STUART Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Ali Price have all earned starting places in the British & Irish Lions team for Saturday’s first Test against the Springboks, while Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson are on the bench.
Full-back Hogg, winger Van der Merwe and scrum-half Price will become the first Scots to start a Lions Test in 20 years, the last having been loosehead prop Tom Smith on the 2001 tour to Australia. The last time three Scots started together was four years before that, when Smith was joined by Alan Tait and current Lions assistant coach Gregor Townsend in the first two Tests – both of which were won – against South Africa.
With Finn Russell unavailable because of an achilles injury, only two Scots who were available for selection – Zander Fagerson and Chris Harris – have been omitted from Warren Gatland’s 23.
Officially announced this morning, the team for the match in Cape Town is identical to the one published by The Times yesterday, shortly after the players themselves were told. However, there is one difference on the bench, with Liam Williams coming in as a third backs replacement. The Welsh back-three player is chosen instead of Irish lock Iain Henderson in a five-three split rather than the six-two suggested by the newspaper.
Alun Wyn Jones will complete a remarkable recovery from a dislocated shoulder by captaining the side, having only returned to the squad in South Africa last week. The Welshman is alongside England’s Maro Itoje at lock in a pack which in total comprises four two Irish players, four Englishmen and two from Wales. Scotland have the biggest representation behind the scrum, while England have two players and Ireland and Wales have one each.
“In my four Tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” head coach Gatland said. “We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.
“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.
“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come. While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”
British & Irish Lions (v South Africa at the Cape Town Stadium, Saturday 5pm BST): S Hogg; A Watson, E Daly, R Henshaw, D van der Merwe; D Biggar, A Price; W Jones, L Cowan-Dickie, T Furlong, M Itoje, A Jones (captain), C Lawes, T Curry, J Conan. Substitutes: K Owens, R Sutherland, K Sinckler, T Beirne, H Watson, C Murray, O Farrell, L Williams.