The Springboks and British & Irish Lions will finally get their eagerly awaited Test series underway at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
To Win Match
Springboks (+1.5) 9/10
Lions (-1.5) 9/10
After so much hype, the World Champions finally get their shot at the Lions. And boy oh boy is it set to be a cracker.
The Boks head into this one as underdogs; a tag that would have been unthinkable a few months back. But a catalogue of Covid-19 disruptions and some key injuries have taken their toll and made the context of this weekend’s first Test even more riveting.
The absences of Duane Vermeulen and RG Snyman have been a big blow, with the former in particular sure to be sorely missed. Kwagga Smith has instead been named at eight and will be a pivotal player in slowing down the Lions at the breakdown.
Warren Gatland’s side’s pack is very mobile. No 8 Jack Conan and flanker Tom Curry’s abilities around the park will be sure to test the Boks on the ground and, with Hamish Watson named on the bench, the work rate of Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi will be vital in this regard.
Jacques Nienaber has surprisingly opted for a relatively new front row combination, with Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane running on at Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe’s expense.
How the starters handle the Lion’s front rankers of Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tadhg Furlong could well decide the contest, but the Boks will bank on their bench to make a big impact at the resets later on.
A number of Boks like Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi and Kolisi have all been short of game time but will have to match the intensity of the tourists in key areas at crucial times if the Boks are to deliver the goods.
Gatland has sprung a few surprises in his run-on XV too, with many untried combinations starting on Saturday. Interestingly, the Lions respective back three, halfback, second row, back row and front row partnerships are all yet to play together on tour, and the Boks will look to exploit any weaknesses or distractions in these areas.
The matchup between Duhan van der Merwe and Cheslin Kolbe out wide will be just one of many games within a game, with the diminutive Kolbe’s slick stepping and van der Merwe’s power providing for a fascinating contrast of styles.
Where the game will be won or lost
Now more than ever the scrum contest will be critical. Many have called into question Nche and Nyakane’s scrummaging performances of late and if the Boks can’t get on the front foot in this aspect then their game plan will be significantly nullified.
South Africa’s front row benchwarmers will have a mighty job on their hands in the final half-hour or so as well, with late penalties sure to have a say in what will be a Test determined by the slimmest of margins.
Verdict: South Africa 21/20
Perhaps surprisingly, the Boks have been labelled as underdogs heading into this first Test. That shouldn’t matter on Saturday, though — back them to claim a slender win of nine points or less.
15 – Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) – 62 caps, 60 pts (12t)
14 – Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse) – 14 caps, 40 pts (8t)
13 – Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks) – 15 caps, 15 pts (3t)
12 – Damian de Allende (Munster) – 47 caps, 30 pts (6t)
11 – Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks) – 14 caps, 70 pts (14t)
10 – Handre Pollard (vice-captain – Montpellier) – 49 caps, 465pts (6t, 78c, 89p, 4d)
9 – Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks) – 30 caps, 20 pts (4t)
8 – Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Jubilo) – 7 caps, 5 pts (1t)
7 – Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers) – 56 caps, 25 pts (5t)
6 – Siya Kolisi (captain – Cell C Sharks) – 51 caps, 30 pts (6t)
5 – Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) – 40 caps, 5pts (1t)
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Toulon) – 86 caps, 15 pts (3t)
3 – Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) – 43 caps, 5 pts (1t)
2 – Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers) – 37 caps, 40 pts (8t)
1 – Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks) – 2 caps, 0 pts
16 – Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears) – 34 caps, 30 pts (6t)
17 – Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers) – 48 caps, 5pts (1t)
18 – Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers) – 39 caps, 5pts (1t)
19 – Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks) – 45 caps, 25 pts (5t)
20 – Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse) – 2 caps, 0 pts
21 – Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers) – 11 caps, 25 pts (5t)
22 – Elton Jantjies (Pau) – 38 caps, 283 pts (2t, 63c, 49p)
23 – Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers) – 7 caps, 5pts (1t)
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
5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales)
4 Maro Itoje (England)
3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England)
1 Wyn Jones (Wales).
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)