Let’s see what the British & Irish Lions have up front. That’s the question that will be answered at the Cape Town Stadium, writes Mark Keohane.
We know the British & Irish Lions can play rugby. We know they have some wonderfully talented backs, but Wednesday evening at the Cape Town Stadium will gives us the answers to the potency of their pack.
I sat down with legendary Lions centre Scott Gibbs and the Moneyman to talk about Wednesday’s match-up.
Scotty has the Lions to edge it by six points and I have Rassie Erasmus’s Boks, in the guise of a SA ‘A’ team to take it by five points.
Lions coach Warren Gatland would not have expected to be ambushed with a midweek Test, although it will give him a measure of the quality of his squad and it will answers any questions he may have of individuals or combinations.
Gatland may have picked a different side if he had known the make-up of the SA ‘A’ side, but listening to all Gatland’s pre and post match talk on the tour and reading the various insights of those reporting on the tour, you’d think that eight to 10 of Wednesday evening’s starting Lions will start the first Test at the Cape Town Stadium on the 24th July.
The Lions 2017 captain to New Zealand, Sam Warburton, believes that Wednesday’s run on XV has as many as 11 Test starting options, which is the number I have put to the SA ‘A starting XV. If healthy and recovered from Covid, I expect captain Siya Kolisi to replace Marco van Staden, Handre Pollard to take over from Morne Steyn and Makazole Mapimpi to wear No 11 ahead of Sbu Nkosi. The only other change I envisage is Frans Malherbe at tighthead. For the rest this is as good and as strong as it gets for the Springboks come the Test series.
There are nine World Cup winning starting XV players in the SA ‘A starting line-up and there are 18 World Cup-winning squad members involved on Wednesday. Sure, the Boks are underdone in their preparation, having in the past 20 months played just the one Test against Georgia at Loftus in Pretoria two weeks ago.
But there is a ‘no excuse’ culture in the Bok set-up and Erasmus was bullish about the squad’s preparation and preparedness for the Test series.
Wednesday evening’s match will replace the second Test hit-out against Georgia and Saturday’s match against the Bulls in Cape Town will ensure the entire available squad would have played a match a week before the Test series starts.
The Lions have been flamboyant and fabulous in smashing the provincial cannon fodder of the Lions, Sharks and Sharks XV, but Wednesday will be the first time the Lions will face the intensity of a real team.
To borrow from Erasmus’s World Cup speech before the Boks played Japan, when he told the players Japan would want to take them to the dance floor and implored his players to take them to the gutters, it will be a similar speech he delivers on Wednesday evening.
The South Africans will play it tighter, want to scrum, want to attack the Lions line-out and want to see the composure of the Lions when they aren’t walking their way through would be tacklers.
We know the Lions are good but this match will tell us if they are very good.
Gibbs believes the Lions will have the edge because they have to, with a match-day squad playing for Test positions, while the South African pretty much know who will start next weekend.
For a month, every pre-Lions match talk has been about the ifs and butts of a the Test series, but unexpectedly, we will actually get a real time measurement before the Test series starts with a match that in effect could easily double as the first Test of a four Test series.