Fri, 30 Jul 2021

Jacques Nienaber and Warren Gatland have both played their cards in terms of personnel, and the stage is now set for the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

There were very few surprises in the Springbok match-day squad, with Nienaber backing the same players who did the business for South Africa at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The Lions, though, are fielding a team that has raised a few eyebrows.

However, one thing that can't be disputed is the quality that both sides possess, and most critics acknowledge that the series is too close to call.

It's the world champions taking on the world's most famous tourists, and here we look at some of the most intriguing match-ups to look forward to on Saturday.

Handre Pollard v Dan Biggar

Who could forget the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final? On that day, Pollard was the general who came out on top, but boy, was it close!

From a South African perspective, the worry here is that Pollard was one of the Covid-19 victims in the Bok squad and is short on high-intensity game time this year, given his recovery from a knee injury. He remains South Africa's chief conductor, and he will have to be at his tactical best if the Boks are to play the game from the right areas of the park and put the Lions under territorial pressure.

Biggar's selection ahead of Farrell tells you all you need to know about how the Lions will play. His boot, as always, will be his primary weapon.

Cheslin Kolbe v Duhan van der Merwe

As Sport24 writer Khanyiso Tshwaku wrote on Thursday, this is perhaps the sexiest battle on the park.

Tshwaku wrote.

Kolbe remains one of the most devastating wingers in world rugby, with his pace, natural x-factor, and unbelievable stepping ability separating him from the rest. However, what many forget is that Kolbe is as sound as anyone defensively and in the aerial battles. That all combined makes him the complete player, and his ability to create magic out of nothing is a massive asset to the Boks.

The South African-born Van der Merwe, meanwhile, has muscled his way into selection. The 26-year-old has been devastating form on this tour and in the months leading up to it. He is fit, fast, and physical, and the prospect of him clashing with Kolbe - both on defence and attack - is mouthwatering.

Trevor Nyakane v Wyn Jones/Ox Nche v Tadhg Furlong

The front row battle, as always, will be immense on Saturday, with set-piece dominance considered key for both camps.

Nyakane was robbed of his 2019 World Cup spot because of injury, and this is his opportunity to make a statement in Bok colours. There have been some concerns over his scrummaging in recent weeks, and with Frans Malherbe on the bench, he will want to put in the most solid of showings.

His direct opponent is Welsh prop Wyn Jones, who has forced his way into the starting line-up through his performances in the tour matches in South Africa.

Nche, meanwhile, will be playing just his second Test match and will not have played in a more important match in his life. His opponent is Tadhg Furlon - a veteran of 49 Test matches for Ireland and three for the Lions back in 2017.

When the whistle blows for that first scrum on Saturday, both front rows will want to set the tone, and it promises to be explosive.

Faf de Klerk v Ali Price

Price's selection ahead of Conor Murray, who was due to captain the Lions before the return of Alun Wyn Jones, came as a surprise. Still, it is hard to see the Lions losing anything there, given how impressive Price has been in South Africa. He boasts 42 Tests for his country, and his quick service and game management have been noticeable on this tour.

However, De Klerk remains the Springboks' first-choice No 9 by some distance and a vital cog in their machine. As was the case in RWC 2019, he will be expected to do a lot of kicking that will need to be intelligent and accurate.

Whether off the boot or out of hand, his execution on the day will be key to South Africa's success.

Siya Kolisi v Alun Wyn Jones

Okay, this is not a positional duel, but the fact that both of these players will lead their teams on Saturday is immense.

Kolisi was a doubt after picking up Covid and was understood to be touch and go for selection, while Wyn Jones' recovery from a shoulder injury has been called "miraculous."

Kolisi is South Africa's fearless leader, and his presence in the team brings an element of calm and stability. The Boks without Kolisi, given what was achieved in 2019, simply wouldn't feel right in a Test of this magnitude.

The same can be said for Wyn Jones, who will serve as an inspiration for the Lions just by being on the park.

The match fitness of both players will obviously be placed under the spotlight, but their inclusion has enhanced the spectacle as a whole.

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

British & Irish Lions

15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland), 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Elliot Daly (England), 12 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Ali Price (Scotland), 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 1 Wyn Jones (Wales)

Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Rory Sutherland (Scotland), 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), 20 Hamish Watson (Scotland), 21 Conor Murray (Ireland), 22 Owen Farrell (England), 23 Liam Williams (Wales)

Source: News24

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