Warren Gatland has selected Mako Vunipola to start for the British and Irish Lions in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

Head coach Gatland makes three changes to the side that beat the Springboks 22-17 last weekend, with Conor Murray and Chris Harris also coming into the starting XV to face the world champions on Saturday.

Vunipola replaces Rory Sutherland as he joins Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tadhg Furlong in the front row, while captain Alun Wyn Jones wins his 11th successive Lions Test cap as he partners Maro Itoje in an unchanged back row.

Murray comes in for Ali Price at scrum-half to partner Dan Biggar, while Harris is preferred to Elliot Daly to play alongside Robbie Henshaw in the centres.

The back three of Anthony Watson, Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg is unchanged, while Taulupe Faletau joins Sutherland, Price and Daly on the bench.

The Lions have only lost two series after winning the first Test, with the most recent occasion coming against Australia in 2001.

"As always, selection was incredibly tough," Gatland said. "However, we've made the changes we think are the right calls for the weekend's game.

"We feel we can go up another level from where we were in the first Test and I would expect us to improve.

"It's the biggest game on the Tour and we have to embrace the expectation that comes with it. As players and coaches, these are the games you want to be involved in. 

"We’re relishing the opportunity to face the Springboks again on Saturday and potentially seal a series win."


British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Chris Harris, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.

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.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is pleased to see so many players pushing for Test places after naming a much-changed team to face South Africa A.

The Lions have won all four warm-up matches so far ahead of the start of their three-match series with South Africa later this month, including back-to-back wins over the Sharks.

Gatland has made 12 alterations following the 71-31 victory over the Sharks on Saturday, with Anthony Watson, Chris Harris and Dan Biggar the only ones to be retained.

Watson moves from right wing to full-back and Harris will shift to outside centre to play alongside Bundee Aki, while Maro Itoje partners Iain Henderson in the second row after recovering from illness.

Wednesday's clash in Cape Town will be a proud occasion for tour captain Conor Murray, who will lead out the Lions for the first time.

Gatland has a number of big calls to make in terms of team selection for the opening game with world champions South Africa on July 24, with just two warm-up matches to go.

"We're pleased to have arrived in Cape Town as we near the halfway stage of the series," he said.

"Wednesday's game against South Africa A will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we're looking forward to it. 

"We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time.

"I think we've benefitted from playing at altitude in the first three games. While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they'll be all the better for it now we're at sea level.

"As we move towards the business end of the tour, it's pleasing to see so many players putting in some stand-out performances. 

"As coaches we want the players to make Test selection as hard as possible and that's what we're seeing."


Lions team to face South Africa A:

Anthony Watson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Bundee Aki, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; 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.

The British and Irish Lions will repeat a feat last achieved back in 1959 if they avoid a series defeat in South Africa.

Warren Gatland's side drew with New Zealand four years ago after a 2-1 triumph in Australia in 2013.

It is 62 years since the Lions were able to avoid defeat in a third consecutive tour and they will have to face the world champions without Alun Wyn Jones, who was replaced as captain by Conor Murray after he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan.

Confirmation on Sunday that three members of the Springboks squad have tested positive for coronavirus was a concern before the Lions boarded the plane to South Africa.

They are due to play five tour matches before the first Test against the Springboks at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.

Stats Perform picks out some of the standout Opta numbers for such an eagerly-awaited tour.

 

BOKS TO GO BACK-TO-BACK?

South Africa were 2-1 winners the last time the Lions toured in 2009, but they have not won back-to-back series since coming out on top in 1962 and 1968.

The Springboks have won eight, lost four and tied one of their previous series against the Lions.

South Africa can boast 23 victories to the Lions' 17, with six of the 46 previous showdowns ending in a draw.

There have been alternate winners in the past five series between the Lions and South Africa, a sequence the Lions will be hoping continues.

 

SOUTH-AFRICA-BORN FLYER AMONG DEADLY DEBUTANTS

While the loss of Jones and Justin Tipuric to injury in the win over Japan at Murrayfield were big blows, Gatland will have been encouraged by the performances of his debutants.

Three of the four try-scorers in Edinburgh were making their Lions bows, with Josh Adams, Duhan Van Der Merwe and Tadhg Beirne crossing.

South-Africa born Scotland wing Van der Merwe was the leading try-scorer in the Six Nations this year with six and beat 31 defenders in the tournament, breaking a record set by Brian O'Driscoll.

He can make a big impact against his country of birth along with Adams, the leading try-scorer at the 2019 World Cup with seven.

South Africa must also be wary of Louis Rees-Zammit, the youngest tourist aged 20, after he scored four Six Nations tries and had the most clean breaks (nine) in the competition, also gaining the most metres per carry (9.9m from 27 carries).

Beirne caught the eye against Japan and can play a big part in South Africa. He affected the most turnovers in the Six Nations with nine and was the first man to 87 rucks - the same number as Gregory Alldritt.

 

PASS MASTER MURRAY CAN DICTATE

Murray was surprised to be given the honour of skippering the Lions in the absence of the most-capped player in the history of international rugby.

The Ireland scrum-half has vast experience and can lead by example in his third Lions tour.

Murray has won two, lost two and drawn one of his previous Lions Tests and will look to pull the strings for the tourists.

The 32-year-old pivot has assisted 25 Six Nations tries, eight more than any other player, and holds the record for the most passes in the competition with 3,527. Peter Stringer is next on the list with 2,539.

 

KEY MEN CAN ROAR AGAIN

There were some outstanding performances in the Lions' tour of New Zealand as they drew 1-1 with the All Blacks.

Maro Itoje was among the heroes of that tour and the England lock will embrace the battle with the Springboks. He hit more rucks (162) than any other player in the Six Nations this year and amassed 16 turnovers.

Versatile back Liam Williams made the most metres by a Lions player on the tour in New Zealand four years ago with 344 from six games.

Gatland has been able to rely on Taulupe Faletau time and again over the years. The back-row made the most tackles (76) in New Zealand and beat more defenders (14) than any other forward.

Conor Murray has spoken of his surprise at being named British and Irish Lions captain after Alun Wyn Jones was ruled out of the tour of South Africa.

Jones suffered a dislocated shoulder early in the Lions' win over Japan on Saturday, while Justin Tipuric also misses the tour due to a shoulder injury sustained at Murrayfield.

Warren Gatland turned to Ireland scrum-half Murray to take over as skipper, with Adam Beard and Josh Navidi called up as replacements for their Wales team-mates Jones and Tipuric.

Murray was not expecting to be asked to lead the Lions in what will be his third tour.

Asked if he was surprised Gatland wanted him to step up, the pivot said: "A little bit to be honest.

"I didn't even think about it. I knew that Al was out and then you look around the squad and there are so many contenders.

"Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don't have my head around it, but it's an unbelievable honour. It's something that I never thought would be possible.

"I didn't think about it long. I said, 'absolutely, it'll be a massive honour. Thank you very much for this opportunity'.

"Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.

"I tried to call my girlfriend Joanna, but her phone was on one per cent as usual. Her phone was off and my dad is in Edinburgh, he was out with his friends having a few drinks, and so he was the first person I spoke to.

"My mum's in Kerry and I rang her. She's down with a few friends who were watching the Japan game and they're celebrating too, so it still hasn't sunk in to be honest."

 

Murray said the loss of Jones is a big blow for the Lions.

"We're very disappointed to lose Alun Wyn. He's been brilliant for the first two weeks. I've known him from the past two tours and he's been incredible. It's a huge loss,” Murray said.

"He came up to me and said 'congrats and just be yourself' and I think that's really important. Growing up, you probably thought you had to try and be a certain type of person to be a leader, but you just have to be yourself.

"Once you have the respect of the group around you, that's a massive plus, a massive thing that can calm you down a bit. If you have the respect of the lads and you do what you do and you do it honestly, then it should be fine.

"It's a huge honour, but there's such a good group of leaders in this squad that makes it less daunting, definitely. There are lads that you can lean on, lads who have captained their country.

"There's massive experience there so you know it'll definitely be a group thing. I'm going to enjoy it and again lean on those boys. It'll take a bit of getting used to, but it's such an honour."

Conor Murray has been named as the British and Irish Lions captain for the upcoming tour of South Africa after injury ruled out Alun Wyn Jones.

Jones was ruled out of the tour, along with Justin Tipuric, on Saturday after he sustained a shoulder injury in the Lions' 28-10 win over Japan.

Irish scrum-half Murray, 32, has been handed the captaincy, with Lions head coach Warren Gatland bullish about his capability in Jones' absence.

"We’re all incredibly disappointed for Alun Wyn and Justin," Gatland said. "The timing of these injuries seem particularly cruel given we fly to South Africa tomorrow [Sunday], but unfortunately they’re part of the game.

"Alun Wyn will obviously be a big loss, both on and off the field, but will be ably replaced by Conor.

"Conor is an outstanding rugby player and is held in the highest regard with both the players and coaches.

"As a three-time Lions tourist, he knows what will be required as captain and I am certain he will lead the squad with excellence. He will also be well supported by an experienced leadership group."

Adam Beard and Josh Navidi have been added to the Lions squad to replace Jones and Tipuric.

Jamison Gibson-Park retained his place in the Ireland side, while Sean Maitland and Jamie Ritchie will return for Scotland in Sunday's Six Nations encounter at Murrayfield.

Gibson-Park started the loss to France and victory over Italy, with Conor Murray ruled out, and the scrum-half did enough to retain the number nine jersey.

Murray is back on the bench along with Jordan Larmour, who is replaced on the wing by the experienced Keith Earls.

Prop Cian Healy comes in at loosehead at the expense of Dave Kilcoyne, who is named among the replacements as Andy Farrell's men attempt to make it two wins from four in the tournament. 

Gregor Townsend has made four alterations to his line-up for Scotland's first match in a month after their clash with France was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in Les Bleus' camp.

Wing Maitland and flanker Ritchie return from injury, replacing Darcy Graham and Blade Thomson respectively.

Zander Fagerson's suspension gives prop WP Nel the chance to start, Sam Johnson makes his first appearance of the tournament in place of James Lang.

Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining will be ready to feature in the 2021 Six Nations for the first time from the bench.

 

Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie. Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: David Cherry, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Huw Jones, Darcy Graham.

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