CHRIS Harris, Rory Sutherland, Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe have all been named in the British & Irish Lions’ starting line-up to play the Sharks in Pretoria tomorrow, while their Scotland team-mate Finn Russell is on the bench. Harris is at inside centre, with Elliot Daly again playing at outside, while Van der Merwe, Sutherland and Watson are in their usual positions on the left wing and in the front and back rows respectively.
Daly and Van der Merwe are the only two players who keep their places from Wednesday, when the Lions beat the same opponents 54-7 in Johannesburg. Russell and tour captain Conor Murray are the only backs replacements on the bench, though a 6-2 split is at least less radical than the 7-1 which the Lions were forced to field in that first game against the Sharks two nights ago. Jamie George will captain the tourists.
“It’s obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland said. “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 match day 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.”
Sharks coach Sean Everitt has made 11 personnel changes and one positional switch to his starting line-up. Captain and No 8 Phepsi Buthelezi is the only member of the pack to keep his place, while behind the scrum winger Thaakir Abrahams and scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse also hold on to their jerseys. Werner Kok, the home side’s most effective player in midweek, switches from the wing to outside centre.
Far from being downhearted at the prospect of such a swift rematch against a team that scored eight tries against his side, Everitt insisted that a little more composure could result in a significantly improved performance. “We didn’t show enough patience with the ball on Wednesday and we need to back ourselves to hold it through several phases, even more.
“It’s really about getting the balance right: when to have a go and when not to; when to force it and when not to. Against a quality team like the Lions, you have to be patient.”
British & Irish Lions (v Cell C Sharks at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, Saturday, 5pm): L Williams; A Watson, E Daly, C Harris, D van der Merwe; D Biggar, G Davies; R Sutherland, J George, T Furlong, M Itoje, J Hill, T Beirne, H Watson, J Conan. Substitutes: K Owens, W Jones, K Sinckler, C Lawes, S Simmonds, T Curry, C Murray, F Russell.
Cell C Sharks: A Volmink; M Potgieter, W Kok, M Koster, T Abrahams; L Cronje, J Hendrikse; N Mchunu, K van Vuuren, W Herbst, L Roets, R Hugo, D Richardson, M Gumede, P Buthelezi (captain). Substitutes: D Jooste, M Majola, K Mchunu, T Bholi, J Labuschagne, C Wright, B Chamberlain, J Ward, K Adriaanse, R Jonker, C Bosch.