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.

Warren Gatland hopes the British and Irish Lions have seen off the worst of the chaos they might experience on their tour of South Africa after a turbulent week.

A case of COVID-19 in the Lions management has caused disruption, while the team were due to face the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, but the opposition had to pull out due to coronavirus cases within their own squad.

A spate of infections in the South Africa squad saw the Springboks' planned match against Georgia called off, but the Lions at least got a game, with the Sharks agreeing to face the tourists for the second time in four days.

The Lions had delivered a 54-7 thumping in Wednesday's first game, played at Ellis Park, but a shift in venue to Loftus Versfeld and wholesale personnel changes on each team led to a very different outcome on Saturday.

A 71-31 win for the Lions resulted from a game that was tied at 26-26 at half-time, with a red card for the Sharks' Jaden Hendrikse early in the second half transforming the momentum.

Coach Gatland was asked whether it was proving to be the most chaotic week of his career, and he said: "It probably is.

"If anything else happens on the tour that's as chaotic as you say this week has been, that would probably surprise me."

He admitted, however, that it was still unclear who the Lions' next opponents would be, with a game against South Africa A currently scheduled for the coming Wednesday, and a clash with the Stormers set for Saturday.

"I think there's a good chance they'll switch the Stormers and South Africa A games around, but nothing's been confirmed yet," Gatland said. "We've just got to go with the flow and react to whatever's thrown at us."

Gatland is hoping Finn Russell can recover from an Achilles injury to play a part later in the tour, although he appears unlikely to play in any matches before the three-Test series against the world champion Springboks begins on July 24 in Cape Town.

The Scotland fly-half is out of Gatland's immediate plans and England newcomer Marcus Smith has been called in to provide cover.

 

Russell had an injection on Saturday, said Gatland, describing the injury as "not a strained Achilles but a slight little tear".

"It's going to keep him out for the next couple of weeks," Gatland said. "He's going to be in a boot for the next five days and when he comes out of that he'll have some more treatment.

"If he makes good progress, we'll assess him going forward. If he's not, then there's a possibility he may go home. It's a wait-and-see situation with him."

Gatland felt the Lions had been messy with some of their play in the first half against the Sharks, which saw them concede four tries.

He said: "I think we caused a few of our own problems with some of the turnovers and a couple of interceptions and a couple of poor passes that allowed them in the game to put us under pressure.

"We were just a bit edgy and a bit untidy, particularly in the first half, which allowed them to stay in the game. We just need to make sure we're a bit more accurate and tidier and I thought we did that a lot better in the second half."

The British and Irish Lions continued to pile on the points on their tour of South Africa with what proved to be an emphatic, albeit not entirely convincing, 71-31 win over the Sharks.

There was no shortage of entertainment at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, with the Sharks more than holding their own until Jaden Hendrikse got himself sent off.

Indeed, the Lions conceded four tries in the first half – as many as they had allowed in total in their three previous games combined this year.

Yet Hendrikse's dismissal proved the turning point, with the Lions' quality shining through, though Warren Gatland – who on Saturday called up England new boy Marcus Smith due to an injury for Finn Russell – will be expecting better in defence as the Springboks series approaches.

Chris Harris skipped over for his first Lions try early on, with Dan Biggar adding the extras, but the Sharks hit back in style.

Elliot Daly's mistake resulted in Anthony Volmink charging in down the left, before Thaakir Abrahams latched onto Lionel Cronje's grubber. With a game on their hands, the Lions responded in turn – captain Jamie George going over at the culmination of a rolling maul.

The scoring did not let up, with Duhan van der Merwe dragging the Lions level again after Hendrikse had crossed at the other end.

Another Lions mistake gifted Volmink a second try, yet the Sharks' defence was equally as vulnerable and Tadhg Beirne bundled through to once more level the scores..

A moment of madness from Hendrikse soon gave the Lions an advantage, though. The Sharks scrum-half elbowed Liam Williams in the head as the full-back was tackled into touch, and after checking with the TMO, referee Wayne Barnes brandished a red card.

The Lions set about making their numerical superiority count – Jack Conan driving in before Daly extended the lead, only for Werner Kok to pounce on Conor Murray's blocked kick. However, George and Beirne doubled their tallies either side of Anthony Watson taking the Lions above 50, with Tom Curry running in their 10th try.

Murray's yellow ensured both sides would finish with 14 men, though Watson had the final say with a brilliant 50-metre break.


Sharks hold their own until Hendrikse blunder

It really was a ludicrous decision from Hendrikse, who had looked sharp in the first half, to lunge in on Williams.

The Sharks – who were thrashed 54-7 in midweek but stepped up to play the Lions again after the Bulls pulled out – presented a real challenge for the Lions before the break, but Hendrikse's rashness ultimately all-but gifted the tourists victory.

Smith stunned by late call

Harlequins fly-half Smith scored 18 points as England hammered Canada at Twickenham on Saturday, though he had little time to celebrate ahead of catching a flight out to South Africa to join up with Gatland's squad.

"I can't believe it," Smith told Channel 4. "They called me into the tunnel 10 minutes ago and I don't believe it – I was shaking, I still can't believe it, it's amazing.

"We were meant to go to the football [England v Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final] but I will be on the plane now. It won't sink in until I get back from the tour and I will have to pinch myself on the plane.”

Marcus Smith has been called up to the British and Irish Lions squad for their tour of South Africa, as Finn Russell struggles with an Achilles tendon injury.

Fly-half Smith, 22, helped Harlequins to the Premiership title this season and made his England debut against the United States last week.

He followed up his international bow with a superb showing in a 70-14 demolition of Canada on Saturday, kicking nine conversions.

After impressing at Twickenham, Smith – following coronavirus testing – will be heading to South Africa to join up with the Lions, who faced the Sharks on Saturday in their third match of the tour, with the three-Test series against the Springboks starting later this month.

And Gatland is excited to see what Smith can bring to his squad, with Russell likely to be out for several weeks.

"Finn Russell has been managing an Achilles injury he's had for a couple of weeks, but he's not going to be 100 per cent," Gatland explained.

"He's got a slight tear in his Achilles, they're going to inject it and see if they can manage it through the next couple of weeks, as a result we're going to call up Marcus Smith to come out here on Sunday.

"He'll catch a flight, needs to be PCR tested after the [England] game and hopefully all is well. He's been absolutely outstanding, I'm a big fan of his, watched him play last year, thought he was really promising, had a great season for Harlequins.

"He's been playing regularly, winning the championship with Harlequins, playing for England now and a similar player to Finn Russell so a like-for-like replacement in a lot of ways, so he might add something exciting and new to the squad."

Warren Gatland has told his British and Irish Lions stars to keep "rolling with the punches" in South Africa as another clash with the Sharks arrives.

On their turbulent tour, the Lions were due to face the Bulls on Saturday, but several COVID-19 cases in the Pretoria team's ranks meant that game had to be called off.

Into their place come the Sharks, the side that the Lions crushed 54-7 on Wednesday in their second match of the tour.

The shift of venue from Ellis Park to Loftus Versfeld will be one notable change, and in terms of personnel it will be a distinctly different match to the first meeting, with the Lions making 13 alterations to their starting line-up and the Sharks also electing for near wholesale change.

Wing Anthony Watson makes his first start on the tour, and his England team-mate, hooker Jamie George, captains the side. Centre Elliot Daly and wing Duhan van der Merwe are the only players to keep their place in the team.

Coronavirus cases in the England camp, as well as in the ranks of South Africa who have had to call off a match against Georgia, have seen doubts raised about whether the Tests later on the tour will go ahead as planned.

Gatland said: "It's obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches.

"In many ways, the challenges we've faced this week have strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to overcome the challenges created by COVID.

"The feeling in the camp on Wednesday night was just to give it a crack – I was really proud by how everyone reacted, particularly the matchday squad who would have never prepared for a game like that before.

"Saturday is another opportunity to see how the boys go and for us as coaches to try out a few more combinations ahead of the Test series.

"I have long been an admirer of Jamie's leadership skills, so I am delighted to name him skipper.

"We want to pass on thanks to the Sharks boys for fronting up and going again on Saturday. The spirit of rugby and a great chance for them to have another shot at us."

 


WATSON GETS CHANCE TO IMPRESS

The Lions have a tasty back three for this game, with Watson joined by Liam Williams and midweek hat-trick hero Duhan van der Merwe. Watson played all three Tests on the 2017 tour of New Zealand, making a big impact in the drawn series, and looks highly likely to start against South Africa too. Getting some good minutes in now should bring benefit later, and with few backs options on the bench, Watson looks to see plenty of action against the Sharks.

GEORGE CAN STAKE A CLAIM

After catching the eye against Johannesburg's Lions last weekend, George gets another opportunity to impress Gatland, this time as skipper. The coach's warm words underlined his appreciation of the Saracens hooker, who has Ken Owens and Luke Cowan-Dickie as rivals for the number two Test shirt. It is up to George to show leadership skills this weekend, as he attempts to play his way into the side that takes on the Springboks.


British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Chris Harris, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rory Sutherland, Jamie George (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry, Conor Murray, Finn Russell.

Sharks: Anthony Volmink, Marnus Potgieter, Werner Kok, Murray Koster, Thaakir Abrahams, Lionel Cronje, Jaden Hendrikse; Nthuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren, Wiehahn Herbst, Le Roux Roets, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Mpilo Gumede, Phepsi Buthelezi (captain).

Replacements: Dan Jooste, MJ Majola, Khutha Mchunu, Thembelani Bholi, Jeandre Labuschagne, Cameron Wright, Boeta Chamberlain, Jeremy Ward, Lourens Adriaanse, Rynhardt Jonker, Curwin Bosch.


KEY OPTA FACTS

- The Lions' win on Wednesday was their biggest ever against the Sharks/Natal. Overall the British and Irish Lions have won 11 of their 12 fixtures against the Sharks/Natal, the exception being a 3-3 draw back on the 1924 tour.
- The Lions have scored 50-plus points in each of their last two matches. They have never recorded a half-century of points in three consecutive games.
- Phepsi Buthelezi made 20 carries against the Lions on Wednesday, the most by a Sharks player since May 2015 when Bismarck du Plessis made 20 against the Highlanders in a Super Rugby fixture. He is the only member of the pack thart started on Wednesday to stay in the team for Saturday.
- Josh Adams sits this game out, after being the the only player to feature for every minute possible with the Lions this year. Adams has scored eight tries, twice as many as any other player, while he also leads the way for carries (26), metres gained (238) and defenders beaten (13).
- Elliot Daly has assisted three tries for the Lions in his two games, more than any other player in the squad, with those three assists coming from just nine passes in total.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland insisted he is not concerned about the viability of his side's tour of South Africa, despite a coronavirus outbreak hitting his squad just hours before their 54-7 win over Sharks.

One member of Gatland's playing squad and one of his management team tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the Lions boss to make eight changes to his matchday squad.

He handed debuts to Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard and saw the trio contribute to a confident performance in which Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe scored three tries each.

Asked whether he had experienced another day like it, Gatland told reporters: "No not really. It's been surreal. A real challenge.

"Players were in rooms until 6pm. I'm proud of performance and how they adjusted.

"I came away thinking I was proud of the togetherness of the group more than the performance or result.

"My message to the players is let's use this as a positive. Nothing is going to phase us.

"We had to go with the flow. We had to adapt and then change. The players were outstanding in their approach."

The Lions' clash with Bulls was postponed before the game, and positive coronavirus tests in the Springboks and Bulls camps have cast the entire tour into doubt.

But Gatland is confident it remains viable, saying: "We've been incredibly vigilant with what we’ve been doing for the last four weeks.

"The most challenging thing was the hotel. All our tests had been negative until today.

"We'll address it as it goes. We knew there'd be certain challenges."

On the prospect of arranging a replacement fixture for the Bulls game on Saturday, Gatland added: "I need to talk to the medical team about that.

"We'll talk about the chance of a game. We'll need to wait on the close contacts and see how the players from today are.

"Josh Adams has started three games so he needs a rest. These players have fronted up."

The British and Irish Lions brushed off uncertainty threatening to engulf their tour as they made it two emphatic wins from two matches in South Africa with a 7-54 win over Sharks in Johannesburg.

After two members of the Lions staff tested positive for Covid-19 hours before kick-off, ruling eight members of the squad out of the game, Warren Gatland gave debuts to Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard.

Three tries each for Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe ensured Gatland's patchwork side made light work of a defensively frail Sharks team.

Further tries from Bundee Aki and Louis Rees-Zammit and composed kicking by Owen Farrell and Finn Russell gave the Lions a scoreline that will keep morale in the camp high despite the uncertainty shrouding the tour.

Adams made it six tries in three matches before a neat attacking move saw Van der Merwe round Thaakir Abrahams to go over, with Farrell converting both to give the Lions a 14-point lead inside seven minutes.

Farrell sent a superbly weighted grubber deep into Sharks territory where Van der Merwe beat Elliot Daly to the ball and touched down to make it 0-19.

A fine half of attacking rugby was capped with a fourth try when Luke Cowan-Dickie drove Sharks back before Aki forced his way past James Venter and made his first score for the Lions, and Farrell converted to make it 0-26 at half-time.

Sharks improved after the interval and pulled a try back through Venter, who could not be stopped down the right touchline and went over before Curwin Bosch converted.

Farrell, struggling with a shoulder injury, was replaced shortly before Adams capitalised on a Marius Louw error, hacking on to score a try that Russell converted.

Adams fed Rees-Zammit, who showed his electric pace to score under the posts and Russell converted to make it 40-7 with 20 minutes left, and Van der Merwe completed his hat-trick when Daly's clever pass put him through in the corner.

Two minutes from time, Adams emulated his team-mate, scoring his third of the game after good hands in midfield from Beard and Taulupe Faletau.

Lions continue to roar, for now

Should the outbreak of coronavirus in the Lions camp spread beyond the two positives already detected, the uplift from this result may be shortlived. 

What's more, Gatland has injuries to Farrell (shoulder), Rees-Zammit (hamstring) and Navidi (shin) to contend with.

Simmonds makes his mark

Sam Simmonds went into the game determined to make a point to England head coach Eddie Jones, who has not rewarded his outstanding performances for Exeter Chiefs. 

The number eight had a superb first half, making more carries (six) than any other Lions forward, and only Josh Adams (31m) and Elliot Daly (51m) made more metres than his 30.

The British and Irish Lions are focused on delivering a strong showing against the Sharks on Wednesday rather than uncertainty over their schedule due to the coronavirus.

Warren Gatland's side thrashed Johannesburg's own Lions 56-14 in their opening tour match at Ellis Park on Saturday, Josh Adams helping himself to a four-try haul.

Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard will now make their Lions debuts, while Iain Henderson takes over as captain for a midweek showdown with the Sharks at the same venue.

Sam Simmonds comes in for his first international start in over three years, but it is once again COVID-19 cases rather than selection that has dominated the pre-match talk.

The Springboks suspended training on Monday after Lood de Jager tested positive for the virus, with the players forced back into isolation.

Positive cases in the Bulls camp have put Saturday's match in doubt, but Lions defence coach Steve Tandy said they are taking a flexible approach.

"We'd weigh up if we need to give the boys a day off, if we need an internal match or a heavier loaded contact day," Tandy said when asked about plans if the Bulls game is called off.

"Through COVID, I think you learn you need to adapt. You can have the best laid plans, but things move really quickly and change - it's just be prepared for whatever comes our way at whatever moment in time. Whatever the group needs, more contact, an extra day off for recovery - we'll just adapt that as we go."

Phepsi Buthelezi returns t0 lead the Sharks at number eight, while Khutha Mchunu takes Wiehahn Herbst's place in the front row.

 

SIMMONDS DETERMINED TO GRASP HIS CHANCE

Simmonds has continued to be overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones despite producing consistently outstanding performances for Exeter Chiefs.

The number eight, comfortably the leading try-scorer in the Premiership last season with 21, is determined to show he belongs on the Test stage.

"When you are starting you really get the opportunity to show what you can do and hopefully put what I have been doing in the last year or so into a Lions jersey," Simmonds said.

"As soon as I got selected for the Lions squad that was my sole focus – to push everyone here, to push to try and get as many games as I can and as a team the ultimate goal is to win the Test series in South Africa."

 

 

GATLAND WANTS BACK ROW TO PUT ON SHOW

New Zealander Gatland is excited to see what the back row he has selected can serve up in the second tour match.

"There's a huge amount of competition in the back row and I spoke to them all last night and just said, 'Look, you've got a licence from me to get your hands on the ball'," coach Gatland said.

"I want them to express themselves. I said they are probably not renowned as lineout experts but you have to play to your strengths, and they are strong defenders and great ball carriers.

"It's a different aspect to look at, but it's exciting and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go as a trio. If you look at those players they are strong defenders, exciting ball carriers."

 

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson (captain), Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris.

 

Sharks: Manie Libbok, Werner Kok, Jeremy Ward, Marius Louw, Thaakir Abrahams, Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Khwezi Mona, Fez Mbatha, Khutha Mchunu, Ruben van Heerden, Hyron Andrews, James Venter, Thembelani Bholi, Phepsi Buthelezi (captain).

Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Wiehahn Herbst, JJ van der Mescht, Reniel Hugo, Dylan Richardson, Grant Williams, Anthony Volmink.

 

Key Opta facts

- The Sharks and the Lions met in 2009, with the tourists winning that match 39-3. Lee Mears, Mike Phillips, Luke Fitzgerald, Lee Byrne and Jamie Heaslip all crossed for tries.
- The Lions have won 10 of their 11 fixtures against the Sharks/Natal, the exception being a 3-3 draw back on the 1924 tour.
- The Sharks had a 50 per cent win rate in the recently concluded Rainbow Cup SA (W3, L3), beating the Johannesburg-based Lions twice and the Stormers once.
- Following their victory over the Lions, the tourists are now unbeaten in their past five matches (W3, D2). That is their best run since winning six in a row in a run that spanned the 2009 and 2013 tours.
- The Lions are yet to miss a kick at goal so far in 2021, with Dan Biggar having slotted four from four and Owen Farrell landing all eight.

Tom Curry, Josh Navidi and Adam Beard will make their British and Irish Lions debuts against the Sharks on Wednesday.

The Lions will be captained by Iain Henderson for the first time, as Conor Murray has been named among the replacements for the midweek game at Ellis Park.

England flanker Curry and Wales duo Navidi and Beard will refresh the pack along with Sam Simmonds, who is set to make his first international start for over three years.

Josh Adams will play no part after the wing scored four tries against the tourists' South African namesakes the Lions on Saturday, playing a starring role in a 56-14 rout.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: "Wednesday night is another chance for us to have a look at a few more combinations.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the back row goes; it's an exciting mixture and one that we hope will offer something a bit different.

"We expect another physical test against a side who are known for their power play and ambition.

"My congratulations to Tom, Josh and Adam ahead of their first starts in a Lions jersey."

 

Lions team to face the Sharks:

Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Adam Beard, Josh Navidi, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris.

Warren Gatland could not find too much to complain about after the British and Irish Lions made a brilliant start to their tour of South Africa, but says his team will not be 100 per cent satisfied.

Gatland's team beat the Lions 56-14 on Saturday, with winger Josh Adams running in four of their eight tries. 

Their points tally was the most in a match since they beat a combined New South Wales–Queensland Country 64-0 in 2013 – it was also their largest margin of victory since that match.

They are now unbeaten in their last five games (W3 D2), their best run since winning six in a row across the 2009 and 2013 tours.

Though content with how the tourists started their trip – in a match which was played behind closed doors – Gatland insists he has instilled a mentality of never being satisfied.

"You cannot complain. We've been getting better and better as a squad the more time we spend together," the former Wales coach said.

"We've put down a bit of a marker but as a group we won't be 100 per cent satisfied, there are still lots of improvements but we feel we can get there and makes lots of improvements too.

"The bench brought some energy but we had to adjust the way we wanted to play because they didn't pressure us as much with the blitz that we had expected, so we changed the way we played and that was a pretty good reaction.

"I was just really pleased with the energy out there, the guys working hard when they made a few breaks. We made a few mistakes and they were hard to get the ball off, but it was a really positive start."

Welshman Adams was the star of the show, as he became the first player to score four tries for the British and Irish Lions since Shane Williams went over five times against Manawatu in 2005.

Adams, who made five clean breaks in this game – the first player to do so since Williams managed six against South Africa in 2009 – has now scored a try in each of his last five games for Wales and the Lions combined.

"I thought the guy on the left wing did okay today," quipped Gatland.

It is nothing new for there to be uncertainty over what to expect for a British and Irish Lions touring party but the class of 2021 are well and truly stepping into the unknown.

Typically all the talk is over selection. Who starts at number 10? What will the make-up of the pack be, who gets the nod as the centre pairing or which wingers will be unleashed in the first Test?

Of course those questions are still to be answered, but when the Lions arrived in Johannesburg on Monday they were not only facing the challenge of trying to secure a starting berth.

A big surge in coronavirus cases has seen South Africa move into a 'level four' lockdown, with travel restrictions, an alcohol ban and an overnight curfew.

As the Lions were preparing to fly out on Sunday, it emerged that Springboks trio Herschel Jantjies, Vincent Koch and Sbu Nkosi had tested positive for COVID-19 - forcing training to be cancelled and the squad going into isolation.

They have since been given the green light to train and are set to face Georgia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Friday in their first Test since beating England in the 2019 World Cup final.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the drinks flowed as South Africa celebrated lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan and they have a new head coach in Jacques Nienaber.

The world champions have also faced uncertainty, with the possibility of the Lions having home advantage or the series being staged in a neutral country before it was confirmed South Africa will host the tour.

While South Africa know they will not be entering the Lions den, Warren Gatland and his touring party are not certain where they might be heading just under a month before the first Test in Cape Town on July 24.

 

They are set to face a namesake in the Johannesburg-based Lions side, twice runners-up in Super Rugby, on Saturday as one the first of five matches in Gauteng but it is reported they could make further changes to the schedule.

The COVID situation has led to suggestions the entire three-match Test series could be played in Cape Town, with alternations to the fixtures having already been made last month.

Hostile crowds usually await the Lions, but they are set to face the might of the Springboks behind closed doors without an army of travelling fans to roar them on.

They must also go into battle without inspirational leader Alun Wyn Jones, ruled out due to a dislocated shoulder in the win over Japan at Murrayfield along with Wales team-mate Justin Tipuric.

A strong camaraderie will be needed more than ever, with Conor Murray promoted to skipper the side in the absence of stalwart Jones.

But there will be a lack of nights out as they are restricted to bonding in the bubble.

Gatland's men drew 1-1 with then-world champions New Zealand four years ago and can make it three series without defeat next month - a streak that has not been achieved since 1959.

They have the same head coach and key men who starred against the All Blacks, combined with exciting new faces such as South Africa-born wing Duhan van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Gatland may be unsure what challenges the Lions will face on and off the field before the opening Test but the wily New Zealander knows will know what to expect from a formidable South Africa side.

The British and Irish Lions can expect a rousing send-off when they face Japan for the first time at Murrayfield on Saturday before the tour of South Africa.

Rory Sutherland, Duhan van der Merwe, Josh Adams, Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan will make their Lions debuts in a warm-up showdown with the Brave Blossoms.

Four weeks before the first Test against the Springboks, Alun Wyn Jones will lead out a Lions side that does not feature any England players.

One thousand four hundred and forty-nine days since the final match of a drawn series in New Zealand, Warren Gatland's men will be backed by a crowd of 16,500 for the historic 1888 Cup clash in Edinburgh against a Japan side playing for the first time since the 2019 World Cup.

Gatland said: "We're anticipating a tough game against Japan – a side that like to play at a high-tempo and shift the ball.

"We saw throughout the World Cup they have attacking threats across the park and a solid defence and set piece. I'm pleased with the progress we've made during our training camp.

"But we've a long way to go. You can see that the squad are starting to get to grips with our game strategies, but, as always with a Lions Tour, this takes time to bed in."

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph said: "There is a great spirit among the team and a collective excitement. Playing the Lions for the first time holds huge significance for Japanese rugby.

"And as a team, we’re looking forward to once again be playing on the world stage and to be taking on a team with the unique strength and history of the Lions.

"This is a strong Japanese team combining a solid foundation of experience, with some exciting new players who have earned the right to represent Japan at test match level."

 

VAN DER MERWE AMONG SCOTS WHO CAN FLOWER

Clinical wing Van der Merwe was the leading try-scorer in the Six Nations this year with five.

The flyer is among a strong Scottish contingent who will be so eager to put on a show in front of a home crowd.

Van der Merwe was born in the Western Cape province of South Africa but is ready to roar against his country of birth next month.

He has made a magnificent start to his international career, scoring eight tries in 10 Tests, and his ruthlessness will be key for the Lions in the coming weeks.

 

MURRAY AND BIGGAR CAN MAKE A STATEMENT

Gatland has gone with the experienced half-back pairing of Dan Biggar and Conor Murray to start against Japan.

Wales fly-half Biggar will be looking to lay down a marker, with Owen Farrell among the replacements.

Ireland scrum-half Murray got the nod ahead of Scotland playmaker Ali Price, who will get a raucous reception when he comes off the bench.

The Irish midfield pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Aki will be expected to give Japan a torrid afternoon with a combination of their power and pace.

 

The British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Conor Murray; Rory Sutherland, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Tadhg Beirne, Justin Tipuric, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Jamie George, Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Taulupe Faletau, Ali Price, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson.

Japan: Ryohei Yamanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Yu Tamura, Kaito Shigeno; Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Koo, Wimpie van der Walt, James Moore, Michael Leitch (captain), Lappies Labuschagné, Amanaki Mafi.

Replacements: Kosuke Horikoshi, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelson, Kazuki Himeno, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Rikiya Matsuda.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS:

- Skipper Jones will play his 21st game with the Lions. The lock has scored two tries for the Lions, each one coming in the first game of a tour (v Royal XV in 2009 and the Barbarians in 2013).
- Japan failed to score a try in their most recent Test, a loss to South Africa in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on home soil. That ended of run of 46 straight Tests in which they'd crossed the try line at least once.
- The Brave Blossoms have played lost all five games in Scotland. Their most recent loss was a 42-17 thumping in November 2013.
- This will be the first Lions match in Scotland and only the fourth time a game will be played at a venue in the UK or Ireland (also Twickenham, Cardiff Arms Park and the Principality Stadium). The Lions have a balanced record at home with one win, one draw, one loss, 55 points scored and 54 conceded on aggregate.

Kyle Sinckler has been called up to the British and Irish Lions squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa, following Andrew Porter's injury.

Tighthead prop Porter has been ruled out of the series due to a toe problem, which the Ireland international sustained on Friday while in action for Leinster.

Sinckler was a big-name omission from the original selection, but Warren Gatland has now called up the England prop.

Following his omission from the 37-man squad, Sinckler had said it "didn't make sense" to him that he had been left out. He has previously toured with the Lions in 2017, when the team visited New Zealand.

The Lions squad will convene on June 13, taking on Japan in Edinburgh 13 days later before heading out to South Africa, with the tour culminating in a three-Test series against the Springboks.

"It's really bad luck for Andrew and we send him our very best wishes for a quick and successful rehab," said Gatland.

"Andrew is a young man with a big future ahead of him and I'm sure he'll be in contention again in four years' time."

And the former Wales coach hopes Sinckler proves him wrong for his initial decision to leave him out.

"As always in rugby, when there's an injury there's an opportunity for someone else," Gatland added.

"I have been very pleased to see the way Kyle has responded to initially being left out of the touring party.

"He's showed some excellent form of late and I hope he continues to stick two fingers up to me about leaving him out in the first place."

The Lions last toured South Africa in 2009, when they lost the Test series 2-1.

Johnny Sexton's omission from the British and Irish Lions squad was one of Warren Gatland's "toughest decisions", the coach has admitted.

Ireland legend Sexton, the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, was one of the surprise exclusions from Gatland's 37-man selection for the upcoming tour of South Africa.

Sexton misses out despite the fly-half playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand, with Gatland expressing some concerns over the 35-year-old's "durability" and instead calling up Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell.

"There's no doubt that that was one of the toughest decisions that we had to make," said Gatland at a news conference on Thursday.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for Johnny and his quality, but it's such a pivotal position for us and it's about sending a message to the 10s that we have selected that we have the confidence and belief in them to do a job.

"When we looked at where we were going in South Africa probably the thing that kept coming back to us was Johnny's durability, being able to put a string of matches together consecutively, and big matches.

"He has been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that's possibly what swayed it for us in terms of us not having the confidence that he can get through what's going to be a tough, physical tour."

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan left out.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Alun Wyn Jones has been named captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa, leading a 37-man squad.

Warren Gatland announced his selection on Thursday ahead of the trip in July, which follows a warm-up against Japan next month.

Wales great Jones has been chosen for the leadership role having featured in the past nine Lions Tests going back to 2009, the longest run in the professional era.

Jones has already skippered the side once previously in the absence of the injured Sam Warburton in Australia eight years ago, clinching a first series win since 1997.

Elsewhere in Gatland's squad, Ireland's former World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton misses out despite playing a key role on the 2017 trip to New Zealand.

Billy Vunipola was also a notable absentee from the list, while other big calls saw Wales centre Jonathan Davies, England prop Kyle Sinckler and Ireland second row James Ryan excluded.

However, Gatland did find room for Exeter Chiefs number eight Sam Simmonds, who has not played a Test for England since March 2018.

"We believe we've picked a squad capable of winning a Test series in South Africa," Gatland - who opted for 11 Englishmen, 10 Welshmen and eight apiece from Ireland and Scotland - said following the squad announcement.

"Selecting a Lions squad is never easy and, in many ways, this has been the most challenging selection I have been involved in.

"Over the course of the last three weeks the coaches and I have rigorously debated each position.

"We saw some outstanding performances in the recent Six Nations, so competition for places has been tough with some incredibly tight calls to make. 

"However, we are very happy with the squad we have assembled and look forward to meeting up in Jersey in just over a month's time to start our preparation to take on the world champions.

"We've left out some very talented players which gives an indication to the strength of this squad and we know how important that stand-by list will be.

"Being selected for a Lions tour is the greatest honour for a British and Irish player and I congratulate everyone named today."

The Lions will face the Springboks in Tests on July 24, July 31 and August 7.


British and Irish Lions squad in full:

Josh Adams (Cardiff, Wales), Bundee Aki (Connacht, Ireland), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Chris Harris (Gloucester, Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester, Wales), Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh, Scotland), Anthony Watson (Bath, England), Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Tadhg Beirne (Munster, Ireland), Jack Conan (Leinster, Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Jamie George (Saracens, England), Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Andrew Porter (Leinster, Ireland), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh, Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh, Scotland).

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