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."

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 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

All three British and Irish Lions Test matches against South Africa will be played in Cape Town after consultation with medical experts regarding coronavirus.

Initially the second and third Tests of the series were supposed to be played in Johannesburg, with only the first – scheduled for this Saturday – being hosted in Cape Town.

But due to "risks associated with the Delta variant of COVID-19", South Africa Rugby and the Lions reached an agreement to relocate the two matches.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said: "The data pointed in only one direction. The series has already been significantly disrupted by COVID-19 and a return to Gauteng at this time would only increase the risks.

"We now have two teams in bio-secure environments without any positive cases or anyone in isolation. To now return to the Highveld would expose the series to renewed risk.

"Everyone wants to see the two squads, at their strongest, play out an unforgettable series over the next three weekends and this decision gives us the best opportunity to see that happen."

Ben Calverley, Lions managing director, added: "We are fully supportive of this decision which we believe to be in the best interest of the Test series."

World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi will lead South Africa against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday after returning from 10 days in isolation following a COVID-19 positive test.

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber announced his team on Tuesday, and the 23-man group features 21 players who helped South Africa to their global triumph two years ago in Japan.

Handre Pollard, who will act as vice-captain, will earn his 50th cap as the three-Test series gets under way in Cape Town.

Ox Nche and Makazole Mapimpi, with Kolisi, were the last to join the camp in Cape Town on Monday but all have proved their fitness following the self-isolation period in Johannesburg.

Nienaber's men breezed past Georgia 40-9 in a warm-up Test two weeks ago but the scheduled second match was cancelled due to coronavirus outbreaks in both camps, meaning Saturday will be just the Springboks' second Test since the World Cup success.

The Springboks opt for changes on the wing, where Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe will start, and in the centres where Damian de Allende resumes his partnership with Lukhanyo Am.

South Africa make two further changes to their replacements, with Lood de Jager of Sale Sharks and Rynhardt Elstadt of Toulouse replacing Marvin Orie and Jasper Wiese.

Warren Gatland is expected to reveal his 23-man Lions selection on Wednesday as the tourists prepare for the highly anticipated series opener.

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.

South Africa have confirmed Bongi Mbonambi, Scarra Ntubeni and Dan du Preez have been cleared to link up with the squad after completing their mandatory self-isolation period following positive COVID-19 tests results.

The trio were forced to sit out South Africa A's victory over the British and Irish Lions on Wednesday, as well as the shock 17-14 defeat to the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium.

With six days to go until the series opener against the Lions in Cape Town, all three players have been cleared to resume training with their team-mates.

South Africa had not played a Test match in 20 months prior to beating Georgia two weeks ago, and Kwagga Smith accepts there is a lot of work ahead for the reigning world champions.

"We haven't played Test matches in almost two years, so we got together and started working on it in the last three games and we can now analyse that," he told SA Rugby's official website.

"We need to use our opportunities because in Test matches there aren't many of them, so we have to convert them into points, and we have to sharpen up and get into our system and enforce it onto them."

The majority of the Boks' fringe players failed to impress in the defeat to Bulls, whereas the Lions flexed their muscles with a 49-3 win over the Stormers in their final warm-up match.

Cobus Reinach, one of the rare shining lights for South Africa on Saturday, agrees with Smith that a big improvement is needed if his side are to stop Warren Gatland's men.

"We left a lot of opportunities on the park, but that is something for us to look at, and each one of us has to look at our performance," he said.

"We can improve, and we have to ensure that we do better when we find ourselves in a similar situation. We are aligned as a squad and we know what we have to do.

"We need to execute what we want to do at a platinum standard, and everyone just needs to do their job and make sure they do it well.

"Collectively we didn’t put our stamp down, but we can fix that, and we are feeling confident going forward."

Marcus Smith played himself into contention to start the first Test against South Africa after a debut for the British and Irish Lions that delighted Warren Gatland.

Coach Gatland also expressed satisfaction at seeing Alun Wyn Jones back in action during Saturday's 49-3 win over the Stormers, three weeks after the captain dislocated his shoulder against Japan.

There will be "robust debate" over the coming days, Gatland predicted, as he and his coaching team consider their options for the July 24 series opener against the Springboks.

"With Marcus Smith, the longer the game went on, the better he looked and more comfortable out there," Gatland said.

Smith was a late addition to the tourists' squad, summoned from England duty after winning his first caps for Eddie Jones' side, but the Harlequins fly-half brought youthful zest to the Lions in Cape Town.

His kicking was reliable too, Smith nailing the extras for each of the Lions' seven tries.

As for whether the 22-year-old should start against South Africa, Gatland said: "Those are conversations we haven't had. I thought he looked good out there, some lovely touches. He kicked for goal well and I thought he defended well.

"For a guy who's only had one training session I thought it was pretty good. He'll be part of the discussions, no doubt about that.

"A lot of people put their hand up tonight and there were some pleasing performances on Wednesday too."

Wednesday's game saw the Lions beaten 17-13 by a strong South Africa A team, and Gatland made wholesale changes for the Stormers clash, allowing him to have a good look at all his options.

The return of Jones, who arrived in South Africa only on Thursday, means he assumes the tour captaincy again. That responsibility was initially transferred to Conor Murray when it appeared Jones had no chance of being involved.

Murray was more than happy to hand over the leadership duty, Gatland said, with one caveat.

"Conor, he's the first to admit he was more than comfortable for Alun Wyn to come back," Gatland said. "He wasn't prepared to give up his bedroom suite though, because I think he got the captain's bedroom suite."

Jones had almost half an hour as a second-half replacement against the Stormers, and Gatland said Test rugby's most-capped player would benefit from getting back to action.

"I thought he put a few shots on and defended well, had a couple of touches," Gatland said in his post-game news conference.

"The big thing for him was to get through that period and then to see how he was afterwards.

"We'll have that discussion about whether there's a role for him, either as a starter or a bench player or not involved next week.

"If he is not involved, we'll look at who potentially leads the team."

Alun Wyn Jones returned to British and Irish Lions action in a crushing 49-3 win over the Stormers as the tourists found form ahead of next week's first Test against the Springboks.

The man who was designated as captain for this tour, only to suffer a shoulder dislocation in the Murrayfield clash with Japan last month, has made a spirited recovery and played almost half an hour of a one-sided tussle in Cape Town.

Whether he now starts against South Africa remains to be seen, but Jones has given coach Warren Gatland food for thought, and he was hardly the only player to do that.

This seven-try demolition was a perfect response to the midweek defeat to South Africa A, with scrum-half Ali Price, hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and second-rower Adam Beard among the standouts.

The Stormers snatched a 20th-minute lead with a penalty from Tim Swiel, but the Lions had threatened already by that stage and it was not long before their quality began to show.

Josh Adams powered into space out wide and made valuable yards before the ball was fed back for Beard to jog through a gap in the Stormers ranks.

The defensive effort again seemed sub-par when Cowan-Dickie scrambled through for the Lions' second try in the 34th minute. He picked the ball from back of a maul, after his lineout throw, and scurried through to just short of the line before the Stormers got close to him.

It was 21-3 by the break, with Price feeding Beard who quickly relayed the ball to Stuart Hogg, and the captain put in Jonny Hill to score in the left corner.

Lions debutant Marcus Smith booted the extras each time and the young Englishman played a key part in the fourth try when his quick pass found Price, who in turn offloaded to number eight Jack Conan to run in from 30 metres.

With the game safe, and an eye on next weekend, Gatland introduced Jones just after the 50-minute mark, the most-capped player in Test rugby replacing Beard. The coach was looking for a steely run-out from the captain who dislocated his shoulder just three weeks ago.

Jones was not shirking anything, and Gatland made good use of his bench as the match went on, with Price doing his hopes of a Test start no harm before making way for Gareth Davies as the hour approached.

Tadhg Beirne had a try disallowed after a forward pass, before a fifth score for the tourists arrived in the 68th minute when Zander Fagerson dived over from close range.

Fagerson's fellow replacement Louis Rees-Zammit bolted in off the wing to net the Lions' late sixth try.

Smith, who created the space for that try, was again immaculate from the tee, converting for a seventh time after Sam Simmonds dotted down a last-gasp effort.

NAME YOUR PRICE

Is Conor Murray inked into Gatland's Test team, or might Price have done enough to edge ahead of the Irishman? Scotland scrum-half Price was impressive here, scurrying busily and purposefully like the man on a mission that he is. Price has done himself the power of good on this tour, and the Springboks will have taken note of the Glasgow Warriors man's threat and quick thinking behind the scrum.

The British and Irish Lions will aim to protect a proud record that goes back almost a century when they tackle the Stormers on Saturday in Cape Town.

It was 1924 when the Lions last lost consecutive non-Test matches on a tour of South Africa, and Warren Gatland's side head into the weekend on the back of a midweek defeat.

That loss on Wednesday came at the hands of a strong South Africa A, with the Lions going down 17-13 to a team that featured several World Cup winners.

Coach Gatland has named a wholly new XV for the tussle with the Stormers, and he insists places for the first Test against the Springboks next weekend are very much up for grabs.

Asked about scrum-half Ali Price, who has Gareth Davies and Connor Murray as competition for the number nine Test jersey, Gatland urged the Scotland international to grasp his chance against the Stormers.

"I'm pleased with the way he's gone. He's kicked well. He's got that left foot variation. He's made a couple of nice breaks and he's defended well too," Gatland said.

"He's had a really good tour so it's a really good game for him to play on Saturday and give him an opportunity to put his hand up."

Alun Wyn Jones could remarkably have a part to play too, having recovered from the dislocated shoulder he sustained against Japan at Murrayfield last month.

Test rugby's most-capped player, initially designated as captain of the Lions for this tour, will be on the replacements' bench against the Stormers.

Gatland said: "I spoke to Alun Wyn and spoke to the medical team about the ability to put him on the bench. We felt if he was going to be in contention next week that he needed to have a hit-out to prove 100 per cent he was fit and ready to go."

A minor ankle knock means Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar sits out the Stormers clash, as Gatland warned there was a risk he would be "sore" afterwards.

"If it was a Test match, he would have fronted up and be ready to go," said the head coach added.

The Lions will be on their guard against a team who boast, in wing Edwill van der Merwe, the leading try-scorer from South Africa's Rainbow Cup competition this year. Van der Merwe bagged five tries, with no other player scoring more than three, and he also recorded the best average gain per carry of any player to run with the ball on more than five occasions in the competition (11.2 metres per carry).

Across their five games in that tournament, the Stormers won twice and lost three times, but each match was decided by a margin or four points or fewer, and they averaged the most tackles per game of any side (130) and had the best tackle success rate (86 per cent).

 

FINAL CHANCE TO STAKE A CLAIM

Gatland confirmed a combination of Biggar at 10 and Owen Farrell at 12 remains an option for the Lions for the Test series. He said: "We haven't had that opportunity to play those two together, the way that things have gone. First thing is we want to see how the midfield combination with Robbie [Henshaw] and Elliot [Daly] goes as well.

"We have got other options and that 10-12 combination ... we know with his experience that Owen could easily fit into that 12 position. It's not something that, because we haven't used, it we wouldn't potentially consider."

SMITH THE BOLTER

Marcus Smith has a monumental opportunity this weekend, selected to start at fly-half in the final match before the Tests get under way. Fresh from an England Test debut, it is suddenly not beyond the bounds of possibility that the 22-year-old international newcomer could come into the reckoning for next Saturday.

His opposite number will be a familiar face, with former Harlequins club-mate Tim Swiel selected at number 10 by the Stormers.

British & Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg (captain), Josh Adams, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Marcus Smith, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Adam Beard, Jonny Hill, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Chris Harris, Louis Rees-Zammit.

Stormers: Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, Rikus Pretorius, Dan du Plessis, Edwill van der Merwe, Tim Swiel, Godlen Masimla; Leon Lyons, JJ Kotze, Neethling Fouche, Ernst van Rhyn (captain), JD Schickerling, Nama Xaba, Johan du Toit, Evan Roos.

Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Kwenzo Blose, Sazi Sandi, Justin Basson, Marcel Theunissen, Thomas Bursey, Abner van Reenen, Juan de Jongh, Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, Niel Otto, Leolin Zas, Cornel Smit.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The British and Irish Lions have never played the Stormers but played Western Province on 16 occasions, winning the last seven of those clashes. They also played Boland on four occasions, the other feeder team for the Stormers (W4).
– In 2009, the Lions required a late James Hook penalty goal to secure the win against Western Province (26-23) at a wet Newlands. Tommy Bowe, Ugo Monye and Martyn Williams all scored tries for the tourists that day.
– The Lions have lost just one of their past 10 matches immediately prior to the first Test of a tour (2013 v Brumbies), not losing such a fixture in South Africa since 1962 against Northern Transvaal.
– Smith was the only player to evade more than half of the tackle attempts that were made on him in the Premiership last season, among all those who faced 50 or more such attempts. He also made more break assist passes (27) than any other player in the league and ranked second for try assists (15).

Alun Wyn Jones is "monumental" for the British and Irish Lions, according to former South Africa wing Bryan Habana.

Jones, the most-capped player of all time with 157 international appearances across his career with Wales and the Lions, has made a remarkable comeback to return to the Lions' squad for their tour of South Africa.

The 35-year-old suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pre-tour match against Japan in Edinburgh and did not travel with Warren Gatland's squad and seemed unlikely to be able to feature in the three-match Test series against the Springboks.

Yet he has made a rapid recovery and will link up with the Lions ahead of Saturday's game with the Stormers.

Jones will be on the bench for that match, putting him firmly in contention for a start in the first Test against the reigning world champions on July 24.

Habana represented South Africa against the Lions in 2009, helping the Springboks to a series victory, and he believes Jones is not only an inspiration to Gatland's team, but to all athletes who aim to draw out their careers.

"It's monumental," Habana told Stats Perform. "All of under-40s, recently retired players, are sort of vicariously living through what he has become in terms of an iconic figure.

"It's astounding, mind-blowing, to think how far he's come over the course of the last 14-15 years since making his debut, that he's still able to produce efforts on a weekly basis that warrant not only his selection in the squad, but warrant his selection as captain of a prestigious side like the Lions.

 

"All of us around the world have an immense amount of respect for him. To go on and break Richie McCaw's Test cap record, but do it in a manner in which people still advocate for him being involved in the side, it tells you the status of the man.

 

"And I, having played the game, not remotely physically as close to what Alun has been doing in the forwards, just have a huge amount of respect for what he's achieved for the game, the manner in which he has played the game, but [also] the respect that he commands both from his own team-mates and from opposition."

The Lions perhaps missed Jones' leadership as they suffered their first defeat in eight matches on Wednesday.

A South Africa A side littered with 2019 World Cup winners won 17-13 in Cape Town, with the Lions losing for the first time in the city since 1980.

It was the lowest points tally the Lions have managed in a game since their 12-3 win over the Crusaders in the third match of their 2017 tour of New Zealand.


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British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones will start on the bench against the Stormers on Saturday following his remarkable recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

Jones suffered the injury in a pre-tour match against Japan and was expected to miss the series against South Africa.

However, coach Warren Gatland confirmed at the start of the week that the most-capped player of all time was to be back in contention for the Lions when their three-Test series against the Springboks starts on July 24.

That will be two days shy of a month since sustaining the initial injury, though he could be in action even before that, highlighting the incredible nature of his recovery.

The Lions will face the Stormers in Cape Town, and while Stuart Hogg is to wear the armband after completing a period of isolation, Jones will be available from the bench.

Gatland said: "It's an important game as it's the final chance for the coaching group to see the players perform prior to the start of the Test series.

"For the matchday 23 it's their last opportunity to stake a claim for a Test place, so I expect to see a highly motivated group of players.

"It is particularly pleasing to be able to name Stuart Hogg in the squad. He's not had much luck on Lions tours to date, so it'll be great to see him cross the whitewash again with the captain's armband."

Robbie Henshaw comes into the midfield after shaking off a hamstring injury and Josh Adams returns after the birth of his daughter saw him ruled out of Wednesday's narrow defeat to South Africa A.

Marcus Smith, who recently won his first England cap, will debut at fly-half, and Gatland is particularly excited to see the Harlequins talent in action.

"I'm delighted that Marcus will get his first start in a Lions jersey," Gatland said. "I've been really impressed with his attitude since coming into camp this week; he's been like a sponge for information.

"Obviously it's a tight turnaround from Wednesday's game but we’re in pretty good shape. The South Africa 'A' game was a physical encounter – we always knew it would be – but we've come out of it pretty much intact and ready to go again."

Maro Itoje is looking forward to the competition Alun Wyn Jones will provide when he returns to the British and Irish Lions squad.

Jones, who was initially named as the tour captain, suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pre-tour match against Japan and was expected to miss the series against South Africa.

However, the most-capped player of all time will be back in contention for the Lions when their three-Test series against the Springboks starts on July 24.

England lock Itoje played and impressed on Wednesday, as the Lions failed to battle back against a South Africa A team littered with 2019 Rugby World Cup winners, suffering their first defeat in eight games in the process.

Though he will be competing with Jones for a place in Warren Gatland's team, Itoje is relishing the prospect of playing alongside the Wales star.

"He's a man of immeasurable experience, he is the most capped player in the history of rugby. He is going to add his experience, add his clout and add his edge," Itoje told Sky Sports.

"To be honest, I want the competition, I want the best team available and I want to compete. Those kind of decisions are not up to me, they're up to the man who gets paid the big bucks, Warren, so I'll leave that to him."

 

The Lions went down 17-13 in Cape Town, with their points tally their fewest in a match since a 12-3 win against the Crusaders in the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

Gatland's team came into the game having scored 50 points or more in three successive games – the first time they had managed such a run in their history. In fact, only on three previous tours have they scored a half-century of points in more than three games (1959, 1974, 1997).

Despite Wednesday's loss, Gatland is still confident his team can go on to defeat the world champions, who have played just one Test since beating England back in 2019.

"They came pretty hard at us in the first half. I was really pleased with the way we got back into the game and how strong we looked in the second half," the former Wales coach told Sky Sports.

"We stayed in the battle. That was the pleasing thing. The guys in the changing room are saying there is no reason why we can't win the series."

The British and Irish Lions suffered their first defeat of their tour of South Africa, going down 17-13 to a Springboks 'A' side in Cape Town.

Like in Saturday's win over the Sharks, Warren Gatland's team were defensively vulnerable in the first half on Wednesday and were duly punished by a South Africa A team littered with 2019 Rugby World Cup winners.

Indeed, two of those world champions scored South Africa A's tries, with Sbu Nkosi and Lukhanyo Am going over.

Wyn Jones' score early in the second half brought the Lions back into it, but they were unable to stop a seven-match unbeaten streak – their longest such run since a trail of 10 wins across the 1989 and 1993 tours – coming to an end.

South Africa A started as they meant to go on in the first half – Nkosi seeing what seemed a certain try denied by Anthony Watson, though Morne Steyn, who converted the decisive points in the Lions' 2009 series against the Springboks, then nosed the home team ahead with a penalty.

Nkosi got his try in the 12th minute, however, with the wing bursting down the field to dive over in the corner after Eben Etzebeth charged down Owen Farrell's kick.

Steyn added the extras and, after Farrell had hit a three-pointer for the tourists, the 37-year-old was on point with the boot again in the 33rd minute, this time converting Am's try.

Yellow cards for Faf de Klerk and Marco van Staden reduced South Africa A to 13 men before the interval, and the Lions made their numerical advantage count when Wyn Jones barged over four minutes after the restart.

It was Jones' last act, with the Wales international taken off as a precaution – Gatland having already lost Liam Williams to a head injury in the first half.

Farrell hit another penalty to further reduce the deficit, though Louis Rees-Zammit saw a try disallowed by TMO and then Steyn's perfect record was dashed when he punted a long-range effort wide.

Steyn also squandered a drop-goal attempt late on, yet the Lions failed to make him pay as they were dealt a first setback of their 2021 tour.

STEYN BACK WITH A BANG AS LIONS SUFFER RARE CAPE TOWN DEFEAT

Though his kicking was off in the second half, Steyn was clinical in the opening 40 minutes. His Springboks debut came against the Lions back in 2009 as he played in all three Tests, scoring 19 points and not missing a single place kick (seven of seven) during the series.

This was the first time the Lions have played at Cape Town Stadium, which was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although they will be back for the first Test. It was only their second defeat in the city from their past 11 appearances there – that previous loss having come back in 1980.

CAPTAIN'S RETURN A BOOST

The Lions laboured against the Sharks on Saturday and, against a Test-standard side this time around, their vulnerabilities were exposed again in the first half. Even though they missed only five tackles, their fewest in a match since also missing five against the Brumbies in 2013 – another game in which they lost – they were too often caught out by the pace of their opposition.

Gatland's team improved after the break, but the remarkable return of Alun Wyn Jones cannot come soon enough. International rugby's most-capped player will be on his way to South Africa on Thursday, with Ireland's Ronan Kelleher also flying out.

Jones will be in contention for the first Test on July 24, while Josh Adams – who has impressed on the tour so far – will likely return for the Stormers game on Saturday, after missing Wednesday's outing to watch the birth of his first child on a video call.

The British and Irish Lions have been handed a huge boost with the news that captain Alun Wyn Jones will join their tour of South Africa – less than three weeks after he suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Jones, 35, sustained the injury during the Lions' warm-up game against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, but he will fly into Cape Town on Thursday.

The veteran lock came through a training session with the Wales squad at their Vale of Glamorgan base this week before successfully undergoing a medical assessment.

"We are delighted to welcome Alun Wyn back," said head coach Warren Gatland. "It'll come as no surprise to anyone who knows Alun Wyn that since injuring his shoulder against Japan, he's done everything he can to get himself back.

"It's remarkable really when you consider it's just 18 days since he left us in Edinburgh.

"He's been training with the Wales squad at the Vale since last week and yesterday he had a proper hit out. Following assessment from the medical staff this morning we're satisfied he's fit to return.

"He's obviously raring to go and from what I've seen on video and the feedback we’ve received, he's certainly not been holding himself back in training. He was really getting stuck in yesterday.

"It’s a massive boost for the Lions to welcome a player of Alun Wyn's stature back."

Following high-scoring wins in their first three matches against franchise sides, the Lions face what is expected to be the toughest examination of their tour so far when they take on South Africa A in Cape Town on Wednesday.

The British and Irish Lions expect to see their seven-match unbeaten run put to the test as they take on a star-studded South Africa A side on Wednesday.

Warren Gatland's Lions have been in superb form so far in South Africa, despite coronavirus complications leading to an ever-changing fixture list.

The touring side defeated the Johannesburg-based Lions and then followed up with a pair of wins over the Sharks, scoring at least 50 points in each outing.

Never previously have the Lions tallied a half-century of points in three consecutive outings, while only on three previous tours (1959, 1974 and 1997) have they done so in more than three matches at any stage.

Indeed, the Lions are unbeaten in seven – their longest such run since 10 straight victories across the 1989 and 1993 tours – and have averaged 7.8 tries per game in 2021.

But South Africa A represent a far more significant hurdle, having included 18 Rugby World Cup winners in a squad led by Lukhanyo Am as the Springboks ramp up their own Test series preparations following a number of positive COVID-19 tests.

"I probably wasn't expecting them to be as strong as they are – they are obviously short of games – but I'm absolutely delighted with the team they have put out," Lions coach Gatland said.

"That helps our preparation immensely so we'll kind of get a feel of where we are and what things we need to work on in the 10 days leading into the first Test match."

With a talented Stormers team up next, Gatland feels the hard work starts now ahead of the first Test on July 24 – at the same Cape Town Stadium as Wednesday's game.

"We've probably not been tested," he said. "Even though the Sharks put it up to us, we've not been tested over 80 minutes like we need to be.

"Hopefully we'll get that over the next week, possibly with the Stormers and hopefully with South Africa A."

This is also a big game for South Africa, though, as Am added: "We couldn't do much in the six days in which we were in quarantine; we stretched and did basic workouts in our rooms.

"We also had several team meetings and did analysis via online meetings. On the other hand, however, we are going into the game fresh, and the players who had niggles had sufficient time to recover from them, so we will see where we are physically.

"We will certainly give our best on the field and push as hard as we can."

CONOR CAPTAIN IN CAPE TOWN

Back in training with Wales following injury, Alun Wyn Jones could yet return to the fold for the Lions as he seeks to add to his record of 157 Test caps. But Conor Murray, the man who replaced Jones as tour captain, is in line to lead the team for the first time in this match. "It is going to be pretty much a Test match," Murray said. "It is almost a fourth Test."

CAN LIONS COPE WITH KOLBE?

Speaking to Stats Perform, Springboks great Bryan Habana picked out Cheslin Kolbe as his key man in the upcoming series. "He's someone that excites me every time he gets his hands on the ball," Habana said, and the Lions will get a first look at the wing on Wednesday, although getting close enough to touch him might be rather more tricky. Kolbe evaded 21 of 36 tackle attempts at the 2019 World Cup, the best evasion rate (58 per cent) of any player to face 30 or more.

British and Irish Lions: Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Bundee Aki, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray (captain); Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Iain Henderson, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Adam Beard, Tadhg Beirne, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Elliot Daly.

South Africa A: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Damian de Allende, Sbu Nkosi, Morne Steyn, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Joseph Dweba, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Marco van Staden, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jasper Wiese.

Replacements (from): Malcolm Marx, Coenie Oosthuizen, Vincent Koch, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Damian Willemse, Kwagga Smith, Elton Jantjies.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The British and Irish Lions played an Emerging Springboks side on their previous tour of South Africa in 2009, with the game ending in a 13-13 draw. They also beat an Emerging Springboks side 51-22 on their 1997 tour.
– The Lions are set to play at Cape Town Stadium for the first time; overall the Lions have lost just one of their past 10 games in Cape Town (W8 D1), with that solitary defeat coming in the first Test against South Africa in 1980.
– The Lions have scored 31 tries in total across their four games in 2021, 13 more than they managed in the entire 2017 tour; they scored 44 overall on their tour of Australia in 2013.
– Anthony Watson has gained 160 metres from nine carries for the Lions so far in 2021. His average of 17.8m gained per carry is the best rate of any player during an edition of the Lions tour since the beginning of 2009; Stephen Ferris previously had the best rate, averaging 14.8m per carry in 2009 (133m from nine carries).
– Morne Steyn's Springboks debut came against the Lions back in 2009. Steyn played in all three Tests, scoring 19 points and not missing a single place kick (seven of seven) during the series.

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