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Stephen Ferris previews the first Test between the Lions and South Africa

| 23.07.2021

It’s here. It’s Test match week. South Africa and the British and Irish Lions will go head to head this Saturday at 17:00 in Cape Town.

The first Test of a three-match series is finally upon us. It feels like we have been talking about this series forever. Well, we have to be fair, but all the talking will come to a halt very quickly when the first whistle blows. So, who are you backing: The Springboks or The Lions?

As a fan of rugby and someone who supports the Northern Hemisphere club game, I’m of course hoping for a B&I Lions win and for them to start this series with a bang. Will that happen or am I thinking about the outcome of this game with my heart instead of my head? Dare to dream, eh!

Gatland’s team need to back themselves and each other

Warren Gatland’s Test team was leaked to the press this week. Of all weeks that you need your squad to remain tight and honest this is it. A player or a member of the management has broken the trust, and whether or not this individual is found out remains to be seen. I’m sure Gatland didn’t want to be answering questions in his latest press conference around leaked information, but it is what it is, and the 23 lads selected need to back themselves and each other to turn over the RWC Champions in their own backyard.

I think if you asked any Lions fan or pundit to pick the starting team for Saturday’s Test match, no one would have guessed correctly. Last week’s captain Conor Murray is on the bench. AWJ is starting in the second row and now wearing the captain’s armband after dislocating his shoulder only a few weeks ago. Wyn Jones who wasn’t even in the Welsh squad a year ago is starting at loose head which has shocked quite a few people. And lastly, Warren Gatland’s go-to man on the big occasion, Toby Faletau, doesn’t even make the squad. Big Jack Conan will wear the number 8 jersey, and rightly so as he has been tremendous so far in this tour. In my blog a few weeks ago I talked about the selection headaches that the Lions have. Has Gatland got it right? We will soon find out.

The Lions are 1 point favourites for this game. That seems strange considering they lost to South Africa ‘A’ last Wednesday in a hell of a match. However, with another week together, the Lions will surely be much stronger and get out of the traps a lot quicker. They certainly can’t afford to give the Springboks 17 easy points like they did last week.

Mapimpi’s journey epitomises the South African team’s togetherness

The South Africans have brought in a few of their Rugby World Cup superstars. One of the shining lights in that tournament, Makazole Mapimpi, starts on the wing in place of Nkosi. What a player this guy is. Brought up in a rough Village in the Eastern Cape, Mapimpi had to fend for himself from a very young age. No family to lean on, no money or luxuries, but he has fought his way to the top because as Rassie Erasmus says “he has a big heart, a very, very big heart.” I think his journey epitomises this South African team and the togetherness they have shown over the last two years. If they play with emotion and bring their massive physicality alongside their talent, I personally feel they are unbeatable.

Handre Pollard is back at 10, Mnonambi starts at Hooker, and their talisman Siya Kolisi starts at 6 in the backrow. Not bad to bring three players like that into your starting 15. Proven world-class pedigree. However, have they had enough game time over the last number of months to mix it with a match-fit Lions team?

Rassie Erasmus and his coaching team have learnt a few lessons from their victory last week. The Springboks tired massively in the second half, so this week he has loaded the bench with some heavy-duty players who many would say should be in the South African starting 15. Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Lood De Jager will not only add size and power, but they will add vast experience which can be crucial in these huge Test matches.

Lions need to match the Boks’ relentless physicality

I was part of the Lions squad in 2009. Unfortunately, due to injury I didn’t make the Test match weeks, but I went to the games and experienced the relentless physicality of the Boks. If the Lions can match this then I feel they will win the game, but no one has matched the South Africans’ savagery in this part of the game, and that’s the worry.

One thing is for sure though. This is going to be one heck of a game. DON’T MISS IT.

The game is shown live from 17:00 across lots of networks and online platforms. You can also catch highlights of the game this Saturday night on Channel 4.

Enjoy it, rugby fans, it’s going to be a cracker.