THE team selected by the Lions to play on the last Saturday before the first Test is usually a good indication of who has been earmarked to take part in the big game itself, and if that is the case it is promising news for the tourists’ Scottish contingent.
Seven of the eight Scots on the trip are in the 23 to face the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, with five of them starting. Injured Finn Russell is the only Scottish absentee.
Stuart Hogg returns from a two-week lay-off to lead the side from full-back, with Duhan van der Merwe on the wing, Ali Price at scrum-half, Rory Sutherland at loose-head prop and Hamish Watson at open-side flanker. Tight-head prop Zander Fagerson and centre Chris Harris are on the bench.
Hogg missed out on the two games against the Sharks last week as well as last night’s match against South Africa ‘A’ after being identified as a close contact of a member of the Lions management who tested positive for Covid. The Scotland captain had to stay in Johannesburg when the squad travelled to Cape Town at the weekend, but has now been reunited with his team-mates.
“For me, the key was just to get into a good routine,” he said earlier today when asked how he had coped with isolation. “It’s a long, old time to be hidden away, so getting my routine sorted and making sure I was being as productive as I possibly could seemed to pass the time a lot quicker.
“It was challenging at times but we had a little mini-isolation group and we had a good crack along the way and kept each other going. But I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, it was a horrendous few days but I’m delighted to be back.
“It became a little bit easier once the boys and everyone in the touring party left [Johannesburg]. I got a little bit of time to spend in the gym and managed to sanitise down about a million times while I was in there.
“So I got the chance to do everything I possibly could. I was carrying a little knock after a training session, but I’m all good now and excited to get going again.”
Alun Wyn Jones’ remarkable comeback after dislocating his shoulder just three weeks ago continues with the Welsh talisman named on the bench, while Marcus Smith gets his first outing since being called up last Sunday at stand-off.
The return of Robbie Henshaw at inside centre is also a boost to the Lions selection panel’s options for next weekend.
“It’s an important game as it’s the final chance for the coaching group to see the players perform prior to the start of the Test Series,” said Gatland.
“For the matchday 23 it’s their last opportunity to stake a claim for a Test place, so I expect to see a highly motivated group of players.
“It is particularly pleasing to be able to name Stuart Hogg in the squad. He’s not had much luck on Lions Tours to date, so it’ll be great to see him cross the whitewash again with the captain’s armband.
“I’m also delighted that Marcus will get his first start in a Lions jersey. I’ve been really impressed with his attitude since coming into camp this week; he’s been like a sponge for information.”
“Obviously it’s a tight turnaround from Wednesday’s game but we’re in pretty good shape. The South Africa ‘A’ game was a physical encounter – we always knew it would be – but we’ve come out of it pretty much intact and ready to go again. Liam Williams will begin his return to play protocol following his HIA.
“We learnt a lot from Wednesday’s game and I hope the defeat will serve us well. There’re still some areas of the game we need to tighten up on, particularly reducing our turnover rate.
“Time and again on this Tour we’ve had to adapt in the face of the challenges created by COVID-19. I couldn’t be prouder of the staff and the players for the role each of them has played to get us to this point on the Tour.”
British & Irish Lions (v the Stormers at the Cape Town Stadium, Saturday 5pm BST): S Hogg ©; J Adams, E Daly, R Henshaw, D van der Merwe; M Smith, A Price; R Sutherland, L Cowan-Dickie, T Furlong, A Beard, J Hill, T Beirne, H Watson, J Conan. Substitutes: J George, M Vunipola, Z Fagerson, A Jones, S Simmonds, G Davies, C Harris, L Rees-Zammit.
DHL Stormers: S Petersen; S Senatla, R Pretorius, D du Plessis, E van der Merwe; T Swiel, G Masimla; L Lyons, J Kotze, N Fouche, E van Rhyn (captain), J Schickerling, N Xaba, J du Toit, E Roos. Substitutes from: A Venter, K Blose, S Sandi, J Basson, M Theunissen, T Bursey, A van Reenen, J de Jongh, L Mazibuko, N Otto, L Zas, C Smit.