions against South Africa as Warren Gatland predicted an "arm wrestle" in the first Test after naming his XV for the match.

    Jones has recovered from the dislocated shoulder he sustained in the tourists 28-10 win over Japan at Murrayfield last month.

    The Welsh lock will win his 10th successive Test cap in Cape Town on Saturday and joins an illustrious list of Lions players to have achieved the feat.

    Gareth Edwards (10), Graham Price (12), Mike Gibson (12) Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie-John McBride (17) have all reached the milestone, although Jones is the first in the professional era.

    Lions head coach Gatland warned Jones and his team-mates to be ready for a gruelling tussle against the Springboks, the current World Cup holders.

     

    "We know what we're coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it," he told the British and Irish Lions website.

    "We'll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played South Africa A last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can't afford to do that again this weekend.

    "We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come."

    Jones is joined in the second row by England's Maro Itoje while compatriot Luke Cowan-Dickie, Wales' Wyn Jones and Ireland's Tadhg Furlong make up the front row.

    Courtney Lawes will play on the blind side flank on his first full Test appearance, having won his previous two caps from the bench against New Zealand in 2017.

    Lawes' England team-mate Tom Curry has been named on the open side, with Irishman Jack Conan securing the number eight shirt.

    Scotland's Ali Price is at scrum-half and has Wales number 10 Dan Biggar for company in the half-back berths while Robbie Henshaw has returned from a hamstring injury to partner Elliot Daly in midfield.

    England's Anthony Watson wins his fourth Lions Test cap as he takes his spot on the wing opposite Duhan van der Merwe, with fellow Scot Stuart Hogg at full-back.

    The starting XV includes three Scots for the first time since the 1997 Tour to South Africa.
     

     

    "In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in," Gatland added.

    "We couldn't have asked for more from the players so far. They've all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult.

    "In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we're very pleased with the side we've settled on."

     

    British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan

    Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams

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